Opportunities for Agri-Food Chains to become Energy-Smart

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The world’s agri-food supply chains are being challenged. For several decades, the production, processing and distribution of food have been highly dependent on fossil fuel inputs (the exception being subsistence farmers who use only manual labor and perhaps animal power to produce food for their families that is then usually cooked on inefficient biomass cook-stoves). There has also been an ever growing demand for food as the world population grows, along with the increasing demand for higher protein diets. As a result, the agri-food production and processing sector has become a major producer of greenhouse gases (GHGs).

This Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) report concentrates on the high dependence of energy inputs, particularly fossil fuels, at all stages along the various agri-food value chains. Emphasis is given to agricultural food production systems and the subsequent processing of raw food products into consumer products for the fresh, local and export markets. Direct energy inputs include petroleum fuels for tractors, harvesters, trucks and irrigation plants; electricity for motor drives, lighting, refrigeration, water pumping; and natural gas for water heating, steam raising, and process heat. Indirect energy inputs include those used for the manufacture and delivery of fertilizers and agri-chemicals. Indirect energy embedded in farm buildings and processing factories, machinery, equipment and fencing was not included. Transport, food retailing, cooking and waste disposal were also largely excluded from the analysis.

Since there are many different food value chains, only three were selected here as examples to demonstrate the potential opportunities that there are for reducing the demand for fossil fuels and reducing GHG emissions. They were milk, rice, and vegetables, the latter restricted to tomatoes (including greenhouse production), beans, and carrots, with various markets for each including fresh, canned, paste and frozen products.

Clean Energy Solutions and Rural Development

In many countries, the application of low-carbon and renewable energy solutions to replace fossil fuels is rapidly increasing in the heating, cooling, and power sectors, and to some degree in the transport sector through the growing use of biofuels and electric vehicles (particularly when the electricity is either generated from renewables or the energy mix of the grid has a relatively low GHG emission factor). In remote rural areas where no electricity grid connection exists, stand-alone mini-grid solutions are increasingly being constructed, particularly where they offer the potential to boost local economic development as a result of more intensive agricultural and food processing activities.

Such “sustainable agriculture production systems” and “climate-smart food systems” can become pragmatic solutions for sustainable development and can also bring significant structural changes, improved livelihoods, and enhanced food security to rural communities in many countries. However, there is a need for targeted action in support of such developments in order to obtain better evidence of the co-benefits and dis-benefits resulting from supporting clean energy systems.

The chapter covers:

  • Aims and objectives
  • Scope of the study
  • Case studies

►Read more here.

Energy and the Food Value Chain

Electricity is a key energy carrier used in many activities on farms, in food processing plants and during the manufacture of fertilizer, machinery, equipment, and building materials. Around two thirds of total electricity generation in the world is dependent on fossil fuels in the form of coal, natural gas or diesel fuel that are combusted to either produce steam to drive turbines, or to fuel internal combustion engines that are then used to drive electricity generators. The other third of total electricity generation is fairly equally divided between nuclear power plants and renewable electricity systems, mainly hydro-power plants (IEA, 2014).

Many small, remote rural communities remain without access to modern energy services due to poor road infrastructure and the electricity grid not yet having reached the area. Even where electricity distribution lines have been built, supply may be very unreliable with frequent outages and fluctuating power quality. In such locations, diesel-generation sets are often employed to produce electricity, or more recently renewable energy systems have been developed such as small-scale hydro, wind, and solar power systems. The electricity can be used by businesses in the production, storage, handling, and processing of food products.

Where rural locations are remote, any purchased liquid fuels are relatively expensive due to delivery costs. Hence there can be higher incentives to use energy wisely (by improving efficiencies) as well as by developing local renewable energy resources for use by small and medium enterprises processing the food. Efficient and safe operation, as well as undertaking repairs and maintenance, requires skilled labor. So capacity building is often critical for long-term success.

