UN urges food sector to reduce fossil fuel use and shift to ‘energy-smart’ agriculture

30 November 2011 – The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has urged the global food industry to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, saying that excessive reliance on that form of energy is likely to undermine efforts to produce enough food for the world’s growing population.

“There is justifiable concern that the current dependence of the food sector on fossil fuels may limit the sector’s ability to meet global food demands,” said a FAO study circulated yesterday at the ongoing UN Conference on Climate Change in Durban, South Africa.

High and fluctuating prices of fossil fuels and doubts over their future availability mean that agriculture and other food-related industries need to shift to an “energy-smart” model, according to the paper entitled ‘Energy-Smart Food for People and Climate.’

The food sector requires energy, but it can also produce it, the study points out, calling for an “energy-smart approach” to agriculture that offers a way to take advantage of the dual relationship between energy and food.

The food sector, including input manufacturing, production, processing, transportation, marketing and consumption, accounts for approximately 30 per cent of global energy consumption, and produces over 20 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

“The global food sector needs to learn how to use energy more wisely. At each stage of the food supply chain, current practices can be adapted to become less energy intensive,” said Alexander Mueller, the FAO Assistant Director-General for Environment and Natural Resources.

Such efficiency gains can often come from modifying at no or little cost existing farming and processing practices, he added.

Steps that can be taken at the farm level include the use of more fuel efficient engines, the use of compost and precision fertilizers, irrigation monitoring and targeted water delivery, adoption of no-till farming practices and the use of less-input-dependent crop varieties and animal breeds.

Post-harvest, improved transportation and infrastructure, better insulation of food storage facilities, reductions in packaging and food waste, and more efficient cooking devices offer the possibility of additionally reducing energy use in the food sector.

The FAO report also highlights the tremendous potential for agriculture to produce more of the energy needed to feed the planet and support rural development.

“Using local renewable energy resources along the entire food chain can help improve energy access, diversify farm and food processing revenues, avoid disposal of waste products, reduce dependence on fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions, and help achieve sustainable development goals,” it says.

Where good solar, wind, hydro, geothermal or biomass energy resources exist, they can be used as a substitute for fossil fuels in farming and aquaculture operations.


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