Energy efficiency in agri-food systems
Agriculture itself uses energy on-farm for machinery, heating, cooling and irrigation, and off-farm to manufacture fertilizers, pesticides, and drugs. Food is processed and packaged, transported and distributed, imported and exported across the globe by transnational food giants. Roads are constructed for access and transport, buildings are erected for storage, processing and distribution.
Energy conservation and efficiency measures can be achieved in several ways at all stages along the food chain. These measures can either bring direct savings through technological or behavioural changes or indirect savings through co-benefits derived from the adoption of agro-ecological farming practices. For both large and small agri-food systems, any means of avoiding food wastage should be encouraged, since this represents a waste of resources used in their production. Preventing food wastages can usually result in considerable savings of the energy used in producing food that is not consumed. Avoiding food losses can also help reduce the competition for land and water. The applicability of energy efficiency alternatives needs to be carefully assessed based on context specific situations. For large-scale food systems for example there are a number of opportunities including more technological and capital intensive options. For some small-scale systems on the other hand, there may be a case for increasing direct and indirect energy inputs over time in order to improve productivity and water use efficiency. In this case, the efficient use of increased amounts of energy could possibly support agro-ecological farming practices that achieve good yields and benefit livelihoods.
Energy reduction strategies across the diverse range of food management options are complex and can involve making trade-offs. Two key points in this regard relating to primary production management practices should be emphasized.
Energy and mechanization
Energy and farming practices
Energy in lost and wasted food