Food and Energy Security Go Hand in Hand, Says UN Agency

Growing energy-producing crops will help farmers save money, create safer cooking fuel, and help them adapt to climate change, says a new report from the UN.

rice farmer

Growing up, most of us ate leftovers at home. Now, the United Nations wants farmers to take advantage of leftovers, too, by using energy-generating discarded rice husks and other farming byproducts to power additional farming activities. The move could help farmers in the developing world sustain their livelihoods, as well as better prepare for climate change. The report, titled “Making Integrated Food-Energy Systems (IFES) Work for People and Climate – An Overview,” presents a winning formula to put farmers in developing countries ahead of the curve in climate-adaptation strategies.


“By combining food and energy production, IFES reduce the likelihood that land will be converted from food to energy production, since one needs less land to produce food and energy,” says the report.

Harvesting food and energy-producing crops offers an innovative, sustainable way forward for a majority of the developing world, since food security, energy, and climate change are such grave concerns at this point in time–and are not expected to lessen any time soon. The key is to scale up models that are already working and reproduce them elsewhere in the world.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, farmers are growing cassava and acacia, from which the wood is then used for charcoal. And those farmers earn four times as much as taxi drivers. In Vietnam, farmers combine livestock, crop, and fish production that together generate biogas, which the farmers then use as a low-cost cooking fuel.

“With these integrated systems farmers can save money because they don’t have to buy costly fossil fuel, nor chemical fertilizer if they use the slurry from biogas production,” said FAO Assistant Director-General for Natural Resources, Alexander Müller. “They can then use the savings to buy necessary inputs to increase agricultural productivity, such as seeds adapted to changing climatic conditions–an important factor given that a significant increase in food production in the next decades will have to be carried out under conditions of climate change. All this increases their resilience, hence their capacity to adapt to climate change.”

Women in particular benefit from the IFES approach, as they are no longer forced to leave their crops for extended periods of time in search of firewood. There are health benefits of switching to IFES, as well–1.9 million people die every year from stove-top smoke-related complications; switching to alternative energy sources, says the report, will help decrease those deaths.

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[Top image via Flickr user Gusjer; thumbnail image via Darrin James]

About the author

Jenara is an overseas reporter for Fast Company and a freelance writer/producer in Asia, regularly on CNNGo, and a graduate of Harvard and UC Berkeley.