This chapter covers the following subsections:

  • Value chain approach
    • Energy in food losses and waste
    • Scale of enterprise
    • Access to energy
    • Cleaner value-chains
  • Energy demand and supply technologies
  • Behavior and demand side technologies
  • Cross-cutting low-carbon and energy demand efficiency options
    • Conservation agriculture
    • Water pumping and irrigation
    • Cooling and cold storage
    • Tractors and machinery
    • Fertilizers and agri-chemicals
    • Transport and distribution of goods
    • Processing and packaging
    • Use of information technology
  • Renewable energy supply options for, and from, the agri-food chain
    • Renewable energy technologies
    • Wind power
    • Solar photovoltaics
    • Small and mini-hydro power
    • Current use of renewable energy in the agri-food chain
    • Mitigation and climate change impacts
    • Economic assessment
    • Policies for encouraging renewables in the agri-food sector

►Read more here.

Milk Value Chain

This chapter takes a closer look on milk value chains on a global and regional scale, their energy and water demand in the various production processes and the utilized technologies. From this discussion, some hotspots where interventions are needed to reduce energy and water use can be identified. Several incorporated case studies enrich the closer examination. The structure of the chapter is as follows:

  • Global and regional production
  • Energy and water demand
    • Feed production
    • Direct energy consumption
    • Transport
    • Milk processing and packaging
  • Production and processing technologies
  • Summary of key energy interventions

►Read more here.

Rice Value Chain

The chapter on rice value chains is similar structured like the previous section on milk value chains, focusing on production, demand, technology and key interventions, enriched with interesting case studies:

  • Global and regional production
  • Energy and water demand
    • On-farm rice production
    • Processing
  • Production and processing technologies
  • Summary of key energy interventions

►Read more here.

Vegetables Value Chain

The investigated vegetables value chains are tomatoes, beans and carrots. A comprehensive overview about energy and water requirements within these value chains will be provided and several key energy interventions presented at the end of the chapter. The chapter is structured as follows:

  • Tomatoes
    • Global and regional production
    • Energy and water demand
  • Beans
    • Global and regional production
    • Energy and water demand
  • Carrots
    • Global and regional production
    • Energy and water demand
  • Summary of key energy interventions

►Read more here.

Selected Tools to assess Suitability and Profitability of Energy Interventions along the Agri-Food Chain

The possible energy interventions along the agri-food chain are numerous and at times there is a need to prioritize them on the basis of certain criteria. Several tools are available (some are available at no cost) to assist decision making on energy interventions and assess the most suitable and/or profitable options. These tools can be used to assess possible interventions along different food value chains, including on-farm production and food processing. The chapter presents the following tools:

  • Value chain analysis
  • Techno-economic assessment (renewables and water)
  • Bioenergy assessment
  • On-farm assessment

 ►Read more here.

Knowledge Gaps

Additional knowledge is needed for a range of commodities concerning the amount and types of energy inputs at particular stages along the agri-food chain and the entry points of various low-carbon technologies. Some questions that are difficult to answer without further research and analysis are as follows:

  • What are the forms of energy and types of end-use technologies currently in use that could be improved upon to reduce energy intensities (MJ/kg of food product)?
  • What practical alternative and economically feasible options can be optimized for a specific location to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy systems for heating, cooling, and electricity generation?
  • How can energy end-use efficiency be increased and the energy demand side managed better to drive rural economic development along more climate-friendly pathways?

►Read more here.

Conclusion and Recommendations

A detailed analysis of the energy demand along the three selected value chains, milk, rice, and vegetables, was undertaken. An assessment of the potential for clean energy solutions was made for each specific value chain. Where feasible, the identification of priority stages, entry points, steps, and interventions for introducing the identified clean energy solutions into each value chain was made. As a result of introducing clean energy solutions, potential success factors were noted where feasible and indicators identified to measure this success.

Sustainable agriculture production systems that use energy wisely, together with “climate-smart” and “energy-smart” agri-food processing and delivery systems, can be cost-effective and become pragmatic solutions for sustainable development. They can also bring significant structural changes, improved livelihoods, and enhanced food security to rural communities in many countries. However, there is a need for targeted action in support of such developments in order to obtain better evidence of the co-benefits and dis-benefits resulting from supporting clean energy systems.

The challenge is to meet the growing energy demands with low-carbon energy systems and to use the energy efficiently throughout the production, transport, processing, storage and distribution of food.

►Read more here.


Opportunities for Agri-Food Chains to become Energy-Smart

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