Reducing energy consumption without compromising food security: the imperative that could transform agriculture - INRAE - Institut national de recherche pour l’agriculture, l’alimentation et l’environnement Access content directly
Journal Articles Environmental Research Letters Year : 2023

Reducing energy consumption without compromising food security: the imperative that could transform agriculture

Guillaume Martin
Caroline Colnenne-David
Philippe Pointereau
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Thomas Nesme


The imperative of carbon neutrality requires a drastic, rapid, and sustained reduction in fossil energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. The Russia-Ukraine war has led to a major energy crisis, whose end does not seem imminent. The sudden and major increase in energy prices resulting from this crisis has major impacts on many sectors of the societies. This is especially true for agriculture, a direct consumer of energy that also has considerable indirect consumption through the manufacture, transport, and distribution of chemical inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides. Taking the example of France, from July 2021 to July 2022, farmers were challenged with price increases as high as 48% and 111% for energy and fertilizers, respectively (Agreste, 2022). At the global scale, in 2018, greenhouse gas emissions from fossil energy consumption in agriculture represented 0.9 Pg CO2 eq. (against 9.3 Pg CO2 eq. due to agriculture, excluding emissions due to this energy consumption) and those emissions have increased by 23% since 2000 (FAO, 2020). This context calls for in-depth transformation of agriculture, which is currently overly dependent on non-renewable energy in high-income economies. While research on the subject continues to grow (Box 1), this large body of work focuses more on assessing the energy consumption of current agricultural systems using multiple metrics (Box 2) than on developing supply- or demand-side alternatives that use less energy. In response to these trends, Ramankutty and Dowlatabadi (2021) suggested pathways to sustainable food systems. However, while their recommendations included energy reduction options on the food consumption side, their focus on farming practices was restricted to improving the energy efficiency of current agricultural systems and missed the necessary redesign of farming and food systems. In this article, we look back to understand how agricultural systems came to progressively depend on non-renewable energy. We then briefly review agricultural practices and systems reducing energy consumption without compromising energy efficiency. Finally, we propose future research avenues to explore pathways for reducing energy consumption without compromising food security and sustainability challenges.
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hal-04157081 , version 1 (17-07-2023)





Guillaume Martin, Marc Benoit, Christian Bockstaller, Petros Chatzimpiros, Caroline Colnenne-David, et al.. Reducing energy consumption without compromising food security: the imperative that could transform agriculture. Environmental Research Letters, 2023, 18 (8), pp.081001. ⟨10.1088/1748-9326/ace462⟩. ⟨hal-04157081⟩
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