Powering Agriculture With Renewable Energy: A Just Transition for Food Systems

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are in trouble. The twin challenges of food insecurity (SDG 2) and energy poverty (SDG 7) are among the most intractable of the Global Goals, and the most damaging to people and planet if not progressed by 2030. The climate crisis at this nexus of energy and agriculture is due to a complex, fossil fuel-intensive system that, as currently designed, is not sustainable, resilient, or equitable. In fact, today’s $8 trillion international agribusiness industry(1)—including production, aggregation, processing, distribution, and disposal—is a core driver of climate change, accounting for 30 percent of all global GHG emissions.(2) (See Appendix A)

An estimated 80 percent of power used by the food system is derived from fossil fuels.(3) Current efforts to meet the 60 percent increase in demand for food by 2050—due to an expected 10 billion people on the planet by mid-century—will warm the globe far past the limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius.(4) As the current agrifood system accelerates climate change—contributing to higher temperatures, sea level rise, increasing drought—the sector’s ability to feed the population is increasingly compromised. (Figure 1) The climate knows no state lines or national boundaries; the global North is responsible for the vast majority of climate change, but the countries least responsible for the intensifying food-climate crisis across the Global South suffer the most. This inequity threatens to destabilize regional economies and the global environment—further handicapping disadvantaged food systems in regions like sub-Saharan Africa to keep pace with regional population growth.(5,6)

Given the interdependent nature of the climate crisis, imbalances in the food system threaten lives and livelihoods alike, wherever they reside. Alongside prioritizing clean power across the SDG 2 ecosystem, increasing access to sustainable and affordable energy and equipment for the world’s smallholder farmers can play an outsized role mitigating the inequity and insecurity in agribusiness today, while helping meet the food demands of tomorrow. Decentralized renewable energy or DRE, such as mini-grids, PV systems, and agricultural appliances will not only support livelihoods of smallholder farmers—part of an equitable agricultural sector—but can help decarbonize the food system while growing national economies. With political will and financial support, the DRE market has the potential to reduce transport, decrease site-based use of fossil fuels and increase productivity of local farmers and cooperatives, ratcheting down the impacts of diesel, petrol, and kerosene—and helping to decarbonize the future of food.

Driving adoption of DRE in developed and developing countries alike can localize clean, productive use of energy such as solar water pumps and cold storage. Decentralization can both mitigate current and future emissions, and support adaptation to the effects of climate change. In particular, DRE can help address energy and economic inequities that are limiting the ability of Africa—and therefore the rest of the food system—to meet the demands of a growing population in a climate-changed world. Underutilized today, DRE can be part of a set of solutions to grow production by increasing affordability of energy democratizing productivity and supporting climate change adaptation and mitigation. Indeed, DRE has the potential to recalibrate the global balance of power in the food system, and increase humanity’s chances to do more than survive—but to thrive—in 2050 and beyond.



1. Van Nieuwkoop, Martien. “Do the Costs of the Global Food System Outweigh Its Monetary Value?” 2019. Accessed September 1, 2023.
2. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). “Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Agrifood Systems.” 2022. Accessed September 1, 2023.
3. IRENA and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). “Renewable Energy for Agri-food Systems.” 2021. https:// pdf?rev=531d47024c114696832884e5bf2a3b9d.
4. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). “The Future of Food and Agriculture – Alternative Pathways to 2050.” Rome, 2018. https://
5. Maino, R., & Emrullahu, D. “Climate Change in Sub-Saharan Africa Fragile States: Evidence from Panel Estimations.” IMF Working Paper, vol. 2022, no. 054, March 2022. doi: 10.5089/9798400204869.001.
6. Omotoso, A. B., Letsoalo, S., Olagunju, K. O., Tshwene, C. S., & Omotayo, A. O. “Climate Change and Variability in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Systematic Review of Trends and Impacts on Agriculture.” Journal of Cleaner Production, vol. 414, August 2023. doi: 10.1016/j. jclepro.2023.137487.


Excerpt of: Powering Agriculture With Renewable Energy: A Just Transition for Food Systems (Power for All, 2023)


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