Don’t expect immediate benefits from biofuels investments, they take a while to show. Biofuels can have great impacts, but they aren’t immediate. That’s especially true where infrastructure is weak and investments must start from scratch. In trying to protect the vulnerable, some fail to understand this commercial reality. They expect immediate benefits and if they don’t come in less than a year then they damn the project as land-grabbing or a reason for ending all biofuels.
Meeting sustainability standards should be made less complicated and expensive for developing countries. Achieving sustainability is good for business because you become more efficient, profitable and competitive as a result. But it’s expensive to achieve and to prove by means of certification. Ever changing standards are difficult to apply to developing country circumstances. Helping groups that don’t yet achieve sustainability standards is broader than just auditing against a set of criteria in order to get a certificate. More needs to be done in the agricultural production process, primarily but not exclusively, in order to even begin to reach for those standards.
CleanStar Mozambique has developed an integrated supply chain teaching farmers how to improve their yields through agroforestry. Farmers produce food crops, including cassava that is later used for flour or for ethanol production, as well as fruit and oil trees. The ethanol is then sold into the clean cooking fuel market
Energy policies should be tailored to country needs. Africa’s needs are very different from those in the EU. Africa’s energy problems go much deeper to questions of basic infrastructure, and are made harder by the fact that there are so many land-locked countries facing high import prices for everything.
Don’t encourage smallholders to plant low-value crops. One of my concerns with how biofuels is being done in developing countries is the promotion of jatropha to smallholders. It may be easy enough to plant, but don’t overlook its low productivity and the lack of readily-usable and valuable co-products (which other edible oilseeds have). I think this plant needs 20 yrs of solid research and development before we can promote it to smallholders, otherwise we’re just transferring risk onto those who can least afford it – and have to wait three years before they can get their first poor harvest.
National biodiesel policies are crucial for making programmes sustainable and locally valuable. Without policies, the equity and sustainability of biofuel production become dependent on the eventual good will of some entrepreneurs. We need to learn from the Nigerian and Brazilian biodiesel policies, which have been limited but has accrued some tangible benefits to small farmers after it demanded features such as mixed food and feedstock cultivation to safeguard food security and the endorsement of a representative social movement or farmer union, to improve their bargaining power face industry. What we still miss are strategies to promote local value.
A transition to multipurpose agriculture is inevitable: From an industrial perspective, biomass offers replacements not only for energy but also for a large number of materials today produced from fossil fuels. From a political perspective, biofuel production and biomass-based value-chains offer economic opportunities that agricultural sectors and agriculturally strong countries will simply not forgo. By now more than 50 countries have biofuel policies in place; the issue cannot be reduced to the EU directive. We ought to learn how to make that transition sustainable.
Support smallholder farmers to move up the value chain. If we want to talk about equitable agricultural development, we need to see who controls and profits from each stage of the value-chain. So long as small farmers remain only at the bottom, with the least-valuable stage of production, poverty may be alleviated but inequality is maintained. Local capacity building, a term so far missing here, is therefore critical.
African countries can learn from Nigeria’s clear agricultural policies. Strong political policy from the Nigerian federal ministry of agriculture and rural development is delivering the country’s agricultural transformation agenda that seeks to develop sustainable out-growers programmes, create local wealth and improve living conditions, particularly for women. They have also introduced the new alliance for food security that helps balance food security and energy security policy.
Vincent Okello, programme development officer, Practical Action, Kisumu, Kenya.
Don’t overlook the positive and negative impacts of biofuels used for household energy.According to the GACC, cooking with biomass fuels such as firewood and crop waste, burnt over open fires and in poorly ventilated houses, contributes to a global disease burden of almost 4m deaths per year. In order to reduce this burden, it is proposed that the use of clean fuels such as biofuels, specifically alcohol stoves, for cooking, offer a much more realistic shot at clean indoor air for cooks and their families.
Studies that look at the impacts of growing biofuels must be multi-dimensional. Too often, studies analysing the impacts of growing biofuels focus only on one element of food security, such as access to land, without looking at the impact on other aspects of food availability and access to food.
Focus on planet, people and profit. If biofuel production continues because the price of oil makes it competitive, then we need to ensure they don’t have negative environmental or social impacts, but are economically viable. One step that would benefit biofuels and other investment projects is to improve the transparency of land tenure conditions and procedures, and the process of making and implementing decisions that underpin that.
Biofuels have potential to transform renewable energy if they’re sustainable. Bioenergy through sustainable advanced biofuels could make a small but significant contribution to meeting the 10% renewable energy transport target set by the EU’s renewable energy directive. ActionAid calculates this contribution could be about 6% by 2020. However, the sustainability of advanced biofuels is far from guaranteed and member states, including theUK, must put in place sufficient policies and safeguards before we embrace this technology.
Current EU policies don’t address social impacts. Currently there are no binding social criteria attached to biofuels that can be counted towards EU targets. Countries are only obliged to ‘report’ on the social impacts. However, research has shown that the current EUbiofuels target is driving land-grabbing in developing countries in a context where one in eight people go to bed hungry every night. We fully agree there is a need for nuance in this debate, but the wider facts should also not be ignored.
Sean O’Hanlon, chief technical officer, Advanced Algae Solutions, Miami, US.@Sean_OHanlon
Rotation or inter-cropping can allow for food and biofuels. It could be useful to plan to grow food and biofuels on the same land. This could be done either by crop rotation or by inter-cropping, and would give farmers double the income, if not more, depending upon growing cycles of the chosen crops.
David Healy, policy and advocacy officer, [Oxfam], Dublin, Ireland.@OxfamIreland
The EU biofuels policy is leading to less secure, more expensive food and climate change.Oxfam is campaigning to change the EU’s biofuels policy because it is driving land-grabs in developing countries, leading to dispossession and food insecurity. The inflexible nature of the targets is leading to food price spikes with negative impacts on food and nutrition security. When indirect impacts are taken into account, much of the biofuel production is as bad as or worse for the climate than fossil fuels, often with other negative impacts also.