Empowering food security

Andy Wehkamp | February 07, 2013
The demand for land, water and energy are all interrelated, and addressing the energy-water-food-climate nexus is therefore a crucial challenge. The example of the use of agricultural resources for biofuels is often – rightfully - mentioned to highlight the devastating effect of the demand for clean energy on food security. Apart from this example, the relationship between food and energy has hardly been addressed in this debate. The high dependence of the global food sector on fossil fuels for cooking, transport, production and processing, chemical fertilizers is a point of concern. If an inexpensive supply of fossil fuels becomes unavailable in the future, options for increasing food productivity may become severely limited. Decoupling increase in food production from fossil fuel use will require fundamental changes in global food systems. The food sector currently accounts for around 30 percent of the world’s total energy consumption. In low-GDP countries, cooking consumes the highest share. Billions of people lack access to the most basic energy services: 1.3 billion people are without access to electricity and 2.6 billion people rely on the traditional use of biomass for cooking, which causes harmful indoor air pollution and GHG emissions. These people are mainly in either developing Asia or sub-Saharan Africa, and in rural areas. Increased deployment and use of renewable energy inputs for cooking as well as for production and processing of food can help to improve energy access in rural areas, reduce the food sector’s dependence on fossil fuels, lower GHG emissions and help achieve sustainable development goals. An example of how the energy – food and climate nexus can be addressed is the market-based development of a national biogas sector. With support by the Dutch government, HIVOS and other partners, SNV Netherlands Development Organisation has initiated the development of a biogas sector in 17 countries in Asia and Africa through which more than 500.000 farming households have invested in a bio digester, in which animal dung is converted into biogas and bioslurry. Local masons earn an income by constructing the plants. The biogas from this digester is used for smoke-free cooking, replaces fuel wood, provides lighting, reduces GHG emissions, and the residue bioslurry is often used as an organic fertilizer that enhances the production of grains and vegetables. The multiple benefits do not only provide a renewable energy solution but contribute to improvement of the livelihoods and food security of small holder families.
Andy Wehkamp
Managing Director Renewable Energy SNV