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The concept of sustainable development is especially relevant when applied to the growing energy needs of more than three billion people living in the rural areas of Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Over the last five years, FAO, both as part of its Regular Programme, and in collaboration with the ESCAP/UNDP Regional Energy Development Programme, REDP, has developed a systematic approach to energy problems in rural areas. The new approach, as presented in this document, draws on the accumulated knowledge of experts and of national and regional institutions. It proposes what it considers to be an enduring foundation for national operational programmes to bring about sustainable rural development through planned energy inputs.

An integrated approach for energy planning for sustainable rural development is presented and the framework within which this approach can be implemented is discussed. Guidelines are proposed for a comprehensive integrated rural energy planning programme which is intended to make the integrated approach and the framework operational in developing countries.

Consultations were held with governmental and other experts in the rural energy field to review national efforts in such fields as energy planning, technology development, institutional responsibilities and implementation strategies. The FAO/ESCAP/UNDP Regional Workshop on a Comprehensive Approach to Energy Assessment and Planning for Rural and Agricultural Development held in China in September 1989 constituted an important part of these consultations.

The approach set out in this document stresses that energy planning, without effective mechanisms to convert its findings into implementable projects, becomes an academic exercise. National energy policies which do not converge with the interests of the smallest rural communities can only be theoretical. Mature rural technologies such as small diesel engines, solar dryers, wind generators, small hydropower schemes, biomass gasifiers or rural electrification programmes, can only be successfully implemented if they fulfill identified and assessed energy requirements for rural and agricultural activities and if they are supported by technical, financial and policy measures.

In drawing up this approach, an attempt has been made to create a bridge between the energy sector authorities and those authorities dealing with agriculture and rural development. Such a bridge already exists between the energy sector and the industrial, transport and commercial sectors. It has been established as a result of a long process. The industrial sector knows how to assess and negotiate its energy requirements, as do the other sectors. Trained personnel effectively discuss with energy authorities the energy needs related to industrial plans and programmes. The agricultural sector, however, lags behind in this respect. A major reason for this is that problems are aggravated by the dispersed, relatively small - scale nature of energy needs in the rural sector and because, contrary to other sectors where clear and powerful counterparts exist, this sector is composed of many, often poor potential energy users. Yet, energy is a lever which can raise agricultural and agro-industrial productivity thereby improving the level and quality of life of rural populations. The new approach discussed here is an intent to break a hitherto vicious circle.

This document has been prepared with the assistance of Dr. S. K. Chopra, Adviser to the National Planning Commission, Government of India, in his capacity as Consultant to FAO.

Thanks are due to the members of the Energy Working Group of FAO who assisted in the revision of the document, and FAO is grateful to ESCAP and UNDP for entrusting it with its formulation and publication.

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