Energy implications of the 21st century agrarian transition

Lorenzo Rosa, Maria Cristina Rulli, Saleem Ali*, Davide Danilo Chiarelli, Jampel Dell’Angelo, Nathaniel D. Mueller, Arnim Scheidel, Giuseppina Siciliano, Paolo D’Odorico

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


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.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2319
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Early online date19 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Publication was made possible in part by support from the Berkeley Research Impact Initative (BRII), sponsored by the UC Berkeley Library. This work was partially supported by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) under funding received from the National Science Foundation DBI-1639145. J.D.A., M.C.R., and P.D.O. acknowledge support from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action (MSCA) Innovative Training Network (ITN) grant agreement No. 861509 - NEWAVE. A.S. acknowledges funding from a Beatriu de Pinós grant, Government of Catalonia’s Secretariat for Universities and Research of the Ministry of Economy and Knowledge (2017 BP 00023).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


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