The UN Food Systems Summit 2021 comes at a watershed moment when the world’s food and agriculture systems are facing a convergence of challenges. With 10 years left to achieve Zero Hunger as agreed in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the world is a long way from defeating hunger, notwithstanding additional challenges now posed by the coronavirus pandemic. In Africa alone, 257 million people (20 percent of the population,) are experiencing hunger.
The role of decentralized renewable energy powered technologies, such as solar water pumps, solar-powered mills, and solar-powered refrigerators in improving irrigation, cold storage, agro-processing, and agricultural yields will be imperative to eradicate hunger, especially as climate change is projected to increase droughts and extreme weather. The food security challenge will only become more difficult as the world will need to produce about 70 percent more food by 2050 to feed an estimated 9 billion people.
According to the 2020 Global Hunger Index 2020, nearly 690 million people (8.9 percent of the world population) went hungry in 2019 up by 10 million from 2018, and by nearly 60 million in five years. If recent trends continue, the number of people affected by hunger would surpass 840 million by 2030, according to U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).
Cutting emissions and increasing farming productivity in Africa
Today’s food systems significantly contribute to the climate disruption that threatens our planet. They contribute up to 29 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. Without action, that percentage could rise substantially as other sectors reduce their emissions.
Access to renewable energy is an indispensable element for sustainable agricultural and rural development and can reduce local pollution and global CO2 emissions. Additionally, 1/3 of food produced globally is either lost or wasted. According to the FAO, of the 230 million tons of food produced each year in Africa, 14% is lost.
These post-harvest food losses are due to lack of refrigeration and are estimated to be worth US$ 4 billion per year – or enough to feed at least 48 million people. Inefficient processing and drying, poor storage and insufficient infrastructure are therefore instrumental factors in food losses in Africa.
Addressing food loss and waste through reliable off-grid, solar-powered cold storage systems is critical to helping the continent meet her agricultural productivity goals while minimizing the adverse effects of fossil fuel-based agricultural value chains.
Irrigation is also playing a critical role in the future transformation of food systems in Africa, with research suggesting that solar power could support the irrigation of 6–14 million new hectares, 84% of which is small-scale irrigation, leading to an increase in yields by as much as two to three fold depending on crop and climate. According to a recent report from Dalberg, “solar water pumps have
the potential to reach up to 1.6 million households in sub-Saharan Africa by 2025 and as many as 2.8 million households by 2030.”
Integrating renewable energy in food systems
The Food Systems Summit can serve as a rallying point for both the agriculture and energy community to commit to ambitious actions that integrate DREs in our food systems in service of the SDGs and our shared objectives on climate. Multi-stakeholder collaboration is needed now more than ever at all levels of the food value chain, and there are many experiences and practical approaches to working together – even in a crisis where time is of the essence.
In Nigeria, Empower New Energy and Resource Energy have teamed up to deploy a 700 KWp solar photovoltaic plant to Nigeria’s largest egg producer, Premium Poultry Farms, with a production capacity of 600,000 eggs per day. The power plant will generate one gigawatt-hour of clean energy annually, saving up to 25 000 tons of CO2 in its lifetime and contribute to Abuja’s fight against local air pollution.
The Summit can offer one avenue for action and dialogue, but there are already ongoing bold new actions happening at the national level.
In Uganda, to catalyze the conversations that are already being had about integrating renewable energy solutions in agricultural production, processing, and marketing, Power for All is organizing a multi-stakeholder “Collaboration Accelerator”. It’s bringing together actors in the renewable energy and agri-food systems nexus to discuss barriers to adoption and development of DRE solutions, opportunities for collaboration and draft actionable policy and finance recommendations to government and other key decision-makers.
With concerted action, we can not only avoid some of the worst impacts but do so in a way that supports a transition to more sustainable food systems that are in better balance with nature and that support healthy diets – and thus better health prospects – for all. More must be done to facilitate and build a stronger linkages between the two, and to highlight the growing role for decentralized renewable energy, especially mini-grids, in scaling agricultural productivity and ensuring food security across the Global South.