Co-optimizing Solutions: Water and Energy for Food, Feed and Fiber

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The World Business Council for Sustainable Development has released the report "Co-optimizing Solutions: Water and Energy for Food, Feed and Fiber" in 2014. The report reveals how the world’s growing demand for food and other agricultural products can be met while minimizing environmental impact, with multiple benefits on yields, resource use (energy, water, land...) and climate change mitigation/adaptation. Smart and scalable solutions to the  interconnected water, energy and food, feed and fiber challenges are presented. It is based on a combination of research with a quantitative analysis of global linkages and case studies of techniques that innovative companies are using.[1]

"The World Business Council for Sustainable Development is a CEO-led organization of forward thinking companies that galvanizes the global business community to create a sustainable future for business, society and the environment. [...]. The WBCSD provides a forum for its 200 member companies – which represent all business sectors, all continents and combined revenue of more than US$7 trillion – to share best practices on sustainable development issues and to develop innovative tools that change the status quo. The Council also benefits from a network of 60 national and regional business councils and partner organizations, a majority of which are based in developing countries." [2]

Increasing Demand for Agricultural Products

Food demand is expected to rise by 60% by 2050 due to population growth and increased consumption. Also demand for fiber and biofuels is expected to rise substantially. These developments will put great strains on land, water, energy and other resources in the coming years, and also heavily impact greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

The WBCSD report states that energy use in agriculture (primary production) is 3-8% of global consumption. Taking into account food processing, this number more than doubles. Energy consumption in agriculture is anticipated to increase by 84% in 2050 in a business-as-usual scenario.

Already today agriculture is the world’s largest water user, consuming 70% of total water each year. Further, climate change will impact food production in various ways. All this might lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions, decreased yields, increased water demand, as well as increases in pests and weeds.

Main Nexus Challenges

  • 60% increase in demand for food by 2050 due to population growth and increased consumption
  • Increased demand for fiber for paper, wood panels and roundwood
  • 300% increase in demand for biofuels
  • Impact on land from increases in production yields
  • Impact on water resources and quality due to increased irrigation; plus competition over water, will lead do reduced overall water availability and salinity
  • Impact of climate change on agriculture e.g. decreasing yields
  • Impact on energy consumption from intensified agriculture
  • 50% in GHG emissions
  • Volatile agricultural commodity markets caused by increased demand and scarcity of agricultural products, while increasing oil prices would lead to higher production costs and climate change might cause fluctuations in production

Smart Co-optimized Solutions

Smart solutions are needed - these solutions already exist or are currently developed to support agriculture becoming less wasteful, innovative and energy smart. WBCSD's report presents such solutions, which can be "co-optimized" to create synergies and reinforce each other to create multiple benefits such as saving energy and water while increasing agricultural productivity and value.

The WBSCD points out the significant role of business as key player to innovate co-optimized solutions. Thereby they point out the potential benefits from cooperating all along the agricultural value chain e.g. input suppliers, producers, commodity traders, processors and retailers.

Case Studies

The report presents case studies from BASF, Dow Chemical, DuPont, Evonik, ITC, Jain Irrigation, Monsanto, Novozymes, Pepsico, and Syngenta. These case studies cover the following co-optimized solutions:

  • Smart varieties
  • Smart crop management and efficient fertilizer production
  • Mixed farming systems
  • Blue and green water management
  • Efficient farm operations, mechanisation and bridging the yield gap
  • Making use of trade
  • Reducing food loss and waste

Further Information

Further Details of the WBCSD Report:

More information regarding the Water, Energy, Food Nexus:

More information regarding the Energy-Agriculture Nexus:


  2. World Business Council for Sustainable Development, 2014. Co-optimizing Solutions: Water and Energy for Food, Feed and Fiber.