The End to Peak Oil: a threat to food security and an incentive to reduce fossil fuels in agriculture

Author: | Date: 9 May, 2012 | Category: Food | Comments: 0

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  :-

http://na.unep.net/geas/getUNEPPageWithArticleIDScript.php?article_id=81
“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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