Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions along the agrifood chain are produced from the combustion of fossil fuels to run machinery, generate heat and electricity for food storage and processing, and from the use of petroleum fuels for food transport and distribution. Energy is essential for food security and development, but current food production and energy use patterns are unsustainable if climate change targets are to be met.

  • Primary food production and the food supply chain, including landfill gas produced from food wastes, contribute approximately 22 percent of total annual greenhouse gas emissions.
  • An additional 15 percent of greenhouse emissions results from land use changes, particularly changes linked to deforestation brought about by the expansion of agricultural land.

FAO along with other partners is promoting climate-smart agriculture, forestry and fisheries that can sustainably increases productivity; adapt to climate change; build resilience to shocks and variability; reduce and remove greenhouse gases; and enhance the achievement of national food security and development goals. The ESF Programme is an essential component of climate-smart agriculture as it assesses the energy implications of climate-smart interventions.

Energy-smart practices are also climate-smart

A number of climate-smart agriculture practices, particularly those related to sustainable intensification production, can lead to a reduction in the use of external fossil-fuel derived inputs. Integrated Pest Management (IPM), an ecological approach to manage pests through the use of biodiversity and biological processes, not only improves crop production, builds resilience, but also reduces the need for fossil fuel-based pesticides. Likewise the application of low-carbon energy technologies contributes to climate-smart agriculture objectives. For example, the use of solar concentrators or ovens by cooperatives or small farmers associations can create new opportunities for food processing in rural areas and extend the shelf life of perishable products to avoid food losses. Becoming energy efficient increases climate resilience, reduces energy consumption and lowers greenhouse gas emissions.

FAO in collaboration with other partners is currently preparing a sourcebook on climate-smart agriculture. The Sourcebook will clearly articulate the concept of climate-smart agriculture and describe how it addresses the objectives of food security and livelihoods, climate change adaptation and mitigation. All of these objectives may not be able to be achieved to the same degree and at the same time, so it will necessary to set priorities and limit trade-offs. The Sourcebook will also help stakeholders to plan climate-smart production systems and landscapes by providing an overview of key principles, areas of interventions and good practices in management and governance. Opportunities for reducing energy dependency while addressing climate change will also be included in the Sourcebook.

Renewable energies contribute to climate-smart objectives

The introduction of renewable energies to substitute for fossil fuels in food production and processing contributes to efforts to mitigate climate change. Renewable low-cost energy technologies suitable for the rural poor have been developed and are beginning to show successes. Examples of these technologies include:

  • improved biofuel cookstoves;
  • low-cost solar pasteurizing units;
  • pumps for irrigation;
  • micro-hydro electrical generators suitable for agro-processing; and
  • efficient manually-operated water pumping and agro-processing equipment.

The potential for bioenergy use to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is the subject of much debate, particularly concerning the use of liquid biofuels and their impacts on food security.

Energy access and smallholder producers

The links between energy access and climate-smart agriculture objectives are twofold. First, biomass-based fuels, such as fuel wood are widely harvested in a non-renewable fashion and are combusted inefficiently in traditional stoves. Supporting the transition to more efficient and cleaner energy sources to address energy insecurity contributes to a clean development path and climate change mitigation. In particular, the promotion of low-carbon technologies, such as solar energy for food drying, to reduce pressure on forested areas, improved or new technology for firewood use and charcoal making and promotion of the use of energy-saving equipment among others. In addition, a decrease in agricultural productivity due to climate factors, such as pest outbreaks and less precipitation, will reduce the amount of biomass available for households to produce energy. There is a need to identify energy options to reduce the vulnerability of these households while ensuring their energy and food security.

Bioenergy and Climate Change

The first of the GBEP sustainability indicators, developed with the contribution of FAO, provides guidance to measure the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions from bioenergy production and use, as per the methodology chosen nationally or at community level, and to report these emissions using the GBEP Common Methodological Framework for GHG Lifecycle Analysis of Bioenergy V1, a flexible tool for communicating and comparing methodologies used in GHG LCA of bioenergy systems.

The BEFS Analytical Framework and the associated tools address the greenhouse gas emission reduction potential of different biofuel production pathways.


An Innovative Accounting Framework for the Food-Energy-Water Nexus 31 October 2013 Human wellbeing relies upon the availability and wisemanagement of food, energy and water. The interconnections between these resources makeclear that the management of each of them cannot be considered in isolation but in an integrated and holistic way. Inter-linkages should be considered also among different scales, between local and global processes of resources use, and between social and economic aspects of a society, in order to properly assess the impacts of new policies or interventions.This report presents the results of the application of an integrated analysis approach, the Multi- Scale Integrated Assessment of Society and Ecosystem Metabolismto three casestudies: (i) an analysis of the option to produce biofuel from sugarcane in the Republic of Mauritius; (ii) an exploration of the future of grain production in the Indianstate of Punjab; (iii) an assessment of two alternative energy sources to produce electricity in the Republic of South Africa. [more]
The BEFS Analysis for Tanzania : sunflower biodiesel, water, and household food security 18 September 2013 There has been substantial debate regarding the potential of bioenergy as an alternative to fossil fuels, and the potential positive and negative impacts on rural development, food security, and the environment. Growing demand for food, population pressure on land use, and the growing impacts of climate change will create additional challenges for land and resource management. The focus then should be on how bioenergy can be produced in combination with food and other products to enhance both food and energy security. In this context, FAO, with generous funding from the German Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV) established the Bioenergy and Food Security (BEFS) Approach, to contribute analytical and policy guidance on how the development of a bioenergy sector could drive agriculture growth and poverty reduction, while fostering food security. The multidisciplinary, cross-ministerial discussion prompted by BEFS is based on information derived from technical analyses with the goal of assisting countries in deciding the direction for policy and development priorities. The analysis included here in builds on the analysis published as a result of the first BEFS Tanzania project and specifically includes three components – 1) Production cost analysis of biodiesel from sunflower; 2) Water availability and management issues in the Wami River Basin; and 3) Household level food security using a country representative dataset. The results of the analysis highlight key areas where the government of Tanzania could integrate energy and agriculture goals to enhance energy and food security jointly. [more]
Policy Brief: The Case for Energy Smart Food Systems 18 September 2013 An interdisciplinary "nexus" approach is necessary to ensure that food, energy and climate are jointly addressed, trade-offs considered, and appropriate safeguards are put in place. These issues will not be addressed through a single initiative. Because of its importance, scope and complexity, this challenge must be met through participation of a broad constituency of interested parties. This demands a multi partner international effort to implement energy-smart solutions in a non fragmented and cost effective way. Within this context, FAO proposes setting up an "Energy Smart" Food for People and Climate Multi-Partner Programme to be launched in 2012. The aim of the Programme is to address the energy dimension in relation to food security and energy poverty and should be seen as an essential component to climate-smart agriculture. [more]
Guidelines for Sustainable Bioenergy Investment - Sierra Leone 18 September 2013 There has been substantial debate regarding the potential of bioenergy as an alternative to fossil fuels, and the potential positive and negative impacts on rural development, food security, and the environment. Over the last few years, there has been growing interest in bioenergy in Sierra Leone as a means to stimulate agricultural investment, provide an alternative energy source, and potentially contribute to agricultural training and yield improvements. While Sierra Leone has a National Sustainable Agriculture Development Plan (2009) there is no specific plan or policiy to date regarding bioenergy. [more]

last updated:  Wednesday, September 18, 2013