Policies and Regulations for Sustainable Agrifood Systems

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The energy footprint of global food value chains accounts for about 30 percent of the total global energy use. However, the nexus between energy and agriculture holds also opportunities for synergies, which can raise agricultural productivity, incomes, and enhance food security. Renewable energy sources have a considerable potential for improving sustainability and incomes along agricultural value chains. However, this potential is often not utilised due to a lack of political will to challenge fossil-fuel based technologies. Political economy thus plays a key role in the development of the renewable energy sector. There are two approaches: a legalistic and an incentive-based approach.

In the context of renewable energy policies, a legalistic approach is based on regulations, which ideally aim to achieve efficiency in energy provision, fair pricing, equality of access and sustainability. These can be renewable energy mandates and targets, feed-in-tariffs, net metering and flexible grid access etc.

On the other hand, an economic incentive-based approach argues that the role of regulations is to create conditions for efficient functioning of markets. The main tools here are tax reductions, grants, subsidies and transfers as well as soft loans.

Transition to cleaner and more efficient energy sources can also be realized by following the energy ladder approach. The concept sees energy choice as a linear step by step process, which depends on the users’ income and which allows the abandonment of less efficient and cheap traditional sources such as wood, shifting to intermediate energy inputs from charcoal, to finally adopt modern, safer and more efficient energy sources such as electricity.

Another possibility for energetic transition is the socio-economic circumstance-dependent energy stacking. This option states that there is no unique and monotonic energy transition process, as energy consumers use multiple energy sources and their choice is dictated by a multitude of socio-economic and cultural preferences.

A fifth option, the energy leapfrogging, has gained increasing policy attention, and refers to a process of energy transition that involves a bypass of the conventional energy to more efficient, safe and environmentally friendly energy technologies. Here, emerging economies have the opportunity to borrow the advanced energy technologies from industrialized countries without the need to go through more pollutant energy sources. Energy technology leapfrogging appears to be especially challenging due to the simultaneously needed institutional leapfrogging and is often limited by lack of technological capabilities. Therefore, energy transition has been constrained in the Global South by interplay of various socio-economic factors, risk-averse behaviour, and lack of institutional and technical capabilities. Read more…

Comparison of various Policy Tools for Promoting Renewable Energies

The adoption of renewable energy systems requires either governmental action or markets that provide clear incentives and standards. Both involve strengths and risks, and therefore complement each other through a variety of policies and tools. Implementing innovative renewable energy policies requires a proactive government, societal support and the involvement of local communities. Depending on the specific case and the political and societal framework, some approaches may be more appropriate than others. A comparison of strengths and weaknesses allows analyzing which strategy, or combination of strategies is best suitable for each socio-economic environment:

Renewable Energy Mandates are legal requirements to produce a certain share of energy from renewable sources. Renewable energy targets are policy commitments to generate a determined share of total energy using renewable sources. Both are market-friendly and especially promote mature technologies. However, they require a high administrative and monitoring capacity, and are less efficient in case of weak enforcement and low penalties.

Feed-in-tariffs are policy tools designed to promote renewable energy generation by guaranteeing the purchase of the generated energy with a long-term contract and at cost-based purchase prices. While it can be very costly and requires complex administrative procedures, this approach provides legal security when well applied, and promotes different renewable energy technologies, including those less competitive at the beginning.

A less costly and technically easier approach is the net metering and flexible grid access. This mechanism enables small-scale renewable energy producers (for example, households with rooftop solar energy generation) to sell the amount of electricity beyond their own needs to the central grid. The only weakness is that it cannot be applied on large scales.

Transfers and subsidies are direct or indirect monetary support to producers or other actors involved in renewable energy production. They allow targeted development of these technologies, but once entrenched they are difficult to remove, even if there is no longer need for them.

Fiscal incentives are the reduction of taxes by various mechanisms, such as tax credits, deductions and exemptions, in order to stimulate renewable energy implementation by reducing investment costs. However, this can be a burden to public budget.

Grants are non-repayable monetary allocations for specific projects. They are targeted investments to specific renewable energy applications, especially when they are not yet attractive to private markets. Often used to promote research and development they encourage deployment of renewable technologies. However, long-term sustainability after completing the grant is often challenging, and payback and rate of return are uncertain.

Soft loans are credits with below market interest charges. This instrument is used by several governments and international donor organizations to promote renewable energies. However, they often only cover capital investment costs.

