WASABI is the WAlloon platform for Innovative Systems in Urban Agriculture and Biodiversity. It is also a teaching and research platform for urban agriculture and urban and peri-urban biodiversity.

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n more than 5 hectares of the Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech ULiège campus, it is possible to become familiar with new forms of urban and peri-urban agriculture: Green roofs, greenhouses on the roof, vertical farms, container farming, permaculture, aquaponics, etc. A botanical garden allows the full range of plant diversity to be considered, as well as tools for biodiversity (managed wasteland, vegetated structures reproducing natural ecosystems, etc.). An educational and civic tool, WASABI will be complemented by a rain garden, an educational trail and a community garden.

Major challenges

The figures speak for themselves: climate change, and the depletion of biodiversity and land resources, are among the top three of the nine limits reached by our planet. (1)

Agriculture and food production impact this fragile balance. These industries are responsible for 25% of greenhouse gases, occupy 50% of the soil, use 70% of freshwater resources, and contribute 78% of eutrophic groundwater pollution... Not to mention that, if we consider the biomass of mammals, and  deduct that of the farm animals that we eat, there is 6% from other mammal species on Earth left. (2)

For each of us, there is also the question of how balanced our dinner plate is on a daily basis.  In the future, we should eat at least double the amount of fruit and vegetables and half the amount of red meat and sugar.  For example, the average Belgian consumes 200g of fruit and vegetables per day, whereas this should be 500g. This is necessary, not only for our health, but also for the health of the planet. (3)

All this is the case while, by 2050, there will be 9.6 billion mouths to feed. Most of them (75%) will belong to city dwellers.  The urbanisation of the world's population has a direct and indirect impact on the planet: in addition to the demand for food resources in urban areas, there is also a demand for energy and materials. 

These are major challenges for agriculture.

Some solutions

In this context, it is important to develop integrated and multidisciplinary solutions using biological engineering. This will make it possible to develop, on the one hand, new modes of agricultural production with a reduced impact on the environment, and, on the other hand, consumption that is both local and sustainable. This is one of the goals of urban agriculture, which must interact with the green infrastructures which are in place in cities. These infrastructures provide ecosystem services that ensure environmental quality (water, climate, air, etc.), as well as quality spaces and a source of well-being for all. 

All of this contributes to the preservation, and even restoration, of biodiversity. 

It was with all this in mind that WASABI, the Walloon platform for Innovative Systems in Urban Agriculture and Biodiversity (WAllonne de Systèmes innovants en Agriculture et BIodiversité), came into being. At the initiative of Haïssam Jijakli, professor of urban agriculture, and Grégory Mahy, professor of biodiversity management, this ecosystem with added societal value would soon bring together other professors and scientists from Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech ULiège with complementary expertise: Aurore Degré (hydrology), Patrick du Jardin (botany), Caroline De Clerck (plant science) and Frédéric Francis (entomoculture). The core group was thus formed, around which teams of local and international researchers would gravitate.  Although the platform bears the same name as a famous horseradish-based green paste, WASABI is not about putting on a layer of green: the platform quickly moved on to concrete projects. Bioengineering students, landscape architects and researchers co-created the WASABI adventure, on the 5-hectare campus of Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech ULiège.  With the support of the Gembloux spin-off, Green SURF, for the design of the platform and the implementation of several of these production systems, these actors of change have been working since 2012 to set up this unique tool in Europe, intended both for researchers and for the general public. This complex creates synergies with professionals in the sector and, since 2022, with the general public. An educational trail and community spaces will form a so-called "social" zone. It will be possible to familiarise and train WASABI users in good practices and other sustainable cultivation techniques, as well as in the management of urban ecosystems. 

On its own scale, WASABI intends to provide an eco-innovative response to issues at the crossroads of economy, ecology and society. On the ground, there are so many growing systems and techniques to discover: green roofs and walls, above-ground growing systems, market gardening plots, permacultural mounds, managed wastelands, a botanical garden, a rain garden, green spaces with differentiated management... In other words, everything that science can contribute to biodiversity concerning agriculture in our urban and peri-urban spaces.

To date, the WASABI project has already received more than 3 million euros in European and Walloon subsidies.  


Sources:

  1. Concept by « Planetary Boundaries », Rockström et al., 2009
  2. Poore & Nemecek (2018); UN FAO; UN AQUASTAT; Bar-On et al. (2018) and WWF (2020)
  3. EAT-Lancet Commission Report, 2019

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