The 2023 World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos #WEF23 themed ‘’Cooperation in a fragmented world’’ hosted world leaders and various stakeholder groups. This year’s gathering saw over 2700 attendees from 130 countries and hosted 480+ official sessions, welcoming a global shapers delegation of 50 shapers (termed the #Davos50). “Polycrisis” was a frequently used word at Davos this year, reflecting the multiple complexities and transitions our world is currently facing. I share key takeaways from my participation as one of the #Davos50 and more specifically addressing the Current Energy and Food Crises in the context of a New System for Energy, Climate and Nature
Food Crises in the context of a New System for Energy, Climate and Nature
Food systems transformation and climate: Idris and Sabrina Elba received the #WEF23 crystal award for their contributions to society, especially as ambassadors for the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). Afterwards, they invited global shapers (Deborah Braide, Wanjuhi Njoroge and Pato Kelesitse) to join them on a Meet the Leader panel discussing food systems transformation and climate change. Many challenges exist within food systems, further exacerbated by climate change impacts, poverty, conflict and more recently, the Russia-Ukraine crisis which exposed the fragilities of global agricultural systems resulting in increased food prices up to 50% and 345 million people across 82 countries facing acute food insecurity or at high risk of it. While acknowledging the many associated issues including a need to diversify food consumption, water security, land rights, deforestation and overly centralized food production, my reflections will focus on value chains and energy inputs.
The role of smallholder farmers in food systems transformation cannot be overemphasized as they currently manage 80 percent of farmlands in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.
In an increasingly industrialized agricultural sector with high environmental costs, smallholder farmers and nature based sustainable agriculture could be the key to unlocking a balance between increasing agricultural output, growing local economies, fighting world hunger, while preserving the soil and environment.
However, access to affordable credit, technical assistance and routes to market are essential for the empowerment of these farmers, enabling them participate more equitably in local value chains. For real transformation, especially in Africa, food systems need to be considered as a value chain, from production; to storage in specialized warehouses or cold rooms; transportation and distribution through various modes; processing; consumption and disposal.
From this perspective, it becomes clearer to see the energy requirements at varying capacities, resultant emissions and the potential for clean energy integration towards value chain decarbonization. Solar irrigation could displace diesel-fueled pumps to boost yields and productivity; storage facilities require electricity to operate, with cold rooms having an even higher energy requirement than an open warehouse; transportation vehicles run on some form of energy source – fuel or electricity; processing facilities also require energy inputs for their operations; at the point of food consumption, energy inputs go into cooking and storage; and in terms of emissions, disposal in landfills produce methane emissions. In regions with energy poverty, it is easy to see how this reduces the efficiency of food value chains and even results in a significant amount of food waste, which in turn means a waste of the initial land, labor and energy inputs.
For example, globally, one-third of global food produced goes to waste – worth about $1 trillion and enough to feed 2 billion people (for developed countries, this is predominantly at the point of consumption). Around 20-40 percent of crops in sub-Saharan Africa goes to waste due to inadequate processing and storage.
About 2.3 million tonnes of tomatoes produced in Nigeria make the country the 14th largest tomato producer in the world, but it is also the 13th largest importer of tomato paste, with 45 percent of tomatoes produced going to waste. In a world where as many as 828 million people still go hungry, 14 million children suffer from malnutrition, and 6-8 percent of emissions could be cut by reduced food waste, these inefficiencies are simply unacceptable. In spite of the challenges, I am optimistic that with strong African food systems innovators and leaders like Ecotutu, Babban Gona, Releaf, Tomato Jos, ReelFruit Eliane Ubalijoro, Ndaindila Haindongo (MCIEH, UK), Adam Amoussou, we will continue to move the needle towards a solution.
Energy: Our world is at the point of both an energy transformation and an industrial transformation. Regional peculiarities, resources and goals must be considered to prevent an oversimplification of the complexities of the energy transition, especially for justice and fairness. In regions like Africa that account for less than 3 percent of global emissions, over 600 million people are without electricity access and 970 million lack access to clean cooking.
Globally, 2.4 billion people lack access to clean cooking, a driver of household air pollution that causes 3.2 premature deaths per year, mostly among women and children. This low clean cooking rate also means that within food systems, there is a significant opportunity to decarbonize at the point of consumption through clean, efficient cooking technology. In terms of electricity use per capita, countries like Nigeria with 213 million people stand around 147 kilowatt hours (kWh), whereas in the United States of America with 331 million people, residential electricity sales in 2020 averaged 4,437 kWh per person, and in Germany with 80 million people, per capita electricity consumption was 6,030 kWh per person in 2021.
Considering the development index of these countries, we can connect industrialization and economic growth with access to reliable, sufficient electricity. With growing populations comes increased energy demand, reportedly faster than the rate of clean energy deployment in 2021, even with increasing energy efficiency. Managing this demand in the face of an energy transformation while preventing price shocks and volatility becomes very pertinent.
About $1 – $2 trillion of finance is needed for developing countries and emerging markets currently having difficulty paying for resilient recovery. Additionally, these markets typically have high debt and infrastructure deficits that further retard accelerated development needed for economic growth. Sherry Rehman states that perhaps lending and concessional grants could be reimagined beyond international economic status to also consider the vulnerabilities and humanitarian crisis that these markets face. It is clear however, that a financial transition is needed to support the energy transition with nearly $20 billion needed annually for universal electrification in Africa. Africa, a continent with 60% of the world’s solar resource, received just 5% of $200 million that went into solar projects globally in 2021.
The topic of a just energy transition featured in many discussions. Managing justifiable social perceptions in the face of technological challenges of the transition seems to remain a dilemma. The reality is energy requires hardware, and unlike software upgrades that take anything from seconds, changes to energy infrastructure could take years. Without proper systems planning, a turbocharged change could present greater future challenges.
Energy poverty and access should be equally amplified in conversations about climate change. In many regions, there are not only stranded energy assets, but stranded lives who will remain left behind if accelerating access for them is not treated with urgency and dignity. The recent energy crisis seems to have brought a more nuanced dialogue to the energy transition recognizing a greater need for inclusive conversations with a wide range of energy companies that are needed to invest and create solutions for decarbonization.
Additionally, in more technical discussions, there appeared to be a recognition that there is no silver bullet and in some regions, short and long term energy sources will be required. For example, even if Africa were to develop over 5000 billion cubic meters (bcm) of its natural gas by 2052, its share of global CO2 emissions would still remain around 3.5 percent.
At the same time, inadequate finance, commodity price volatility, and tighter environmental regulations could affect this development. Regardless of what route to an energy mix is taken, a short and long term view must begin at same time to reach net zero by 2050; mitigate potential crises; ensure universal, equitable access; and also manage the future implications to global supply chains, minerals, and logistics needed to support the transition.
Deborah Braide, an energy and international development specialist is a World Economic Forum Global Shaper,