Posted March 1996
Many countries in Africa continue to be among the lowest per capita energy consumers in the world. In all sectors, industry, agriculture, transport, household and commercial, a lack of minimum energy inputs has led to continued low productivity and impaired economic growth. It is also clear that in all sectors, energy is but one of the many important inputs for production, conversion, processing and commercialization.
However - and especially in the agricultural sector of most African countries - increased yields and production due to energy and other inputs, can lead to important benefits such as improved incomes, new employment opportunities and agro-industrial growth, which will in themselves tend to increase energy requirements. In this context, energy can be viewed as a "motor" for development. The energy/agriculture relationship is more complex than a mere econometric one. It has unique social and political elements, and in the case of rural Africa, it affects millions of people immersed in poverty, drudgery and malnutrition, and - in energy terms - outside the development process enjoyed by other sectors of the population.
Food security issues, particularly in Africa, have acquired a revived and new emphasis. Thirty countries in sub-Saharan Africa alone, suffered from low or critically low levels of food security in the period between 1991 and 1993. Many other countries in the region will require emergency assistance due to shortfalls in food production. Achieving the aim that "all people at all times have access to the food they need for a healthy, active life", will necessarily imply increasing the quality and quantity of energy inputs. Particularly where hunger is caused by widespread and persistent poverty, energy can have an impact, both as a direct input, and through the benefits it carries related to rural infrastructure, employment and enhanced level of life.
A new FAO study, "Future energy requirements in Africa's agriculture", analyses systematically the past and present energy situation in Africa's agricultural sector. The study identifies and discusses trends in, and results of, energy development in the region as a whole, develops and applies a methodological approach to five countries (Cameroon, Mali, Sudan, Tanzania and Zimbabwe) and lays the basis for more detailed national, subregional and regional studies.
The main constraint in preparing the study was the lack of data regarding energy consumption in the agricultural sector, especially by small farms and producers. This reflects the scarce attention this energy sub-sector has normally received from energy and agriculture institutions, which is probably one of the main causes of the problems facing rural energy development. The data available is generally incomplete, frequently unreliable, scattered over different sources and rarely compiled in an organized manner. In order to fill this data gap at least partially, contact was established with a number of national experts, who assisted in the identification and collation of energy and related information for case studies.
The following are the study's main findings and recommendations:
Agricultural productivity is closely associated with direct and indirect energy inputs, and policies are required to consolidate this relationship for the benefit of farmers. Agricultural development plans in most African countries are designed and implemented with little or no regard to this association, thus missing opportunities to enhance production in both quantitative and qualitative terms. Energy development plans rarely take into consideration the present and future energy needs of agriculture, and most rural electrification programmes are mainly directed to households.
Energy price policies seldom regard the economic conditions of rural populations. If rural development is to be achieved, energy inputs must be made available, and this might require special efforts from the society as a whole - e.g. subsidizing energy inputs in order to maintain the expected low costs and high quality of agricultural produce, as generally demanded by urban populations.
Policies promoting social equity between rural and urban populations and between men and women, particularly in rural areas, are generally non-existent, leading to migration, injustice and social instability. In energy terms, what is needed is a reduction in human drudgery (e.g. water and fuel collection) and better services. Facilitating energy and other inputs required by agriculture represents greater recognition, in both economic and social terms, of the vital role played by Africa's rural people in feeding society.
Policies on the ownership of land, and regulations to control its use, are beyond the scope of the FAO study, but have important implications for biomass conversion to energy. Legislation regarding property rights - both of land and of produce, such as biomass from forests - is generally weak in Africa and is considered an important barrier to the healthy development of sustainable bioenergy production and use.
Planners and policy makers need to be able to link energy requirements with specific objectives of agricultural and rural development, such as food security, agro-industry development, and sustainable farming practices. This requires data indicating the energy intensiveness of different farming techniques for important food and other crops.
In order to promote food security strategies with the necessary energy inputs, policies and methodologies should consider the critical linkages between agricultural production, agricultural-based industries (food, beverage, tobacco, and textiles), distribution and commercialization, and the rest of the economy. Agricultural growth is the most important contributor to manufacturing and service activity in Sub-Saharan Africa, not only stimulating agro-industries, but the rest of the economy as well. In this context, energy from biomass is an added benefit.
The goal of regional food security could require a two- to threefold increase in agricultural energy requirements by 2010 relative to 1990/1 levels, particularly if emphasis is made on improving yield through conventional high-input techniques. (This reflects results for Zimbabwe). Agro-industry could become the fastest growing sector, in terms of energy requirements, with the agricultural sector the next fastest growth sector.
