Greening the agrifood sector

By Axel  Reiserer

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FAO and EBRD join forces to help growing economies optimise their response to climate change

The fourth international Bioenergy Week is under way in Budapest, Hungary. The event, which runs from 21-24 June, focuses on the provision of sustainable biomass, biogas and liquid biofuels to the countries of eastern Europe and Central Asia.

Organised by the Global Bioenergy Partnership (GBEP) – an international initiative promoting the implementation of bioenergy, whose Secretariat is hosted by the UN’s Rome-based Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) – the meeting brings together representatives from the GBEP community comprising 23 countries and 14 international organisations and institutions, as well as private sector representatives. Hosted by the Hungarian Ministry of Agriculture in cooperation with FAO and the governments of Italy and Brazil, the event is supported by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ).

The series of events are focused on efforts to expand biomass energy production from energy crop and agrifood wastes in eastern Europe and Central Asia, as well as on related technology developments, market advancements and the constraints facing bioenergy industries in these countries.

The wider exploitation of agrifood waste streams for bioenergy generation can lower the fossil fuel dependency in these regions, freeing resources for the growth of renewable energy production, offering both environmental and economic advantages.

The conference also features an important side event centred around the EBRD’s Finance and Technology Transfer Centre for Climate Change Programme (FINTECC). FAO and the EBRD have developed a step-by-step methodology that can help countries assess market penetration for an array of climate technologies and boost the transfer of practices, ranging from solar water pumping systems to agricultural conservation practices. The EBRD is also collaborating with the International Energy Agency (IEA) on a set of activities aiming to support the market penetration of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies in the Caspian and Black Sea (ETC) as well as in the southern and eastern Mediterranean (SEMED) regions.

The FAO tool “Monitoring the adoption of key sustainable climate technologies in agrifood chains” was recently field-tested in Morocco with strong support from the national authorities. Twelve highly diversified sustainable technologies applicable to the agrifood sector were identified and evaluated in terms of their potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as their overall economic performance.

“Innovation has an essential role in meeting global climate change objectives as well as in contributing to sustainable growth,” said Gianpiero Nacci, Associate Director of the EBRD’s Energy Efficiency and Climate Change team. “Technology transfer is critical to an effective response to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and optimise the use of natural resources. This tool will support the prioritisation of sectors and technologies which can deliver the highest impact.”

Lack of knowledge and awareness, inadequate regulatory frameworks to scale up technology transfer and limited financial support, as well as limited competition of supply chain actors, are key constraints to the expansion of climate technologies.

“Agribusiness companies have a particular responsibility for climate change, but also have great potential to provide solutions through the adoption of technologies and practices that lower greenhouse emissions and make better use of natural resources,” said Alessandro Flammini, FAO Natural Resources Officer. “The challenge is to ensure that the right set of local conditions – legal, organisational, fiscal, informational and political – are in place to increase their market presence.”

“There are regional variations in the ability to meet these challenges, especially by countries that are facing food insecurity, that override concerns about greenhouse gases and other environmental issues,” said FAO Economist Nuno Santos. “Our objective is to ensure that increased crop productivity, efficient water use, improved livelihoods for the rural poor and sustainable development go hand-in-hand with greenhouse gas reductions and the decoupling of the agrifood industry from its dependence on fossil fuels.”

"The active engagement of the private sector and an open dialogue with the public sector are essential to catalyse investment in low-carbon technologies on a massive scale," said Astrid Motta, Principal in the EBRD’s Energy Efficiency and Climate Change team. “This week’s side event is an opportunity to gather feedback from countries' representatives on the tool that has been developed and to promote the implementation in their countries.”

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