Climate Smart Agriculture Sourcebook

Management of energy in the context of CSA

Production and Resources

Energy-smart food in the Climate-Smart Agriculture context

Figure B9.3 shows the relative contribution of each sector to total greenhouse gas emissions from the agrifood system. These figures relate to the entire agrifood chain, from 'farm' to 'fork'. However, they do not account for emissions related to land-use change, international trade (transport) or food waste. Methane and nitrous oxide are the predominant greenhouse gas gases emitted from agrifood chains, excluding those associated with land-use change. Most carbon dioxide emissions from agrifood chains are linked to energy use. Globally, these emissions account for more than one-third of total emissions from agrifood chains (FAO, 2011a).

Figure B9.3. Shares of greenhouse gas emissions along the food supply chain with breakdown by (i) food chain phase and (ii) type of greenhouse gas.

Source: FAO, 2011a

The following sections consider the potential for energy-smart agrifood chains to be climate-smart and the ways in which these chains can contribute to each dimension of climate-smart agriculture.

B9 - 4.1 Climate-smart agriculture objective: sustainable increases in productivity and income

Increases in productivity achieved through , inter alia, mechanization, feed and/or pasture management, irrigation and the increased use of fertilizers and pesticides imply an increase in the use of energy, usually fossil fuels. Energy-smart strategies that cover the diverse range of food management options are complex and can involve making trade-offs. In this regard, some key points relating to production management practices should be emphasized.

  • Methods that save on inputs derived from fossil fuels but reduce productivity (e.g. cutting back rather than optimizing the amount of fertilizer applied) are rarely beneficial and should be avoided.
  • High-external input production chains do not necessarily have high-energy intensities (megajoules per kilogram of product), especially when they lead to increased yields. Conversely, low-input chains can have relatively high-energy intensities if yields are low.
  • Given the preceding two points, it is appropriate to measure energy intensity by establishing a ratio between the amount of energy used and the amount of production, rather than between the energy used and the number of units ( e.g. hectares, cattle heads) used for production. This form of measurement ensures that improvements in energy intensity do not lead to reductions in food production. This ratio also allows for a better understanding of when reductions in the use of energy (e.g. lower use of fertilizer) do not negatively impact food production, and when less energy use per hectare reflects negatively on productivity (i.e. less production per hectare).
  • In promoting energy-smart food, a balance needs to be maintained between improving access to energy sources and increasing the efficiency of available energy. This balance must be based on local conditions and the economic trade-offs between the different options. For instance, in developing countries, domestic stoves account for a major part of energy consumption in the agrifood chain. Compared with open fires, the use of more efficient biomass cook stoves can reduce the demand for traditional fuelwood by half (Chum et al., 2011). However, while traditional biomass cook stoves are less energy-efficient, less healthy and more labour-intensive than modern ones, they are often more affordable, which is a critical factor in impoverished rural communities (Geoghegan et al., 2008; UNDP and WHO, 2009). For this reason, the dissemination of improved domestic stoves often succeeds when micro-finance is available for capital investments. New stove designs also need to be culturally acceptable. For example, users may prefer to cook with fuelwood during the cooler evenings rather than cook in the heat of the day with a solar oven.

B9 - 4.2 Climate-smart agriculture objective: strengthened resilience to climate change and variability

As the climate changes, some agricultural practices may no longer be able to provide a reliable source of income. For some agricultural producers, diversifying their activities to include on-farm energy generation may be a potential coping strategy. Energy-smart food chains, which improve access to modern energy services and can increase energy diversity, can also contribute to energy security, which can in turn strengthen resilience. Tapping into local energy sources can also increase incomes. This also increases resilience to climate change. The use of biogas cookstoves illustrates both types of adaptation: greater self-reliance and higher income. Biogas cookstoves and their liquid fertilizer by-product can help ensure self-reliance in household energy and at the same time, reduce the amount spent on woodfuel and chemical fertilizers, and make gathering firewood less time consuming.