Low-input farming techniques, such as integrated pest management, low-tillage cultivation, use of residues, green manures, and other organic fertilizers, may play an important role in sustainable agricultural development. There are several local success stories and new initiatives in low-input, high-yield agriculture. However, the energy implications of these techniques have yet to be systematically documented. More research is needed to enable clear comparisons with well established high-input methods.
The design and implementation of almost all sustainable agriculture and rural development field activities will require some form and amount of energy input. In many cases, this energy input is not considered, leading to unsatisfactory solutions from both the environmental and energy efficiency standpoints. It is necessary to "energize" agricultural practices with the same sustainability and environmental criteria as the practice itself.
Most sectoral plans are carried out in isolation from other sectors. Integration is particularly important when developing policies and plans for energy in agriculture, due to the close interlinkages. To a great extent, this problem arises as a result of the lack of priority given by the energy sector to rural areas in general, to the lack of a "lobbying" capacity among farmers, and to the lack of mandate and of technical expertise on energy in the agricultural sector.
One of the striking features unearthed by this study is the very limited linkages between the various sectors which are to be involved in the definition of energy policies for agriculture, in the actual implementation of energy projects for agricultural activities, and in the development of technologies related to the double role of agriculture as an energy consumer and producer. A national group or task force could be considered as a way of guiding an overall Energy for Agriculture programme. A national framework for action could be designed and adopted, to serve as reference for all involved.
Methods for agricultural/rural energy planning should ideally be carried out at the local, regional, and national levels. Local needs are best addressed with knowledge of specific local conditions and with effective people's participation.
Demand-driven, end-use analysis offers several advantages. It is generally based on significant disaggregation among farm types, crops, regions and energy uses, to enable better understanding and projection of energy requirements.
Greater efforts need to be directed towards understanding the economic impact of energy shortages and shortfalls in the agricultural sector of Africa. Information and data generated by this exercise would provide important and vital guidance for determining the optimum level of resources that should be channelled towards the study and assessment of energy use in the agricultural sector, as well as the design and implementation of appropriate interventions. At present, resources provided appear to be woefully inadequate. This is particularly striking in a region where agriculture is the dominant economic activity.
The general scarcity of available data on energy use patterns, combined with the importance of meeting agricultural energy needs, suggests that greater effort should be directed towards compilation of agricultural energy statistics.
Regional cooperation in the energy and agriculture field would strongly benefit from a data base built from normalized country information. The questionnaire prepared and utilized for the FAO study could be used as a guide.
There is significant potential for cost-effective energy efficiency improvements in key areas such as tobacco curing, agricultural pump sets, and food, beverage, and textile industries, where up to 50%, 20%, and 30% reductions in energy use, respectively, could be economic and achievable.
The potential role of agriculture as a major energy producer will only be tapped if technologies to convert biomass (wood, residues, purposely grown) are developed, tested and economically assessed. Among those technologies which seem to offer good possibilities are: gasification, pyrolysis, fermentation (alcohol and biogas) and modern combustion.
Although efforts have been pursued in many African countries to develop and utilize energy sources such as solar and wind energy, their potential is far from being realized. Among promising solar and wind technologies are water lifting and pumping using solar thermal and photovoltaic systems and wind mills, and heat and cold production for drying and other processes using solar dryers and thermodynamic systems.
There is a general lack of recognition on the part of policy makers of the need to urgently increase energy inputs for agriculture. Rural poverty alleviation is normally high in the policy agenda of most countries, and it would consolidate these efforts if energy were considered a priority in rural development plans and programmes.
The African region has developed considerable expertise in many energy fields, as demonstrated by the efforts of the African Energy Programme of the African Development Bank, which have mobilized more than 140 energy experts. There is an urgent need to develop a training module on energy and agriculture in order to tap and mobilize that expertise towards this sector.
"Future energy requirements in Africa's agriculture" was written by Mr. Michael Lazarus, Mr. Evan Hansen and Mr. David Hill of the Stockholm Environment Institute, Boston, Mr. Stephen Karekezi and Mr. Lugard Majoro from the African Energy Policy Research Network, and Mr. Gustavo Best and Mr. Jeff Tschirley, FAO/SDRN. Members of FAO's Energy Working Group and officers from the African Energy Programme of the African Development Bank contributed comments and inputs. The study represents an FAO contribution to the African Energy Programme of the African Development Bank.