Rethinking energy in agricultural and rural areas

Authored by: Marco Pagani , Fabio De Menna , Laura García Herrero , Houston Sudekum , Giuseppe Palladino , Matteo Vittuari

The Routledge handbook of comparative rural policy

Print publication date:  November  2019
Online publication date:  October  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138594111
eBook ISBN: 9780429489075
Adobe ISBN:

10.4324/9780429489075-22

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Abstract

The industrialization of crop and livestock farming during the twentieth century greatly increased productivity at the expense of a greater energy intensity mainly fueled by non-renewable fossil sources. Energy is used directly as fuel and electricity, and consumed indirectly, mainly in the form of machinery, fertilizers, and pesticides. Depending on climatic conditions, energy used in irrigation may also play an important role. The higher dependence of agriculture on fossil fuels exposes farmers and rural regions to the volatility of energy prices, as during the oil crisis of 1973 and 2008. Reducing such dependence would increase the resilience of rural regions and liberate resources for local development. This goal could be accomplished by the introduction of organic farming, which is less energy intensive, the use of less powerful machinery, and a shift towards bio-methane as fuel. Further energy savings could be guaranteed by the prevention of food losses. Conversely, in most parts of the world rural regions could become significant renewable energy producers – depending on local climate and geography. Hydro, wind, solar power, and integrated food-energy systems fueled by sustainable residual biomass could be promoted to satisfy farming demands and obtain a net energy export towards urban regions. This chapter offers a critical overview of the role of energy in agriculture and of its implications for rural development.

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