Efficiency, sustainability and technology of circular food production from straw with mushrooms and earthworms.

Efficiency, sustainability and technology of circular food production from straw with mushrooms and earthworms. Crop residues that are no longer suitable even for ruminant feeding can still be used for food production through fungi and earthworms. This contribution to food security will be developed in a sustainable and circular way.

Background and Objective

In 2100, food security is at risk in some regions of the world due to high population growth, extreme land scarcity and socio-economically precarious conditions. Sub-Saharan Africa will be particularly affected, where the population could increase fivefold by then and only 500 m2 of arable land per person would be available, even if all potential land is used. In addition to intensified food production, improved post-harvest protection and lower-loss utilization methods, improved use of crop residues also has the potential to help reduce hunger and/or poverty. So far, especially in Africa, crop residues are used by ruminants or as fuel. This is neither efficient nor sustainable. It is to be examined whether an alternative utilization by fungi and earthworms is more efficient and sustainable. With their help, valuable nutrients such as proteins, vitamins and minerals are to be produced from cereal and legume straw, for example. This production should be simple, land-saving, low-energy, climate-friendly and cost-effective. The leftover residues are to be returned to arable farming without pollutants and serve soil fertility:

  1. ideas for effective production of additional food from residues (food energy, proteins, vitamins) with fungi and earthworms.
  2. concepts for a sustainable and circular production of additional food from residues (climate, soil fertility, water, ...)
  3. development of adapted technology ideas (micro to large scale, under difficult socio-economic and/or agro-ecological conditions).

Target Group

Poor people in low developed countries with farmland and food scarcities.


A model based on one person to be fed and 500 sqm of available arable land is experimentally and empirically evaluated (Rahmann et al. 2020). Experiments are planned at the Trenthorst experimental station. Different straw types (maize, wheat, rice) and legumes (soybean, field bean) will be used. The quality is to be inferior/unsuitable in terms of ruminant nutrition (model animal goat). Randomized "with-without" trials (relative comparisons) will be conducted at laboratory scale (simulated small-scale production). Straw will be inoculated with oyster mushrooms and production of mushroom fruiting bodies per unit biomass will be determined. The mushroom compost will be offered to earthworms as a food source and an assessment of a food production will also be conducted. Eventually, fecal matter and biogenic household waste will be included with the earthworms. The fungi and earthworms are examined for their food energy as well as the food components proteins, vitamins, minerals. Sustainability is measured by the parameters "greenhouse gas emission", "energy demand", "water demand", "land demand" and "capital demand". The results are evaluated in relation to other recycling methods. Finally, for a socio-economic assessment, an international workshop will be held in Africa (in conjunction with the BMZ/giz project "Knowledge Hubs of Organic Agriculture in Africa" (2019-2024) in Uganda). This will be held in collaboration with the Thünen Institute for Agricultural Technology in Braunschweig, Germany, who are working on the use of algae in bioreactors (LandLessFood-blue).

Our Research Questions

Research questions:

  1. what is the efficiency, quality and quantity of food production from straw using fungi and earthworms?
  2. what is the sustainability of circular food production from straw using fungi and earthworms (soil fertility, climate impact, Nutrient and Energy Cycle Assessment)?
  3. what technology ideas can be proposed for different socio-economic and agro-ecological settings (example Africa: Uganda)?


Involved Thünen-Partners

Involved external Thünen-Partners


10.2020 - 9.2023

More Information

Projekt type:
Project status: ongoing


hits: 5

  1. Rahmann G, Grimm D, Kuenz A, Hessel EF (2020) Combining land-based organic and landless food production: a concept for a circular and sustainable food chain for Africa in 2100. Organic Agric 10:9-21, DOI:10.1007/s13165-019-00247-5
  2. Rahmann G, Grimm D (2020) Food from 458 m2-calculation for a sustainable, circular, and local land-based and landless food production system. Organic Agric:in Press, DOI:10.1007/s13165-020-00288-1
    pdf document (limited accessibility) 557 kb
  3. Grimm D, Kuenz A, Rahmann G (2020) Integration of mushroom production into circular food chains. Organic Agric:in Press, DOI:10.1007/s13165-020-00318-y
  4. Schoeber M, Rahmann G, Freyer B (2020) Small-scale biogas facilities to enhance nutrient flows in rural Africa - relevance, acceptance, and implementation challenges in Ethiopia. Organic Agric:in Press, DOI:10.1007/s13165-020-00329-9
    pdf document (limited accessibility) 1956 kb
  5. Kuenz A, Grimm D, Rahmann G (2020) Versatility of algae - exploring the potential of algae for nutrient circulation. Organic Agric:in Press, DOI:10.1007/s13165-020-00308-0