Opportunities for Integrated Food-Energy Systems

In order to feed the world in 2050, food production must increase by 70%. High food productivity in the past may largely be attributed to the use of fossil fuels. Energy use in agriculture is therefore also expected to rise in the future, further contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. Because agriculture relies on energy-intensive inputs, food security and energy security are closely interlinked (Bodgdanski 2013). Meanwhile, more than two-fifths of the world’s population still depends on unsustainably harvested wood energy for cooking and heating, which have detrimental effects on the climate and on natural resources. Continuing on this unsustainable path is not an option, as it will place additional pressure on the already-stressed natural resource base, as well as on local livelihoods. Additionally, climate change is further reducing the resilience of agro-ecosystems and smallholder farmers.

Ecosystem approaches that combine both food and energy production, such as agroforestry or integrated crop–livestock–biogas systems, could substantially mitigate these adverse effects while providing both food and energy to rural and urban populations. However, the scientific basis for such integrated systems–essential for informing decision-makers and for secure policy support–is still relatively scarce (Bogdanski 2012).

Integrated Food-Energy Systems provide many advantages compared to conventional farming systems, yet also raise considerable challenges (Bogdanski et al., 2010). These challenges, which are mainly related to capacity building, knowledge transfer and finance, require solid policy support in order to be addressed appropriately. Nevertheless, there remains limited evidence demonstrating the successful adoption of IFES–IFES that are widely accepted by the farming community, and are at the same time sustainable and scalable.

Given the variety of potential IFES options and the diversity of global agriculture, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to agricultural energy challenges. In fact, there are many different types of IFES. Some are adopted widely, such as certain types of agroforestry systems that simultaneously provide households with food and fuelwood. Other versions of IFES are more innovative and less ubiquitous, for example, those systems that use agricultural residues from food crops and livestock to produce biogas, or intercropping schemes that provide feedstock for bioethanol production.