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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2021

Assessing the Circularity of Nutrient Flows Across Nested Scales for Four Food System Scenarios in the Okanagan Bioregion, BC Canada

Harder, Robin; Mullinix, Kent; Smukler, Sean


In light of continued nutrient pollution in water bodies and anticipated insecurities related to future nutrient supplies, there is an increasing awareness of the need to use nutrients in a more circular way. As part of a food system design study in the Okanagan bioregion, BC Canada we set out to evaluate different food system scenarios for the year 2050 in terms of nutrient circularity. In doing so, the objective was to evaluate the circularity of nutrient flows not only in the Okanagan, but also in relation to exogenous regions, insofar as nutrient flows relate to feed and food consumption and production in the Okanagan. This is important because feed and food trade means that nutrient inputs to crop production in the Okanagan may make their way into organic residuals outside the Okanagan, and vice versa. If not accounted for, this may lead to a distorted picture when analyzing nutrient circularity. To this effect, we applied an analytical framework and calculation model that explicitly tracks nutrients from crop production to organic residual generation. The results of the study suggest that assessing nutrient circularity across nested scales was critical for two reasons. First, changes in overall nutrient flows in response to population increase and dietary change were found to be more pronounced outside the Okanagan. Second, our analysis clearly revealed the extent to which feed and food trade boost nutrient self-reliance in the Okanagan at the expense of nutrient self-reliance outside the Okanagan. This kind of analysis should therefore be useful to explore, ideally together with food system and organic residual management actors, how different food system and organic residual management scenarios perform in terms of nutrient circularity, in the geographical area being considered, but also how it impacts nutrient flows and circularity in the places with which feed and food are traded.


nutrient metabolism; agriculture; recycling fertilizer; nutrient recirculation; nutrient recovery; nutrient self-reliance; feed and food trade

Published in

Frontiers in sustainable food systems
2021, volume: 5, article number: 661870

Authors' information

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Energy and Technology
University of British Columbia
Mullinix, Kent
Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU)
Smukler, Sean
University of British Columbia

Sustainable Development Goals

SDG12 Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

UKÄ Subject classification

Food Science

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