A new study has described the role renewable energy can have in elevating the livelihoods of the millions of rural poor, specifically in terms of the impact it can have on the billions of people employed in the agri-food chain.
Released over the weekend at the International Off-grid Renewable Energy Conference and Exhibition, the International Renewable Energy Agency’s (IRENA) first interactive digital publication, Renewable Energy Benefits: Decentralised Solutions in the Agri-food Chain, analyzed the impact off-grid renewables can have on agriculture and agri-food activities at the heart of the rural economy. The report opens by highlighting nearly 2.9 billion people worldwide are currently still relying on traditional biomass for cooking and heating. Of those, about 80% are living in rural areas which in turn host more than 70% of the world’s poor people. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the lifestyles and livelihood of these people rely on agriculture — both for subsistence through their own farming, as well as for income and jobs.
As such, affordable and accessible energy services were recognized as essential parts of the required economic development in the Millennium Development Goals. Further, access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy has been included as one of the Sustainable Development Goals — the assumption being that increased access to such energy services can have a significant and widespread impact on the lives of those currently without electricity, enhancing their livelihoods, improving health, gender equality, and education.
We have seen time and again that a lack of reliable and affordable clean energy has a tremendously debilitating impact on the livelihood of the rural poor. Any access to electricity at all results in either significant cost, or dangerous health impacts, detrimentally affecting a number of subsequent issues, such as one’s ability to learn or work. In turn, this cycle continues, restricting future generations to the same lifestyle. A lack of affordable and clean energy traps the rural poor into a long-term cycle of poverty, with no way out.
The introduction of off-grid, decentralized renewable energy such as solar has repeatedly been seen to dramatically improve the lives of the rural poor, giving them access to rungs further up the societal ladder than were previously accessible. Introducing renewable energy along multiple steps across the agri-food chain enhances the improvements. The report therefore analyzed the impact of decentralized renewable energy solutions on the livelihoods of communities, specifically as it pertained to the introduction to primary production activities such as water pumping, post-harvesting activities such as agro-processing and food preservation, as well as a third step, food preparation and cooking.
“Energy is a key enabler of social and economic development. In areas where energy access has been slow to reach, the introduction of decentralized renewable energy has provided solutions that support economic activities,” the authors of the report concluded. “In the case of the agri-food sector, renewable energy applications can bring a wide range of benefits, resulting in economic, health and environmental improvements.”
As a result, the authors determined that “effective policies and regulations are needed to create an enabling environment for renewables deployment.” The report puts forth a number of potential policies its authors consider valuable in supporting the deployment of decentralized renewable energy solutions in the agri-food chain. The full report can be read here.