Literature Analysis: Energy in Agriculture

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The lack of comprehensive energy centred analyses along agricultural value chains at global level is reflected – with a few exceptions – in literature. In recent years, most notably the FAO worked globally and holistically on the topic, and produced various publications (e.g. "The Energy and Agriculture Nexus"[1], "Solar PV for sustainable agriculture and rural development "[2], "Energy Smart Food for People and Climate"[3], "Climate Smart Agriculture").
Though further publications deal with the subject, provide incentives as well as selective potential solutions, there is a lack of comprehensive analyses of energy input and outputs along the entire value chain of an agricultural product. Likewise, analyses of successful models for market-based energy technologies exist only selectively. However, one can clearly notice that holistic approaches and “greening value chains" have been becoming more and more important – due to the increasing demand for socially and environmentally responsible products. Even though the focus is on analyses regarding greenhouse gas emissions, those analyses can be used as a proxy for energy use. In addition, analyses of energy and material flow within the production of bioenergy increase – providing potential points of contact. Nevertheless, in many lines of production it remains unclear which optimization potentials in a region are to be reached both economically and practically.

Literature Overview: Energy and Agriculture

Already in 1979, the work on "Agriculture and Energy" was published by the German umbrella organization DAF[4] – however, limited to Germany. The publication "Modern Energy Services for Modern Agriculture" by GIZ HERA (2011) outlines energy inputs along agricultural value chains and various applications of renewable energies for different stations (irrigation, cooling, ...)[5]. Nevertheless, this publication also lacks concrete data and facts, as well as an analysis of important branches of production such as aquaculture and agroforestry systems. In its publication "Energy Efficiency Improvement in Agriculture" the German Federation of Chambers of Agriculture (2009)[6] explains the essential energy consumption points of different branches of production and gives recommendations for farmers. Even though, it is limited to the conditions in Germany as well, this hand-out provides a good basis for advisory. Bioenergy sustainability indicators have been developed by the Global Bioenergy Partnership (2011)[7]. For example, the World Agroforestry Centre works intensively on agroforestry systems, which can contribute to mitigate climate change and to increase soil fertility and thereby contribute to a more positive energy balance. Moreover, agroforestry systems are of particular importance since illegal deforestation as well as inefficient firewood use and its associated impacts on the rural population are widespread problems[8].

Interdependency of Agriculture Productivity and Fossil Fuels

Increasing agricultural production and efficiency is based on increasing energy use; the increasing dependence of prices for agricultural products on the availability of fossil fuels is discussed by the FAO[1]. As energy user and energy producer the agriculture and food economy can play a significant role above all in the context of rural development[8]. International forums on food safety like the economic platform "Investing in Food Security: Growing Needs and Opportunities" deal with the field of energy, agriculture and food security. The sustainable use of energy use is often further hampered by a lack of political and economic conditions, such as subsidies for conventional energy, lack of availability of know-how and funding opportunities[9].

Indirect Energy Use

The literature analysis revealed that the greatest potential for improvement in terms of energy use in agriculture lies within the indirect energy use (fertilizers, plant protection agent) and in efficiency measures (insulation, ventilation, maintenance and use of improved technologies, e.g. combustion technologies, etc). Also of great importance is the unexplored potential within the energetic use of waste materials, particularly in the manufacturing sector (e.g. rice husks, bagasse, and palm oil).

Direct Energy Use

Considering the direct use of energy in agricultural production, irrigation is often cited in literature as an example; since on the one hand, it is operated by mostly inefficient and conventional energy sources, while on the other hand irrigation can significantly increase revenues or rather prevent crop failures caused by water stress[2]. Regarding processing, most cited topics are the deficient efficiency of mills, adequate drying method and cold chains[5]. In addition, the improper storage of food is an issue which can lead to large losses.

Further Focal Areas: Efficient Packaging, Maintenance Practices, Access to Finance, Training Needs

Also in the area of ​​packaging efficiency, potentials are indicated in the literature[1]. Furthermore, it is pointed out that waste of resources is not always due to technology, but also due to the type of use or practices, such as the use of fertilizer or maintenance of machineries[8]. Access to microfinance systems and cooperation between private and public sector are considered urgently necessary to create appropriate political, social, legal, economic and qualifying conditions[9]. Comprehensive training of all actors such as technology providers, financial institutions, and energy service companies, consultants, and in particular farmers, on the topic of sustainable production and use of energy are cited as a basis for sustainable development in various publications (FAO, 2010[10]; HERA, 2011[5]; ICRAF, 2011[8]; CGIAR[11], 2012).

Further Information


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 FAO, 2000b: The Energy and Agriculture Nexus – Environment and Natural Resources Working Paper No. 4
  2. 2.0 2.1 FAO, 2000a: Solar photovoltaics for sustainable agriculture and rural development – Environmental and Natural Resources Working Paper No.2 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "FAO, 2000a" defined multiple times with different content
  3. FAO, 2011: “Energy-smart” food for people and climate – Issue PaperfckLR
  4. DAF, Dachverband wissenschaftlicher Gesellschaften der Agrar-, Forst-, Ernährungs-, Veterinär-, und Umweltforschung, 1979: Agrarwirtschaft und Energie
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 HERA, 2011 Modern Energy Services for Modern Agriculture – A review of Smallholder Farming in Developing Countries Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "HERA, 2011" defined multiple times with different content
  6. Verband der LW-Kammern, 2009: Energieeffizienzverbesserung in der Landwirtschaft
  7. GBEP, 2011: The Global Bioenergy Partnership Sustainability Indicators for Bioenergy
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), 2011: Policy Brief 12: Making climate-smart agriculture work for the poor
  9. 9.0 9.1 GFFA, 2013: Internationales Wirtschaftspodium “Investing in Food Security: Growing Needs and Opportunities"
  10. FAO, 2010: Climate-Smart Agriculture – Policies, Practices and Financing for Food Security, Adaptation and Mitigation
  11. CGIAR, 2012: Achieving food security in the face of climate change – Final report from the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change