New UN reports on energy in global food supply

Paul Mobbs mobbsey at
Fri Dec 9 19:12:16 GMT 2011

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'Energy-Smart Food for People and Climate -- Issue Paper'
UN Food And Agriculture Organization, 2011
Download from:

See also the related report  'Making Integrated Food-Energy Systems work for 
People and Climate -- An Overview', UN Food And Agriculture Organization, 2011
Download from:

Bascially, the oft-derided spirit of 'The Population Bomb' and 'Limits to 
Growth' continues to plague development policy whether the mainstream wish to 
accept that fact or not. In fact, if you look at the web site -- -- what this research initiative is all about 
is further industrialisation of agriculture in order to produce more sources 
of biofuels.

The reports promote more "business as usual", in the guise of "more efficient" 
farming methods, but completely fails to accept that it's the machines in 
modern "efficient" farming practices that are the problem -- and which need to 
be removed by putting people back in connection to the land. It also 
completely fails to consider the basic shortage of dense energy sources in the 
world (not just fossil fuel, but also firewood), problems with freshwater 
supply (agriculture is the world's biggest use of water), and also the 
tightening supply of phosphates (which it advocates the liberal use of), and 
how this affects the future prospects for intensive agriculture.

- From a statistical view the report is a bit dodgy as it tends to lump 
"developed" and "undeveloped" measures of agriculture together, even thought 
the numbers of people dependent on those systems is very different (the report 
require an awful lot of calculator-based digesting to get some sense out of 
it) -- and this it fails to identify the issue that a minority in the world 
consume a much larger share of the world's resources through their food 
supply. It's also looking at proposals that, whilst technically feasible (e.g. 
see figure 13), can't possible work because they exceed both the environmental 
flux of renewable energy in order to substitute for fossil fuel use, and also 
would exhaust the world's supply of certain essential industrial metals to 
create them -- quite apart from the issue of where the money comes from!

Perhaps more significantly, the report is looking at a transformation over 
several decades, when in fact global oil supply is at a plateau today and will 
enter long-term decline in the next few years.

In short, this is a report about ecological limits that utterly fails to 
accept the existence of those limits, and which consequently doesn't propose 
any cogent solutions to the problems outlined in the report. They need to go 
back, do the research all over again, and internalise the issue of ecological 
limits in their analysis.

However, if you're campaigning for a better food system, the report does 
contain some eye-opening statistics for use in your newsletters/presentations.

Here's another take on the report, below.


Here's The Only Food Pyramid That Matters In A Peak Oil Future

Andrew Shen and Gus Lubin, Business Insider, 8th December 2011

Food crises will become more common over the next century, according to a new 
report from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

It's easy to see why.

The report cites predictions that global food demand will increase 50% by 
2030. Meanwhile global demand for energy and water will increase 40%. As you 
may remember from 2008, an oil crisis quickly leads to a food crisis, as 30% 
of global energy consumption goes into food.

In a peak oil future, savvy consumers will rely on grain, fruit and 
vegetables, which have a smaller energy input. Here's the food pyramid that 
really matters:

Countries should also focus on reducing the energy that goes into food 

High GDP countries waste a shameful amount of energy at the level of retail, 
preparation and cooking -- including food that doesn't sell and food that gets 
thrown away by the consumer. Low GDP countries waste tons of energy of 
inefficient processing and distribution.

Altogether one-third of food produced is not consumed.

The report suggests using renewable energy and energy efficiency programs to 
decouple food prices from oil prices. It also discusses the importance of 
policies for increasing energy access in poor countries, and promoting energy 
efficiency throughout the entire supply chain in developed countries.

- -- 


"We are not for names, nor men, nor titles of Government,
nor are we for this party nor against the other but we are
for justice and mercy and truth and peace and true freedom,
that these may be exalted in our nation, and that goodness,
righteousness, meekness, temperance, peace and unity with
God, and with one another, that these things may abound."
(Edward Burrough, 1659 - from 'Quaker Faith and Practice')

Paul's book, "Energy Beyond Oil", is out now!
For details see

Read my 'essay' weblog, "Ecolonomics", at:

Paul Mobbs, Mobbs' Environmental Investigations
3 Grosvenor Road, Banbury OX16 5HN, England
tel./fax (+44/0)1295 261864
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