Although renewable energy plays a key role in future low‐carbon plans to limiting global warming, the generation of renewable energy depends on climate conditions, which makes it susceptible to climate change. Climate change will affect many aspects of renewable energy production, including: the cultivation of biofuel crops; water availability and seasonality for hydropower; atmospheric conditions for wind and solar energy; and variations in energy needs for heating and cooling. These impacts are expected to increase significantly, and the energy sector will have to adapt. The energy supply needs to be 'climate-proofed' as much as possible to ensure that energy use in the agrifood system becomes climate-smart. Table B9.1 provides examples of measures to reduce climate change-related losses and risks in the energy sector. Several of these measures are similar to those that are promoted for climate change adaptation in agriculture and are relevant to climate-smart agriculture. While the table shows adaptation measures for specific energy classes, it should also be noted that a diverse energy portfolio may also be a way to reduce climate risk to the energy supply.

The World Bank’s Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP) has developed a web tool called the Hands-on Energy Adaptation toolkit (HEAT) to assess the vulnerability of the energy sector to climate change and other factors (ESMAP, 2013).

Table B9.1. Examples of measures to reduce losses/risks in energy chains

Adapted from Ebinger and Vergara, 2011




“Hard” (structural)

“Soft” (technology and design)



Operation and maintenance


MINED RESOURCES including oil and gas, thermal power, nuclear power

Improve robustness of installations to withstand storms (offshore), and flooding/drought (inland)

Replace water cooling systems with air cooling, dry cooling, or recirculation systems

Improve design of gas turbines (inlet guide vanes, inlet air fogging, inlet air filters, compressor blade washing techniques, etc.)

Expand strategic petroleum reserves

Consider underground transfers and transport structures

(Re)locate in areas with lower risk of flooding/drought

(Re)locate to safer areas, build dikes to contain flooding, reinforce walls and roofs

Emergency planning

Manage on-site drainage and runoff Changes in coal handling due to increased moisture content

Adapt regulations so that a higher discharge temperature is allowed

Consider water re-use and integration technologies at refineries


Build desilting gates

Increase dam height

Construct small dams in the upper basins

Adapt capacity to flow regime (if increased)

Change water reserves and reservoir management

Regional integration through transmission connections

(Re) locate based on changes in flow regime

Adapt plant operations to changes in river flow patterns

Operational complem- entarities with other sources (for example natural gas)


Improve design of turbines to withstand higher wind speeds

(Re)locate based on expected changes in wind-speeds

(Re)locate based on anticipated sea level rise and changes in river flooding


Improve design of panels to withstand storm or reduced loss of efficiency due to higher temperatures

(Re)locate based on expected changes in cloud cover

Repair plans to ensure functioning of distributed solar systems after extreme events


Build dikes Improve drainage

Expand / improve irrigation systems

Improve robustness of energy plants to withstand storms and flooding

Introduce new crops with higher heat and water stress tolerance

Substitute fuel sources

(Re)locate based on areas with lower risk of flooding/storms

Early warning systems (tempera- ture and rainfall)

Support for emergency harvesting of biomass

Adjust crop management and rotation schemes

Adjust planting and harvesting dates

Introduce soil moisture conservation practices

Apply Conservation Agriculture for better drought and flood management


Invest in high-efficiency infrastructures and equipment

Invest in decentralized power generation such as rooftop PV generators or household geothermal units

Efficient use of energy through good operating practice


Improve robustness of pipelines and other transmission and distribution infrastructure

Burying or cable re-rating of the power grid

Emergency planning

Regular inspection of vulnerable infrastructure such as wooden utility poles



B9 - 4.3 Climate-smart agriculture objective: contribution to climate change mitigation

Reducing the use of fossil fuels in the food chain will reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Figure B9.3 shows that, globally, about one-third of greenhouse gas emissions from agrifood chains come from direct energy use (excluding those from land-use change). Most of these emissions occur beyond the farm gate, and they are higher in high-GDP than in low-GDP countries. Box B9.2. illustrates the situation for the United Kingdom and the United States.

Box B9.2  Examples of the importance of energy-related greenhouse gases beyond the farm gate in high-GDP countries

As shown in Figure B9.3, the agrifood chain, carbon dioxide emissions linked to energy use are mostly associated with post-harvest operations. In high-GDP countries, post-harvest operations account for the bulk of emissions from the agrifood chain. 

Figure B9.4 shows that in the United Kingdom around 52 percent of the emissions occur in the post-farm stages of food production (DEFRA, 2011). The situation is similar in the United States, where around 54 percent of greenhouse gases are emitted after the farm gate (see Figure B9.5). 

