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.


International Actris 2024 Science Conference

INSA was well represented at the recent International Actris Science conference which took place from May 13 – 16 in Rennes, France. ACTRIS is a pan-European research infrastructure producing high-quality data and information on short-lived atmospheric constituents, as well as on the processes that lead to variability of these constituents in both natural and controlled […]

Second INSA workshop in Kenya

The second INSA workshop, held in Nairobi and Wundanyi, Kenya, in November 2023, focused on hydrological and gaseous fluxes of nitrogen in different systems in Africa. It brought together more than 35 people, including representatives of the INSA consortium, researchers, lecturers and students from Kenyan and other African and European universities, as well as stakeholders […]

JLU Giessen welcomes Ali Zura Said and Mitchell Oketch

Earlier this year, Ali Zura Said and Mitchell Oketch from the Kenyan Ministry of Water, Sanitation and Irrigation (MWSI) spent two months on secondment in the Department of Landscape Ecology and Resources Management at Justus Liebig University Giessen (JLU) in Germany. Zura and Mitchell were hosted by Dr Suzanne Jacobs, but also worked with Prof. […]

Geography, social science, statistics…  and nitrogen!

The Observatory Midi-Pyrenees laboratory Géosciences Environment Toulouse (GET), was a hive of INSA activity in June, hosting two researchers from Côte d’Ivoire and two researchers from Nigeria. Fabrice Gangneron (GET, Univ Paul Sabatier) and Mehdi Saqalli (GEODE, Univ Jean Jaures) welcomed Akoua Adayé and Kouadio Eugène Konan, geographers from the University Felix Houphouët Boigny (UFHB), […]

APDOC take their school program to Kenya!

After a first trip to the Ivory Coast in 2022, the organisation Les Petit.e.s Débrouillard.e.s d’Occitanie (APDOC) returned to the African continent in September 2023. However, this time, Étienne and Zoé, their two facilitators, flew to Kenya where they stayed for 2 months!   This trip was part of the INSA (Integrated Nitrogen Studies in […]

Science Café in Nairobi

In October 2023, the INSA coordination team together with colleagues from the Kenyan Ministry of Water, Sanitation and Irrigation participated in a Science Café about nitrogen at Alliance Française. The Science Café offered an oppportunity to raise the general public’s awareness about the nitrogen cycle and the important role nitrogen plays in our lives, as […]