Energy, and in particular energy from fossil fuels, is a scarce resource that needs to be optimized for green growth. Over more than a century, increasing dependence on fossil fuels along the agri-food chain has largely satisfied growing global food demand to the detriment of the environment.
Machines fueled by petroleum have replaced manual labor and animal power. Natural gas and oil have been used to manufacture chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Food processing and packaging plants are heated by natural gas and coal. Diesel and gasoline drive our food products to nearby markets and ship them long distances on planes and boats to meet out-of-season demand. This high dependence of the food system on fossil fuels is cause for concern, due to the release of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere, whose concentration has contributed to climate change.
In addition to energy use, emissions from agriculture are driven by a variety of activities including manure management, synthetic fertilizers, burning crop residues and enteric fermentation, among others. The latter emits methane (CH4) produced by livestock digestion and accounts for 45% of agricultural emissions in EastAgri countries. Since 1992, EastAgri countries have seen an average 10% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions – but an increase of 7.5% in carbon dioxide (CO2).
The news is not all bleak: In EastAgri countries, energy consumption on-farm has declined in recent years from 1084 petajoules (PJ) in 2000 to 899 PJ in 2012. At the same time, agricultural energy intensity, measured in terms of energy needed to produce one unit of gross value added, has been decreasing even more, meaning that there has been a gradual shift towards a wiser use of energy in agriculture to produce higher value agricultural goods.
But there is still more to do.
A range of practices and technologies that can reduce GHG emissions is available. These include the use of renewable energy sources like solar and wind; conservation agriculture practices; sustainable livestock management. efficient irrigation and more accurate fertilizer application methods. Since organic waste is often produced during farming and processing, investments in anaerobic digestion plants to produce biogas that can be used to provide heat, power or transport fuels is another opportunity that is already being widely deployed.
These options and other clean energy technologies will promote economic growth while reducing emissions; it is just a matter of raising awareness and incentivizing the uptake of sustainable technologies and practices tailored to local contexts.
Energy consumption and energy intensity of agriculture of EastAgri countries in 2006 and 2012 compared to 2000. Energy consumption slightly decreased in absolute terms since 2000, while energy intensity (TJ per dollar of agricultural produce) decreased even more. Elaboration based on FAOSTAT, 2015
Cumulative GHG emissions from agriculture and energy consumed in agriculture of EastAgri countries since 2000 and projection to 2030. Emissions have remained stable over the last decade and they are expected to be on the rise in the near future. The top 5 GHG emitters are the Russian Federation, Turkey, Poland, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.
Source: FAOSTAT, 2015