These findings are shaped by a number of factors, including how the boundaries of the food system are defined. For instance, the inclusion of dishwashing or international food trade could significantly change the overall picture. For example, the net food trade in the United Kingdom’s food system is responsible for around 24 percent of total emissions of the food chain, which lowers the relative proportion of emissions attributable to farming to just 32 percent.

Figure B9.4. Greenhouse gas emissions along the agrifood chain in the United Kingdom.

Figure B9.5. Greenhouse gas emissions along agrifood chain in the United States.

Source: FAO elaboration based on DEFRA, 2011). Source: FAO elaboration based on Canning et al., 2010 and EPA, 2009)

However, the links between energy-smart food chains and climate-smart agriculture go well beyond the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels. There is also a correlation between nitrous oxide emissions from fertilizer applications and energy use (and hence carbon dioxide emissions) in the production of fertilizer. Precision crop production, including a more efficient use of fertilizer, will lower carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions and reduce the consumption of fossil fuels. Methane emissions can be reduced by using manure for biogas, which may also improve access to energy on farms and reduce the use of fossil fuels. Growing trees on farms for energy purposes can also sequester carbon and provide an alternative to fossil fuels.

In developing countries, increased access to modern energy services in agrifood chains is often required to improve productivity and income, and advance economic and social development. An increase in energy consumption, even if based initially on fossil fuels, may also result in lower absolute greenhouse gas emissions. For instance, improved access and greater use of modern energy services, may reduce deforestation if it leads to reduced demand for traditional wood fuel. Modern energy services can also create new economic opportunities that displace unsustainable high-emission activities that are profitable only in the short-term, such as logging and charcoal production, or agricultural expansion. Increased access to energy is likely to reduce emissions per unit of food production or per unit of gross domestic product.

Increasing energy efficiency in agricultural production may also increase profits, which could drive further agricultural expansion or intensification. In this situation, the resulting land-use change would lead to higher greenhouse gas emissions, even when calculated per unit of production.

B9 - 4.4 Synergies and trade-offs between energy-smart food chains and climate-smart agriculture

Combining the objectives of energy-smart food and climate-smart agriculture is possible, but it is likely to require some trade-offs. Table B9.2 presents a broad overview of the possible synergies and trade-offs between energy-smart food chains and climate-smart agriculture. These linkages are often quite complex and context-specific. More research is needed in this area.

Table B9.2. Examples of possible synergies (in italic green) and trade-offs (in bold red) between energy-smart food and climate-smart agriculture objectives

Climate-smart agriculture objectives Energy-smart food objectives

Climate-smart practices for sustainable increases in productivity and income

Climate-smart practices for climate change adaptation

Climate-smart practices for climate change mitigation

Increased energy efficiency


Savings on energy costs (after up-front costs for technology have been paid) will result in increased profit if productivity is not excessively decreased


Savings in energy costs result in increased income available to enhance adaptive capacity

Decreased dependence on energy inputs (especially fossil fuels) will tend to reduce vulnerability to shocks in energy prices

Some “climate-proof” agricultural production and energy chains may result in lower energy efficiency


Improvements in energy efficiency, whether due to lower embedded energy in inputs or on-farm fuel combustion, will reduce fossil energy needs - hence greenhouse gas emissions in the production chain

Increased energy efficiency may translate into reduced costs, hence greater profits. But these may result in extensification of agriculture (i.e. the so-called rebound effect), potentially bringing about carbon dioxide emissions from land use change that could even result in greater greenhouse gas emissions per unit of production

Examples :

  • Practices such as replacement of synthetic fertilizers with application of crop residues or manure contribute to both increased energy efficiency and sustainable increases in productivity.

  • Practices that reduce external energy inputs while maintaining or increasing yields, such as Conservation Agriculture, increase energy efficiency. The combination of no-till with a crop rotation that provides and recycles part of the nutrients contributes to both energy efficiency and sustainable production intensification.

  • Enhanced post-harvest technologies and practices that contribute to both energy efficiency and sustainable increases in productivity and income, such as improved crop and food storage, packaging and distribution.

  • Drip irrigation chains that require a lot of energy may be less energy efficient than gravity irrigation; which in turn are less water-efficient Hence one should take into consideration trade-offs between increased energy efficiency and water efficiency through a water-energy-food nexus approach to ensure sustainability.



