Integrating food and energy crops can help reduce poverty, new UN study finds

A rice farmer in China uses slurry, the by-product of biogas production, as organic fertilizer

17 February 2011 – Farming systems that combine crops that can be used for food and fuel can help reduce poverty and boost food and energy security, says a new report published today by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The report, entitled “Making Integrated Food-Energy Systems (IFES) Work for People and Climate – An Overview,” uses specific examples from Africa, Asia and Latin America as well as from some developed countries to show how food and energy crops can be successfully integrated.

Integrated systems offer numerous benefits to poor rural communities, according to Alexander Müller, FAO Assistant Director-General for Natural Resources.

“For example, poor farmers can use leftovers from rice crops to produce bioenergy, or in an agroforestry system can use debris of trees used to grow crops like fruits, coconuts or coffee beans for cooking,” he says, noting that other types of food and energy systems use byproducts from livestock for biogas production.

He adds that with these integrated systems farmers can save money because they do not have to buy costly fossil fuel, nor chemical fertilizer if they use the slurry from biogas production.

“They can then use the savings to buy necessary inputs to increase agricultural productivity, such as seeds adapted to changing climatic conditions – an important factor given that a significant increase in food production in the next decades will have to be carried out under conditions of climate change,” states Mr. Mueller.

FAO also noted several other benefits offered by integrated food-energy systems. They are beneficial to women as they can eliminate the need to leave their crops to go in search of firewood.

Women in developing countries can also significantly lower health risks by reducing the use of traditional wood fuel and cooking devices. Some 1.9 million people worldwide die each year due to exposure to smoke from cooking stoves.

Integrating food and energy production can also be an effective approach to mitigating climate change, especially emissions stemming from land use change.

“By combining food and energy production, IFES reduce the likelihood that land will be converted from food to energy production, since one needs less land to produce food and energy,” FAO stated.

Having an integrated system often leads to increased land and water productivity, therefore reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing food security, it added.

An agro-forestry IFES is currently being implemented on a large scale in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where a 100,000 hectare plantation located about 140 kilometres east of the capital, Kinshasa, combines food crops and acacia forests, enabling farmers to grow high yielding cassava and other crops at the same time that they process wood into charcoal.

Total charcoal production from the plantation currently runs from 8,000 to 12,000 tonnes per year, while farmers produce 10,000 tonnes of cassava, 1,200 tonnes of maize and six tonnes of honey annually.

Each farmer, using 1.5 hectare of land generates an income of about $9,000 per year ($750 per month). In comparison, a taxi driver in Kinshasa earns between $100 and $200 per month, FAO pointed out.


News Tracker: past stories on this issue

UN agency highlights potential of jatropha plant as energy source for the poor

Related Stories





In-depth Interviews