UN Report Warns of Global Food Producer's Reliance on Fossil Fuels

Cape Town: Agriculture can keep pace with the ever growing global demand for food only by reducing its dependence on fossil fuels, warns a UN Food and Agriculture Organization report.

The report, presented at the United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference in Durban and authored by Ralph Sims, shows the current dependence of the food sector on fossil fuels may limit the sector's ability to meet future global food demands.

"The world will need to produce 75 percent more food by 2050. So the challenge is to decouple food prices from fluctuating and rising fossil fuel prices," says Sims, senior analyst for International Energy Agency and professor at Massey University, Australia.

"The food supply chain already uses 32 percent of total global energy and produces 22 percent of greenhouse gases. But then we fail to consume one-third of all the food the world produces. So from 'paddock-to-plate' the industry has to become smarter," adds Sims.

High and fluctuating prices of fossil fuels and doubts regarding their future availability mean that agri-food systems need to shift to a more "energy-smart" model, Sims says, "and energy-smart is climate smart".

Sims, who teaches at the Massey School of Engineering and Advanced Technology, suggests that at each stage of the food supply chain, current practices can be adapted to become less energy intensive.

"Such efficiency gains can often come from modifying, at no or little cost, existing farming, fishing, food processing, transport, storage, retailing and cooking practices," says Sims.

Sims quotes the example of New Zealand. "Fonterra, for example, has reduced the greenhouse gas emissions from its farm suppliers by 8.5 percent per liter of milk and its energy inputs per ton of milk product by 13.9 percent."