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FAO calls for less dependence on fossil fuels to increase food production

By Caroline Scott-Thomas, 30-Nov-2011

Related topics: Sustainable sourcing, Markets

The global food system needs to become less dependent on fossil fuels and shift to ‘smart energy’ in order to meet a growing demand for food, according to a new report from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The report, “Energy Smart Food for People and Climate”, said that the food sector is responsible for about 30% of the world’s energy consumption and contributes more than 20% of its greenhouse gas emissions. However, the FAO projects that globally, 70% more food will be needed by 2050 to feed a growing population, and most of this needs to be produced through increased yields.

“The great challenge the world now faces is to develop global food systems that emit fewer GHG emissions, enjoy a secure energy supply and can respond to fluctuating energy prices while at the same time support food security and sustainable development,” the report said.

In particular, the paper said that increasing food production should become decoupled from fossil fuels, although it said that more analysis was required to examine how such a shift would affect food security, food prices, and energy access, among other factors.

According to the report, the transition to ‘energy smart’ agriculture would entail using more ecologically friendly farming methods that improve yields for subsistence farmers; improving water use and water access; promoting efficient management of natural resources and energy; shifting from fossil fuels to clean energies; and reducing losses and waste along the food chain.

The FAO has estimated that about one-third of global food production is not consumed, with retail and consumers responsible for most wastage in developed countries, and losses occurring mainly in harvest and storage in lower-GDP countries.

“It is clear that continuing under business-as-usual is not an option,” the report said. “Policy-makers need to adopt a long-term view to make the needed paradigm shift to food systems that are both climate-smart and energy-smart. But just because this shift will not be accomplished in the short term does not mean that we can afford to wait.”

The full report is available online here .