Energy implications of the 21st century agrarian transition

2021-05-14 Global

Authors: Lorenzo Rosa, Maria Cristina Rulli, Saleem Ali et al.
Published: 2021
Source: Nature Communications

Large-scale land acquisitions for commercial agriculture and cash crops have been rising at an alarming rate worldwide. This research, using Land Matrix datasets, considers the hidden energy consumption and carbon impact of this "great agrarian transition." The ongoing agrarian transition from small-holder farming to large-scale commercial agriculture is reshaping systems of production and human well-being in many regions. A fundamental part of this global transition is manifested in large-scale land acquisitions (LSLAs) by agribusinesses. Its energy implications, however, remain poorly understood. Here, we assess the multi-dimensional changes in fossil-fuel-based energy demand resulting from this agrarian transition. We focus on LSLAs by comparing two scenarios of low-input and high-input agricultural practices, exemplifying systems of production in place before and after the agrarian transition. A shift to high-input crop production requires industrial fertilizer application, mechanization of farming practices and irrigation, which increases by ~5 times fossil-fuel-based energy consumption compared to low-input agriculture. Given the high energy and carbon footprints of LSLAs and concerns over local energy access, our analysis highlights the need for an approach that prioritizes local resource access and incorporates energy-intensity analyses in land use governance.

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