Integrated Nitrogen Studies in Africa

Project scope & objectives

The Integrated Nitrogen Studies in Africa (INSA) project seeks to unpack and analyze the different aspects of the nitrogen budget in Africa, bringing expertise from different fields in the environmental and social sciences through a network of scientists from Europe and Africa.

Nitrogen is one of the essential nutrients for plant growth and food production at the global scale. However, an imbalance appears between “too much” and “too little” nitrogen supplied regions in the world, and this paradox of “low nitrogen” regions vs “high nitrogen” is specifically valid at the scale of Africa. The use of too much nitrogen in intensive agricultural production systems and the production of reactive nitrogen from combustion processes has already led to harmful effects on air and water quality in European, North American or South and East Asian ecosystems. This has led to damages to ecosystems and significant adverse effects on public health. In contrast agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa is struggling with low nitrogen supplies to crops and insufficient yields to feed its growing population. These processes continuously perpetuate food insecurity in terms of supply and quality on the one hand, and lead to environmental pollution on the other hand. As it stands, the supply of nitrogen in Africa is insufficient to combat food security, however increasing nitrogen supply without increasing (or ideally with decreasing) emissions of pollutants remains an important societal challenge. This dilemma is clearly stated in the “Melbourne Declaration on Responsible Nitrogen Management for a Sustainable Future” (Dec 2016), “Nitrogen management should strive to simultaneously improve the efficiency of nitrogen use, increase farm productivity, enhance soil health, conserve resources and reduce losses of reactive nitrogen to the environment”.

To tackle this challenge, INSA aims to provide estimates of nitrogen transfers within the different ecosystems found in Africa and drive the development of a preliminary nitrogen assessment in Africa. Although, international networks of scientists already exist, for the first time, INSA will seek to connect the activities in multidisciplinary teams focused on different aspects of the nitrogen cycle in Africa. The project brings together scientists from Europe and Africa working on ecology, atmospheric chemistry, water quality, soil science, biogeochemistry, agriculture and livestock. The multi and inter-disciplinary competences of the research teams involved in INSA will help in developing innovative aspects of research on targeted questions, to create and feed a dialogue between different communities of researchers, and transfer information and results to decision makers and the public. The project also has a strong educational component targeting schools, universities and the general public. This involves the development of educational materials and the dissemination of information on the sustainable use of nitrogen in our environment as the key action to mitigate harmful societal impact while ensuring food security.

Partners and countries implicated

The project involves 14 research and higher learning organizations and 2 non-academic association based in 5 European countries (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, and the Netherlands) and 7 African countries (Benin, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa). Exchanges of personnel between these institutions will involve researchers in different stages of their career as well as technical staff. To find more about the project partners, click here.

How is it funded and what kind of a project is it?

The INSA project is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 framework program under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action – Research and Innovation Staff Exchange (MSCA-RISE). The RISE scheme promotes international and cross-sector collaboration through staff exchanges between institutions in different countries and different sectors, and promoting the sharing of knowledge and skills from research sector to the market (and vice-versa).

In essence the project finances and facilitates the mobility of personnel between institutions, seconded for a minimum period of one month up to one year. Two workshops will also be organized over the course of the project, one in Nairobi and another in Abidjan, combining discussions and seminars on theoretical nitrogen topics, as well as on specific research and transversal subjects, aimed at researchers, students and stakeholders.

H2020 MSCA-RISE INSA project

This project is funded by the European Union’s H2020 MSCA-RISE framework under the grant agreement n° 871944. Visit the European Commission’s Cordis website for more information on the INSA project.

Collaboration with INDAAF

The INSA project will contribute to INDAAF, an African-European network monitoring atmospheric composition and deposition fluxes of nitrogen and other species in Africa since 1995.


New Paper Alert: “A shift from cattle to camel and goat farming can sustain milk production with lower inputs and emissions in north sub-Saharan Africa’s drylands”

In their recent publication in Nature Food, Jaber Rahimi (Institute of Meteorology and Climate Research, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany) and co-authors find that shifting herd composition in north sub-Saharan Africa’s (NSSA) drylands by decreasing cattle and increasing the proportion of goats and camels can secure milk production while decreasing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, water […]

INSA at the Festival of Science in Toulouse

On Saturday 15 October, the Observatoire Midi-Pyrenees (OMP) in Toulouse, France, is opening its doors to the public for a day of workshops, demonstrations and mini-conferences that will allow people to discover a plethora of research projects related to the sciences of the universe and the environment. Subjects range from the small fish of the […]

Nitrogen detectives, between air and soil, scientists recount…

In February 2022, Alexandre Eissautier and Clem Samson, two scientific facilitators from Les Petit.e.s Débrouillard.e.s d’Occitanie (APDOC), a not-for-profit populaire science education organisation, interviewed eight women scientists about their careers. These interviews took place as part of the first INSA workshop, held in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. It is hoped that these insightful and candid interviews […]

Gent University Welcomes Benjamin Nyilitya

Dr Benjamin Nyilitya, a Water Quality Specialist from the Water Research Division, Ministry of Water, Sanitation & Irrigation (MWSI), Nairobi in Kenya, recently spent 3 months (May – August 2022) at Ghent University, Belgium, as part of the INSA project. Benjamin was hosted by the Isotope Bioscience Laboratory (ISOFYS) in the Department of Green Chemistry, […]

New Paper Alert: “Nitrogen budget and critical load determination at a Sahelian grazed grassland site”

Claire Delon (Laboratoire d’Aérologie, CNRS, Université de Toulouse) and co-authors recently published their paper, Nitrogen budget and critical load determination at a Sahelian grazed grassland site, in the journal Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems. The paper’s co-authors (see full list below) include five participants of the INSA project (Corinne Galy-Lacaux, Ousmane Ndiaye, Dominique Serça, Eric Mougin […]

Yelognisse Frédi Agbohessou returns to UPS

Yelognisse Frédi Agbohessou, a PhD student from the Institut Sénégalais de Recherches Agricoles (ISRA), Dakar, Senegal, returned to Toulouse in March 2022 for a second secondment as part of the H2020 MSCA-RISE INSA project. Frédi’s research looks to improve estimates of the carbon and nitrogen budget for Sahelian landscapes in Africa and greenhouse gas (GHG) […]