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27 Aug 2008 05:08:50

Small farmers could hold answers to food energy imbalances



Small farmers could hold answers to food energy imbalances
Encouraging small farmers and the growth of food near the market that consumes it could be a solution to the problem of the high amount of energy used in getting food from source to mouth, according to an agricultural researcher.

Writing for the BBC, Dr Peter Baker, commodities specialist at non-profit agricultural research organisation CABI, noted that global food supply chains can be very inefficient.

Not only does the two-way nature of trade mean that on occasion food trucks for export pass incoming vehicles filled with food aid, which he suggests is a strange situation, but the amount of energy involved in delivering food can far exceed the amount of energy the food provides.

He notes that many supply chains developed in an era of cheap energy. The cost of oil has recently soared, suddenly increasing the cost of transportation and making these supply chains less economically viable.

Dr Baker also claims that before regulation of trade is made, a better understanding of embodied energy – or the energy used to produce and deliver food – is required.

Tomato production in the US consumes four times as much energy, measured in calories, as the calorific content of the fruits themselves, he claims.

By contrast, he highlights the cassava production of Tanzania which yields a flour that has 23 times the calorific value as the energy expended in producing it.

And, in a classic example of the problems of the supply chain, wheat from the US, which even before transport has a calorific content just twice as high as the energy input, is being shipped to the African country.

Along with oil, food costs have recently risen rapidly, leading to food riots in various locations around the globe.
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