In Indonesia, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) recently released a new study showing that biofuel expansion has enormous potential to stimulate rural development in sub-Saharan Africa.

The study shows that Africa has more land resources than all of Europe, North America and China combined. Biofuel feedstock production is a land-intensive and potentially labor-intensive process, which makes sub-Saharan Africa well suited for production.

The most common biofuel projects in Africa involve the cultivation of jatropha, a shrub-like plant whose seeds can be processed to produce a high-quality biodiesel fuel. Some of this fuel has already been used in tests by international airlines.  Most jatropha projects are newly established and will take five to seven years before mature yields are reached.

Most biofuel production would be sold to European countries which are attempting to substitute renewable energy for fossil fuels.

The study cautions, however, that ensuring local community benefits and adequate protections for food production and forests will require strategic policy interventions and close collaboration among all stakeholders.

While biofuel production in subSaharan Africa is still in its infancy and has had very limited success to date, recent increases in oil prices are beginning to revive interest in biofuel development. Biofuels have been touted as a ‘green’ alternative to fossil fuels, however critics of biofuel production argue that the expansion of biofuel development can often contribute to deforestation.

Moreover, increasing land acquisition for biofuel expansion rather than food production in Africa could undermine food security and exacerbate a number of underlying social issues.

Most biofuel production projects, the study found, are large-scale operations that negatively impact local communities. “Large-scale land acquisition poses one of the greatest biofuel-related threats to Africa,” said von Maltitz. “Tracts of land ranging from hundreds of hectares to hundreds of thousands of hectares are being granted to investors. This results in displacement of local communities and local livelihoods.”

In Sub-Saharan Africa three quarters of the population live on less than US$2 a day.

You can read the study here (Assessing opportunities and constraints for biofuel development in sub-Saharan Africa).

For a critique of biofuel production using large amounts of land and putting pressure on the food chain read Biofuels May Push 120 Million Into Hunger, Qatar’s Shah Says.

Tags: , , , ,