Expanding access to clean energy in low-income countries is a key component of global development efforts and the pursuit of a carbon-free economy.
When communities are served by reliable energy providers, new employment opportunities emerge, local businesses become more competitive, and the quality of health clinics and schools improve. In recognition of the critical role clean energy plays in achieving a number of the Millennium Development Goals, the United Nations has declared 2012 as the ‘International Year of Sustainable Energy Access for All.
Throughout developing countries, agriculture remains the most prominent source of livelihood for most households. As our population expands, farms and agribusiness will need to produce, process, and transport an increasing amount of food. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that at least 70% more food will need to be produced on the same amount of agricultural land. Identifying means in which clean energy technology can be used to intensify agricultural production will be crucial in meeting this demand.
Increasing the agricultural sector’s access to clean energy technologies will enable farmers to mechanize their operations, add value to commodities through processing, and store fresh produce in refrigerated containers to extend its shelf-life. These advancements will lead to more food in the market, increased incomes for farmers and traders, and decreased dependency of the agriculture sector on fossil fuels.
Unfortunately, significant barriers exist that hinder the integration of clean energy technology in agriculture development:
- Farmers are not aware of the variety of new technologies that may be appropriate for them;
- Clean energy technologies are relatively new, therefore farmers have limited access to distributors for installation, parts, and service;
- Farmers often do not have the means to cover high capital costs associated with clean energy upgrades - and financing is seldom available.
Likewise, clean energy enterprises seeking to serve these farmers face a number of barriers:
- Limited access to debt and equity to support business development and growth;
- Farmers are not aware of the economic and environmental benefits of the technology, and therefore demand for clean energy technology is low;
- The client base of agricultural communities is remote, scattered, and often very poor; and
- There are few examples of successful business models that have been effective in delivering clean energy solutions to the agriculture sector in developing countries.
These issues create an unproductive cycle, in which suppliers and buyers are not connected, and farmers and agribusinesses are unable to leverage more cost-effective clean energy technologies. Strengthening the links between modern energy service providers and the agriculture sector will create positive feedback loops to increase productivity along major components of the agricultural supply chain: (1) on-farm productivity, (2) cold storage; (3) transport; (4) post-harvest agriculture processing; and (5) agriculture waste for energy applications.