Energy Sustainability Issues in Agriculture: Lessons from Developed and Developing Countries

  • Patrizia Ghisellini
  • Sergio Ulgiati
  • Marco Setti


In the past 50 years the agricultural sector worldwide has gradually changed its production technologies, market relevance, and energy consumption and has been playing varied societal and economic roles. In particular, the shift from extensive to intensive agriculture, although meeting only a fraction of the global food demand, has sharply increased the energy footprint of food production worsening the global and local environmental problems and increasing fossil energy dependence. The study evaluates the life cycle energy intensity of selected agricultural systems in the world, characterized by a different relative contribution of the agricultural sector to the national economy. The assessment points out, quantifies and compares the different performances of national agriculture sectors. By monitoring and evaluating these performances over time, the study provides comprehensive information on the efficiency and effectiveness of energy use over the entire production chain in terms of yield (energy investment/product mass; energy investment/energy content), power density (energy/cropped land), and economic productivity (energy/economic production value). Results help in decision-making process at all levels to identify crucial aspects where inefficiency or inappropriate resource use takes place.


Life Cycle Assessment Agricultural Sector Livestock Production Energy Ratio Output Flow 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Agoramoorthy G (2008) Can India meet the increasing food demand by 2020? Futures 40:503–506CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Barker D (2007) The rise and predictable fall of globalized industrial agriculture. International Forum on Globalization. Available: Accessed 21 Oct 2014
  3. Del Conte F (2013) Se il biogas è strategico. Qualenergia, 26-30 pp. Available: (in Italian). Accessed 21 Oct 2014
  4. FAOSTAT Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Statistics for Agriculture. Last accessed 10 Apr 2014
  5. Fico F (2009) L’occidente dell’Est: agricoltura e sviluppo rurale in Albania guardando all’UE (West in the East: Agriculture and Rural Development in Albania, looking at European Union). Agriregionieuropa 18. doi: 10.6092/unibo/amsdottorato/5844. Available: (in Italian). Accessed 21 Oct 2014
  6. Ghisellini P (2013) Aspetti di sostenibilità in agricoltura a diverse scale spaziali e temporali. Valutazioni ambientali, energetiche ed economiche. Dissertation Ph.D. thesis, Alma Mater Studiorum—University of Bologna. Available: (in Italian). Accessed 10 Apr 2014
  7. Giovannetti M (2003) La rivoluzione biotecnologica in agricoltura: il potere dei monopoli sul cibo. Cibo. Globalizzazione e Alimentazione 59:42–50. (Il Ponte (6)) Available: (in Italian)Accessed 10 Apr 2014Google Scholar
  8. Goglio P, Bonari E, Mazzoncini M (2012) Life cycle of cropping systems with different external input levels for energetic purposes. Biomass Bioenergy 42:33–42. doi:10.1016/j.biombie2012.03.021CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Gomiero T, Pimentel D, Paoletti MG (2011) Is there a need for a more sustainable agriculture? Crit Rev Plant Sci 0:6–23. doi:10.1080/07352689.2011.553515CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. INRAN, National Institute for Research on Food and Nutrition. Nutritional Tables, Rome.Available: alimento =  & nutriente = tutti & categoria=tutte & quant = 100 & submitted1 = TRUE & sendbutton = Cerca (In Italian) Last accessed 4 Apr 2014
  11. Odum HT (1996) Environmental accounting. Emergy and environmental decision making. Wiley, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  12. Organic W (2012) Global Organic Farming Statistics and News. The World of Organic Agriculture 2012. Available: -2012.html. Accessed 10 Apr 2014
  13. Pfeiffer DA (2003) Stiamo mangiando combustibili fossili. ASPO (Association for the Study of Peak Oil). Available: (in Italian). Accessed 10 Apr 2014
  14. Pingali P (2007) Agricultural growth and economic development: a view through the globalizations lens. Agricultural Economics 37 (Suppl. s1):1–12. Wiley Online Library, doi: 10.1111/j.1574-0862.2007.00231.x. Accessed 20 Oct 2014Google Scholar
  15. Pretty J (1999). Can sustainable agriculture feed Africa? New evidence on progress, processes and impacts. Environ Dev Sustain 1:253–274. doi:10.1023/A:1010039224868CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Romano R (2010) L’agricoltura nello sviluppo economico. Agriregionieuropa 22:1-8. Available: = 668 (in Italian).Accessed 10 Apr 2014
  17. Rossi P (2012) La questione energetica esige nuove risposte. Agric 47:2-8. Available: (in Italian). Accessed 10 Apr 2014
  18. The World Bank Indicators. Employment in agriculture (% of total employment). Available: Last accessed 10 Apr 2014
  19. Tilman D, Cassman K, Matson G P, A., Naylor R, Polasky S., (2002) Agricultural sustainability and intensive production practices. Nat 418:671–677. Available: Accessed 10 Apr 2014CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Ulgiati S (2009) L’analisi energetica, un’arte complessa: il caso delle agroenergie. In: Gomiero T, Paoletti MG (eds) Opportunità e limiti delle agroenergie. Aracne, Rome (in Italian)Google Scholar
  21. United Nations Environment Programme (2008) United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, Organic agriculture and food security in Africa. Available: Accessed 20 Oct 2014
  22. Zucaro A, Mellino S, Ghisellini P, Viglia S (2013) Environmental performance and biophysical constrains of Italian agriculture across time and space scales. International. Journal of Environmental Accounting Management 1:65–85. doi:10.5890/JEAM.2012.01.006Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer India 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Patrizia Ghisellini
    • 1
  • Sergio Ulgiati
    • 2
  • Marco Setti
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Agri-Food Sciences and Technologieslma Mater Studiorum—University of BolognaBolognaItaly
  2. 2.Department of Sciences and TechnologiesParthenope University of NaplesNaplesItaly
  3. 3.Department of Agri-Food Sciences and Technologies and Interdepartmental Energy and EnvironmentAlma Mater Studiorum—University of BolognaBolognaItaly

Personalised recommendations