The End to Peak Oil: a threat to food security and an incentive to reduce fossil fuels in agriculture
The National Energy Research Network online bulletin had a link to a recent UNEP report on the impact that Peak Oil is likely to have on global agriculture which ties in with CEL’s LOAF campaign. Below is an extract from the conclusion. You can read the full report at :-
“The end to cheap oil: a threat to food security and an incentive to reduce fossil fuels in agriculture”
Options for the future
If the peak oil energy situation evolves, the agricultural production systems developed during the Green Revolution will have to be modified. There are several approaches to reducing the food system’s dependence on fossil fuels and they all require changes in agricultural practices, lifestyles and urban and rural development. A number of those suggested most often are listed inBox1. Agronomic practices like no-till, minimum tillage, crop diversification, crop rotation and integrated pest management, in combination with the strategic application of fertilizers and irrigation water, the use of low-impact pesticides and the expansion of precision-farming procedures, are recommended as well-proved schemes that are more sustainable than those of intensive, high-input conventional farming both in terms of energy use and other direct environmental impacts (Viglizzo 2012).
Box 1: Approaches for reducing fossil fuel use in agriculture
- Increase the efficiency of fossil fuel use in agriculture, by reducing the requirement of farm power per unit of land area, for example (eg,. smaller tractors, less and lighter farm equipment, reduced use of machinery, less irrigation)
- Apply sustainable tillage practices that minimise soil erosion and compaction and also reduce the use of machinery and associated energy inputs.
- Adopt fertiliser and pesticide management schemes that reduce agrochemical use and the amount of indirect energy used, such as the methods employed by precision farming.
- Halt the degradation of arable land to conserve more land for agriculture, by stemming deforestation and overgrazing that erodes soils, for example.
- Increase the number of people working in agriculture and reduce farm sizes. It has been shown that for the same yields, smaller farms use less fuel than big ones. This is often linked to the increased size of the labour force on small farms. A policy-making matrix integrating agricultural and conservation elements can be used to encourage small-scale agroecological approaches, especially when they function within the payment-for-ecosystem-service framework (Perfecto and Vandermeer 2010). Another suggestion is to support a global fund for micro-financing that would promote the development of diversified and resilient ecoagriculture and intercropping systems (UNEP-GRID 2009).
- Adopt environmental and social full-cost pricing of energy inputs to agriculture to discourage unsustainable production patterns.
- Reduce the transportation of agricultural products from farms to consumers by integrating agricultural production into human settlements and promoting locally grown and in-season products. Also, diminish the amount of refrigeration by encouraging consumers to buy smaller quantities of in-season fresh produce more frequently. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), a partnership between a local organic farmer and his clients involving a subscription to weekly baskets of produce, achieves these aims (Van En 1995), as do garden allotments and local produce markets in cities.
- Increase the production of animal feed on the farm or in its vicinity.
- Develop sustainable energy systems to replace fossil energy sources. For example, irrigation and some farm machinery could use solar or wind power instead of fossil fuels.
- Reduce the amount of meat consumed worldwide, since vegetarian options require far less energy to produce than meat.
- Introduce sustainable practices for large-scale commercial livestock production. An example is by increasing the growth rate in beef cattle, resulting in significant declines in land, water, fossil fuels and feed consumption, as well as less waste outputs (manure and GHG).
- Develop biofuel production from waste, by-products or feedstock instead of using food crops for biofuels (UNEP-GRID 2009).
- Implement a certification scheme for sustainable production and good practices to reduce energy use.
- Introduce a combination of regulatory instruments, incentives and public-private initiatives that would help to reduce fossil fuel inputs in agriculture (Alemany and Lanzilotta 2011).
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