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UN Agency Publishes Paper on “Energy-smart” Agriculture at Climate Change Conference

November 30, 2011 |

There is a major need for global food systems to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and shift to “energy-smart” models in order to meet global food demands, according to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

The organization released the report entitled “Energy-Smart Food for People and Climate” in Durban during the UN Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa.

The report said there is a challenge to “decouple food prices from fluctuating and rising fossil fuel prices.” However, it also said that since the food sector both requires energy and can produce it, the sector can take advantage of the energy-food connection by using more sustainable farming and production methods.

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

The report estimates that the food sector accounts for 30 percent of global energy consumption. The sector’s operations include input manufacturing, production, processing, transportation, marketing and consumption. On farms, energy-using processes include pumping water, housing livestock, cultivating and harvesting crops, heating protected crops, drying and storage.

When combining losses on the farm and after harvest, about a third of all food produced and the energy embedded in it is lost or wasted, according to the report.

The FAO paper proposed several energy-smart practices, such as 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 crop varieties and animal breeds that are less input-dependent. Recommended practices to use after food is harvested include improved transportation and infrastructure, better insulation of food storage facilities, reductions in packaging and food waste and more efficient cooking devices.

FAO recognized renewable energy as another way for food systems to become more sustainable.

“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,” the report said.

It recognized solar, wind, hydro and geothermal or biomass energy resources as possible substitutes for fossil fuels and resources that can be used in food storage and processing.

FAO says the answer to being energy-smart is based on three pillars: energy access, energy efficiency and energy substitution through a greater use of renewable energy systems.

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