Energy and environmental technology Environment

Posted July 1997

Food and Agriculture Organization
of the United Nations
Rome, Italy


Society of Sustainable Agriculture
and Resource Management
Hisar, India


Federal Agricultural
Research Centre (FAL)
Braunschweig, Germany


International Conference
on Sustainable Agriculture for Food, Energy and Industry

June 22-28, 1997
Braunschweig, Germany

Panel Session, Monday, 23 June 1997:
"Energizing" the food production chain for the attainment of food security

Conference Programme | Declaration | Panel Session

See also: "Energizing" the food production chain for the attainment of food security
by Gustavo Best, Senior Energy Coordinator, FAO

The panelists were:

G. Best, FAO (Chairman)
N. El Bassam, Germany (Co-Chairman)
P. Alvim, Brasil
C. Duran de Bazua, Mexico
G. Grassi, Italy
R.K. Behl, India
A. Riedacker, France
E. Schow, Germany (Rapporteur)

Each panelist was allowed time to present their ideas and experience in the field of energy and food security; a discussion period followed with participation of around 200 people from over 30 countries. Without pretending to report in detail the discussions, this note presents the highlights of that discussion period.

Summary of the discussion

Main issue of the discussion is the question if and how we can meet our and the following generations' needs of food and energy. Following the definition of sustainable development this should happen without destroying the environment. All participants agree that this target can only be reached if the food production chain and energy are seen as a system with a variety of interdependencies.

1) Following the food chain:

1.1 In order to assess the energy requirements of the food production chain, it is recommended to assess the fuel, its necessary quality and quantity (scale) and its conversion technology for each step, and for the system as a whole. A temporal dimension can also be introduced to establish short, medium, and long term goals regarding efficiency and sustainability.

1.2 In many places it seems that until 2010 the main bottleneck for biomass energy conversion will be technology availability, while after that land or biomass availability will be the barrier.

1.3 Land requirements for food and for energy production must be assessed to avoid contention.

1.4 A balance between the production of food and of energy must be found. In Camerun and many other countries non-food or at least non-essential food crops are produced, for example rubber, cocoa or coffee. These cash crops make a big contribution to national income. Must they be replaced by other crops in order to obtain food security? Mainly this is a problem of market forces. But certainly these points must be regarded in connection to the specific situation in each country.

1.5 Energy crops require detailed species/land selection-matching

1.6 More data must be obtained for the 450,000 species of the world.

1.7 Bioenergy programmes need to pay attention to potential biodiversity loss

1.8 Modern methods must be introduced to produce enough food and energy in a sufficient quality. For example we need good harvesting and good irrigation techniques. These methods should provide a high energy efficiency and include technology based on renewable energy sources.

1.9 Plant adaptability needs to be taken into account. For example, irrigation is not always the best economic solution. Rainfed agriculture can be a better option.

1.10 Technology must be found which is able to improve the situation of small farms where the people live very close to subsistence level. Some examples are

1.11 Biogas is an important energy conversion technology of biomass. Particularly in the developing countries it can provide additional energy, sanitation and fertilizer.

1.12 Biomass can also be used as chemical feedstock for polymers. -

2) The role of people in promoting food security:

2.1 Regarding the end of the food chain, the consumers must be involved in order to avoid technology loss at the level of the families.

2.2 Farmers must benefit from growing energy crops in order to consider this option in addition to or instead of food crops.

2.3 The role of policy: Energy crops will not have a chance in the following years without a substantial change in energy policy. Fossil resources, which will run out in the next decades, must be replaced by renewables including biomass which does not contribute to the greenhouse effect.

2.4 National and global scenarios regarding climate, demography and energy need to be taken into account when designing rural/food/energy plans

2.5 The role of income and local markets: People in developing countries must be given a chance to buy their fertilizers and other inputs. Markets must be created for energy technologies in rural areas. This can be done by promoting economic development, a long-term objective, and, in the short term, by establishing innovative economic and financial strategies, including transparent, time-planned and targeted subsidies.

2.6 Market forces must be balanced with social equity and ethics. This applies to both national and international efforts.

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