New food production systems need sustainable energy worldwide

Sustainable energy is a crucial requirement for the future of food production systems.  Here Håkan Sandin discusses the requirements of energy for agriculture

Food production systems of the future are requiring more and more energy to cope with the growth in demand.  So why is this?

A sculpture of food production in Thailand
Photo by Håkan Sandin: A pastoral dream landscape in Thailand today replaced by a highly efficient industrial agriculture that, with the help of chemicals and fertilizers, destroys a millennial agricultural ecosystem.

To produce food in the future, we must use large quantities of energy, in addition, on an ever-increasing scale. The reason are mainly three;

1.  The world population is 9.8 billion people in 2050

The world’s population will increase from today’s 7.6 billion to 9.8 billion by 2050, according to a UN report. In just seven years, India will have passed China as the world’s most populated country, the UN predicts. And by 2050, Nigeria will have taken over third place from the United States. With around 83 million people being added to the world’s population each year, the upward trend in population size is expected to continue.

2.   An increasing number of people live in our cities

Today, more than 50% of the world’s population lives in cities. The world’s production systems for food  is changing at a furious pace and more and more energy-consuming means of production, such as fertilisers and pesticides are used. And since we still use the same agricultural land resources to produce our food, like when we lived in rural areas ourselves, it requires many and costly methods of transport all over the world as well as to the city, in order for food to be consumed.

3.  The food needs more transports

The world is flooded with food. Variation of food offered to the consumer is also dramatically increasing. Food of all kinds, from every corner of the world, is nowadays available in almost every shop. Our consumption patterns are also changing. In the urbanised world we prefer to buy our food in food bags distributed to our homes. As a result, the transport in our cities has increased further and dramatically. We also consume more processed and packed food and we eat more and more out at restaurants.

Can we save energy when producing food?

The answer is as simple as obvious. We must always be scarce with the world’s resources and we must get rid of our dependance on fossil energy, espcially in transports.

However, we must continue to support the growing population of the world with food and then we need also to increase our use of energy.

The latest reports from the UN Climate Panel PPCC, which came in May this year show that we can supply the world with renewable energy, with a good margin. ”The technological potential of renewable energy exceeds the world’s energy needs during this century, notes the UN Climate Panel”.

The statements below can not reasonably be denied.

  1. We have built our modern societies with the help of large amounts of energy.
  2. We will continue to need much more energy.
  3. We can reduce the energy needed per unit, when producing our food, beeing more effective.
  4. We need to use renewable sources of energy to save our environment.
  5. There is no shortage of renewable energy in the world

Swedish agriculture uses around 10 TWh of energy, of which 3.11 TWh in the form of diesel, electricity and biofuels, as displayed in the table below. This direct energy use will generate approximately 3.64 TWh of indirect energy needed to produce fertilizer and other means of production, of which fertilizer use is about 2.31 TWh. Prodcution in greenhouses and drying costs for cereals consume somewhere between 3 – 4 TWh, altogether a grand total of about 10 TWh/year.

We are now working to increase the production of fish and vegetables in Sweden, as an effect of wishing to take use of surplus energy that would otherwise be wasted. Doing so we´ll need to increase our demand of electricity and heat with approximately one hundred percent in the short term of time .

Mapping of Agricultural Energy Use in food production systems
Source: Mapping of Agricultural Energy Use JTI – Institute of Agricultural and Environmental Technology,
author Andras Baky, Martin Sundberg, Nils Brown

Food production in houses where people live

Producing our food in-house, where people live, is undoubtedly part of our effort to save energy. Simply because it is so efficient calculated per produced kg of fish and vegetables.

•      Prioritizing the production of fish and vegetables in-house is undoubtedly one of the most effective ways to increase food production in the world. By definition, it is an exponential innovation, that has the potential to quickly reach one billion people in a person’s lifetime.

•      By producing food in-house, we can place them exactly where we wish and where we have full control over all flows, giving us possibilities to develop circular and mutualisitic production systems.

•      Placing them in urban areas where people live today, we reduce the need for transportation and can also benefit from surplus heat, electricity, organic materials and other unused resources in the city.

•      Then we can also more easily employ people who have no work.

By producing in-house, we are open to endless innovation possibilities by using high technology and ingenious solutions that the world has not seen.

Håkan SandinHåkan Sandin

Hortoculturalist

Msc in Horticulture
at the Swedish University of Agriculture

Program leader
SSEC, Swedish Surplus Energy Collaboration

VD/CEO
NAHC, Nature Assisted Health Care Holding Ltd

 

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