  • Practices such as Conservation Agriculture that enhance crop cover, soil water retention and Soil Organic Matter may increase resilience to drought and extreme weather events

  • Irrigation tends to enhance resilience and may increase energy efficiency through its positive impacts on productivity


Examples :

Practices such as Conservation Agriculture, precision agriculture leading to optimized use of agrochemicals , replacement of synthetic fertilizers with crop residues or manure, elimination of pesticides through integrated pest management or enhanced distribution logistics that reduce fossil fuel combustion will lead to reduced greenhouse gas emissions.,. Conservation Agriculture.

Increased production and use of renewable energy in agrifood chains, including through integrated food-energy chains)[i]


On-farm production of renewable energy can allow farmers to sustainably increase income through the sale of renewable energy to the grid or of biogas to the local market or through reduced purchases of fossil fuels.

Potential land-use competition (energy versus food: e.g. solar panels on farm land, biofuels)

Use of renewable energy chains may result in more expensive energy inputs (i.e. fossil fuel might be cheaper than renewable energy)


Renewable energy will lead to decreased dependence on fossil fuels, so less vulnerability to fossil fuel market shocks.

On-farm renewable energy production can Increase income diversification, so reducing dependency on crop yields and demand.

Carefully-designed diversified energy portfolio can reduce climate vulnerability, although some types of renewable energy (e.g. wind, bioenergy, hydro) are vulnerable to climate variability.

The degree to which new energy services are climate resilient depends on the energy source (see table 5.1).


Energy diversification will tend to replace fossil fuels with renewable forms of energy. But, t in the case of bioenergy, it will only reduce net greenhouse gas emissions if good land use practices that reduce the risk of conversion of carbon rich land ( e.g. primary forests or peat land) are promoted

Examples :

  • On-farm production of biogas can allow use of a biogas by- product as a liquid fertilizer, which can increase yields and reduce environmental pollution.

  • Integrated food-energy chains such as intercropping with leguminous crops or agroforestry may sustainably increase farm productivity and also provide energy.

  • Excessive use of agriculture and forestry residues for bioenergy can compete with their role in increasing soil organic matter and hence damage productivity.

  • Biofuel production could lead to increased pressure on water resources, reduced agrobiodiversity (where monoculture is used) and introduction of invasive species.


Examples :

  • Use of agriculture and forestry residues for bioenergy can compete with their role in improving soil management, which could decrease resilience to extreme weather events.

  • The use of residues for bioenergy rather than animal feed and/or soil nutrition/protection compromise But biogasproduces biofertiliser as sub-product


Examples :

  • Use of agriculture and forestry residues for bioenergy can compete with their role in returning carbon to the soilIndirect effects of biofuel demand such as indirect land-use change and price-induced intensification can lead to net greenhouse gas increases.

  • The use of residues for bioenergy rather than for animal feed could act as an additional source of displacement and potential land-use change


Increased access to modern energy services


Availability of energy for productive use (both for primary production and value-adding processing) and reduction of food losses (e.g. through improved processing, packaging and storage) can enable improved use of natural resources and increased productivity and profits.

Provision of modern energy services through renewable forms of energy is likely to lead to sustainable increases in productivity and income (particularly where locally produced), whereas if fossil fuels are used there could be productivity and income benefits along with negative environmental consequences. Trade-offs need to be assessed in the local context and taken into account.

More affordable energy services may be less energy efficient (e.g. cheaper tractors may be less efficient).


Increased access to modern energy services enables enhanced adaptive capacity through the ability to increase and diversify income, for example through adding value to primary production and through enhanced storage of products.


Increased access to modern energy services will generally lead to increased energy consumption. This will often lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions (although these could be insignificant for some renewable energy sources). However, when access to modern energy services displaces unsustainable use of wood for energy, the resulting reduction in deforestation and forest degradation could lead to reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

Increased access to modern energy services may or may not lead to increased energy efficiency - this depends in part on the stage of development and level of energy consumption of a country/agri-food system (see above cell for energy efficiency versus climate change mitigation).

Examples :

  • Bioenergy technologies that retain more nutrients (e.g. anaerobic digestion) versus those that retain less nutrients (e.g. gasification and combustion).