Sustainable energy for a food secure future
Whilst one-third of the food we produce is wasted, food insecurity remains a pressing challenge. Is it not a paradox that the world produces enough food to feed everyone yet 12% of the world population is estimated to be undernourished? Or that sub-Saharan Africa, which experiences food insecurity, could actually meet the minimum annual food requirements of at least 48 million people if post- harvest grain losses were avoided ?
As important as the ongoing food aid is to food insecure regions, getting to the heart of the problem is every bit as critical. We need to move beyond food aid when ensuring that the poorest have enough to eat. Addressing food losses is part of the solutions.
We can, and must do, more to reduce food losses. In developing countries, this cannot be achieved without access to sustainable energy for rural communities.
Inadequacies of processing, poor storage facilities and lacking access to markets cause significant post-harvest food losses in developing countries. A large proportion of fresh products such as fruit, vegetables, meat and fish straight from the farm, or after the catch, are being spoiled in hot climates due to lack of cooling, drying and technologies that would enable safe storage. The other main reason for post-harvest losses is lack of access to markets, due to insufficient transport infrastructure and access to market relevant information (daily market prices).
Sustainable energy can greatly help reduce loss. The UN is an old hand when it comes to sustainable energy initiatives. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has been providing institutional and technical support for projects, such as the SolarChill Project, which helps deliver food refrigeration services to regions of the world with no electricity or an inadequate access to energy.
UNEP’s Division of Technology, Industry and Economics (DTIE) invited partners and industry to work together to work to find a better refrigeration solution in 2001. The project partners gave themselves the sole mandate to develop a technology that would serve the purpose, make it freely available to interested manufacturers worldwide, and promote its uptake internationally. Industry partner Vestefrost, developed a prototype unit utilizing solar chill technology A unique feature of the technology was that the energy of the sun is stored in the ice instead of in batteries. The equipment is powered by renewable energy from the sun collected via photovoltaic solar panels.
Another example of improved access to energy directly contributing to reduction of food waste, is a project in Cameroon, where UNEP is helping rural communities to improve fish smoke houses. The Cameroon Wildlife Conservation Society (CWCS) Improved Fish Smoke Houses Project has led to the installation of 500 improved fish smoked houses in the Douala Edea Reserve. These superior smoke houses are built on the basis of the traditional “banda”, where the oven’s edges are closed in order to reduce heat and smoke losses. Due to a significant reduction of the smoking time required, this technology not only helped reduce wood consumption, but also led to the recovery of some 25% of the fish catch, which had previously been wasted.
UNEP is also working on the sensitive issue of bioenergy. The rapid development of bioenergy, in particular liquid biofuels, has generated considerable debate regarding their sustainability, in particular for the so-called “food versus fuel” competition. The links between bioenergy and food security are complex and multi-faceted. Much has been said about the risks, but little on the opportunities that bioenergy can bring to food security, with appropriate policies and industrial commitments in place. A sound science-based and integrated approach is required to address the links with food security, rural development, climate and energy security, and promote both “food AND fuel”.
This approach requires:
• in-depth understanding of the situation and related opportunities, risks, synergies and trade-offs;
• enabling policy and institutional environment, with sound policies based on resource assessments, and effective means to implement these;
• implementation of good practices by investors and producers; and
• proper impact monitoring, evaluation and response.
UNEP together with partners has developed over recent years tools such as the Global Bioenergy Partnership (GBEP) Bioenergy Sustainability Indicators for bioenergy production and the UN-Energy Decision Support Tool for Sustainable Bioenergy (DST).
Finally, UNEP is also working towards addressing knowledge gaps regarding the status of energy use and energy production in food systems.
Overcoming the energy poverty barrier is fundamental if we are to reduce hunger and malnutrition. Hopefully, governments will shift towards a new paradigm: integrated food energy systems. This can offer a range of opportunities for fulfilling the three key objectives of the UN Secretary General’s Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative in an integrated manner: greater energy efficiency, increased use of renewable energy and improved energy access.