Choosing a particular tool in a specific country depends on the socio-economic environment, the stage of development of renewable energies and on the political framework. Read more…

Strengths and Weaknesses

Policy Tools

Renewable Energy Mandates and Targets

  • Market-friendly
  • Promotes especially more mature technologies
  • Requires high administrative and monitoring capacity
  • Less efficient in case of weak enforcement and low penalties


  • To promote different renewable energy technologies, including those which are less competitive due to early stage in their development
  • Provides legal security when well applied
  • Predictable revenue streams
  • Can be very costly
  • Appropriate design may require continued adjustments through complex administrative procedures

Net Metering and Flexible Grid Access

  • Generally less costly
  • Technically easy
  • Not applicable for large scales

Transfers and Subsidies

  • Allows for targeted development of renewable energy technologies
  • Once entrenched, could be very difficult to remove even when there is no longer need for them

Fiscal Incentives

  • Provides incentives especially for new renewable energy projects, by reducing investment costs
  • Can be a burden to public budget
  • Lower certainty due to changing political context


  • Allows for targeted investments to specific renewable energy applications, especially when they are not sufficiently attractive to private markets
  • Particularly applicable for research and development into renewable energy innovations
  • Facilitates renewable energy deployment especially in riskier environments
  • Long-term sustainability after grant is over may often be problematic Payback and rate of return may be uncertain

Soft Loans

  • Many agri-/food chains and their sites for processing agro-products or food/ beverages
  • Often cover capital investment costs only

Source: Comparison of various Policy Tools for Promoting Renewable Energies

Publications & Tools

Bioenergy Decision Support Tool

Developed by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Bioenergy Decision Support Tool (DST) provides stepwise guidance to decision makers in governments to adopt sustainable bioenergy policies and strategies, and to assess investment proposals. The tool compilation includes chapters on theTechno-Economic Background, on Designing a Strategy, Implementation and Operation, Project Screening, Land Resource Management, on People and Processes, on the Deployment and Good Practices, and on the Evaluation of Impacts. It introduces important aspects of bioenergy such as developing the supporting policy framework, linking the strategy to existing/potential programs and organizing the set-up in order to successfully interact with technical, financial and administrative stakeholders. Read more…

Energized: Policy innovations to power the transformation of Africa’s agriculture and food system

This publication provides an overview of the state of energy use within Africa’s agriculture sector followed by the existing continental and global policy frameworks. Six indepth case studies from Ethiopia, Ghana, Morocco, Senegal, South Africa and Zambia provideshighlights the institutional and policy innovation as well as programmatic interventions in these countries. It then provides key lessons and recomendations for the African Government and the private sector. Read more...

Navigating Policy and Regulation in the Clean Energy-Agriculture Nexus: A Guide for Companies to Engage Policymakers

This publication by the Powering Agriculture is designed to empower entrepreneurs and advocacy associations involved in clean energy-based water pumping, cold storage and agricultural processing to start or continue a dialogue with policymakers and major donors to develop policies and programs that enable the sector to grow and deliver transformative services to communities. It is based on 30 interviews and an in-person policy dialogue that convened businesses and other stakeholders, the guide presents key policy and regulatory issues in four topic areas: 1) promoting ease of business operations, 2) stimulating market growth, 3) recognizing and rewarding quality, and 4) strengthening private sector-government partnerships. Read more...

Powering Agriculture: Unlocking Africa's Next Green Revolution

This policy brief by Power for All highlights three policy recommendation for boosting Africa's next green revolution. It also includes a case study from Uganda on how to mobilize the next green revolution.

In Africa, agriculture accounts for over 32% of the continent's GDP, providing employment to over 65% of the labor force. However, Africa has one of the lowest agricultural productivity per capita in the world.This is mainly due to lack of investments available to the smallholder farmers level. The agricultural practices is also mainly rainfed and is further impacted by weather conditions caused by climate change such as erratic rainfall and desertification. Thus,access to energy is key for increasing agricultural productivity in Africa. However, to support smallholder farmers, access to energy must be complemented with increase access to micro and commercial finance to farmers and reform the existing cooperative structures to organize and aggregate farmers for price setting and processing for value addition. Read more...

Strengthening Entrepreneurial Ecosystems - An Interactive Guide for Development Professionals

Entrepreneurial Ecosystems help entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses – contributing to strengthening ecosystems is therefore key for development practitioners, policy makers and other ecosystem players. Recently, there has been a general move towards ‘entrepreneurial ecosystems’ as a conceptual framework for entrepreneurship promotion programmes, and in line with this concept, GIZ has developed the Guide on Strengthening Entrepreneurial Ecosystems.

This interactive Guide gives development professionals the necessary theoretical background, concepts, approaches and practical tools to strengthen entrepreneurial ecosystems in developing countries. It is intended to be used as a reference after the professionals have completed their analytical ‘mapping’ of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. The Guide is supported by examples from GIZ and other programmes, all of which are intended to provide an in-depth understanding of how professionals approach various challenges in different regions and contexts – and since numerous sources of information on how to strengthen entrepreneurial ecosystems exist, each section of the document provides links to many of these useful sources and to opportunities for personal involvement.