Energy use in agriculture

Irrigation, mechanization or fertilizer?—tradeoffs and food security implications

What is the challenge?

Agricultural intensification through the use of high-yielding crop varieties, fertilizers, irrigation, and other agricultural chemicals (f. ex. pesticides) has been proposed as key to achieving global food security; but implementation of such a strategy will likely be constrained by rapidly increasing energy costs. The impact of energy prices on agricultural production is evident from joint movements of oil and global food prices, which is driven by biofuel development as well as by increased mechanization and intensification. Energy is used in many agricultural inputs, including irrigation, mechanization, and fertilizer; however, not all uses are “equal” in terms of their contribution to agricultural productivity, food security and environmental outcomes, which is particularly crucial given rapidly growing energy costs. Research in Latin America, Asia and Africa will allow to asses a range of energy inputs and costs, the policy context of energy use, synergies/tradeoffs with food security and environmental impacts and will provide policy recommendations for sustainable agriculture and energy security.

Key research questions

  • What is the contribution of energy to agricultural production in Ethiopia and Pakistan, respectively?
  • What is the impact on agricultural production from energy price increases?
  • What are environmental outcomes of increased energy-intensity of agriculture?

Basic information about the activity

The study collects household survey data in Ethiopia and uses data collected under the Pakistan Strategy Support Project for Pakistan and potentially secondary data from Brazil to assess the relative use and cost of energy in agriculture with a focus on irrigation, to examine the relative contribution of energy to crop productivity and cost, and through using these data as input into mathematical models assesses agricultural productivity and farm incomes under alternative energy price scenarios; and environmental outcomes under these scenarios, in particular greenhouse gas emissions and water quality.


    Other links

    The project includes links to CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) through the addition of a risk assessment game. The project also includes links to the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions and Markets (PIM) through a gendered risk component.

    This project is implemented under the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE).


    Claudia Ringler
    Deputy Division Director & Natural Resource Management Theme Lead
    Environment and Production Technology Division