Knowledge for Development


The increased international focus on expanding the production of biofuels has given countries the impetus to increase investments primarily to reduce dependence on imported fossil fuels and to mitigate climate change. The ACP countries have traditionally used biofuels but the efficiency and sustainability of their production systems are questionable. The decline in preferential markets for sugar and the need to diversify the industry to minimize the social displacement makes the production of sugar ethanol and other biofuels from a range of crops including cassava seem attractive. However, balancing food production, achieving food, nutrition and environmental sustainability, and producing biofuels at competitive prices for national and international markets will remain an elusive dream if the scientific and political community do not join forces in consultation with civil society. In this dossier, two EU and ACP scientists argue the pros and cons for the future of biofuels in ACP countries and provide insights into the options and strategies for making inroads in the biofuels market. The links to related websites and publications provide additional background material for the readers to examine the related issues and learn from international experiences to make informed decisions for crafting the future science and policy interventions that can benefit society in the global biofuel market.

Biofuels: Are They Still Relevant?

by Lynn K. Mytelka, Professorial Fellow, UNU-MERIT, Maastricht, The Netherlands, Distinguished Research Professor, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada
With the race to find new gas deposits and develop production of other carbon-based fuels, such as shale oil in the USA, Argentina, Russia and Algeria, the development of the tar sands in Canada and the return to coal in some countries, biofuels might appear irrelevant. But this ignores the high cost, both financially and in terms of water use, impact on local habitats and the longer-term consequences for climate change that result from exploiting both the old and these new sources of oil and gas (Crooks, 2013; Lattanzio, 2013). Such exploitation undercuts efforts towards an energy transition in which clean transport technologies, such as biofuels, could be important. Some options that biofuels are already providing in developing countries are briefly examined and factors that contributed to their positive impact on inclusive development are discussed.  04/03/2014

Retrospective: bottlenecks to Jatropha curcas bioenergy value-chain development in Africa – a Kenyan case

by Miyuki Iiyama, Steven Franzel, Navin Sharma, Violet Mogaka, Jeremias Mowo, Ramni Jamnadass
Jatropha curcas (Jatropha), a shrubby tree native to Central America, thrives in many parts of the tropics and sub-tropics in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and Asia. Though an essentially undomesticated shrub, Jatropha suddenly emerged as a promising biodiesel feedstock during the period 2003-2009, when rising petrol prices fuelled global interests in bioenergy crops. Jatropha was claimed to produce high-quality oil, and had a wide adaptability to diverse climatic zones and soil types, minimum input requirements, short gestation period, easy multiplication, drought tolerance, pest and disease resistance and an ability to grow under marginal conditions without competition for resources for food production. It was considered a ‘silver bullet’ to solve energy insecurity in low-income countries and to support economic development. Similarly, investors from developed nations were eager to grow it in large commercial plantations in SSA and elsewhere for export.  04/03/2014
Three transnational research projects that were funded during the first phase of ERA-ARD have produced an editorial in GCB Bioenergy about jatropha. They conclude that jatropha has potential to contribute to sustainable rural development in Africa, but that at present it is not sufficiently productive and profitable to play that role. Strong efforts along the whole value chain from the production of jatropha seed until its end use will be indispensable in achieving this goal.   (ERA-ARD, 2013) 28/02/2014
M. Y. Teweldemedhin and L. Mwewa of the Department of Agriculture, Polytechnic of Namibia, Namibia present a comprehensive review of the status quo of developments bio-fuels including support measures driving the social, environmental and economic impacts of their development. Their key findings indicated that, if the biofuel market proves lucrative, there is possible diversion of labour and land to bio-fuel projects and that competition of input use might lead to reduction of food production and high food prices. However the price of bio-fuel feedstock from jatropha in Zambia was not attractive enough to encourage farmers to grow more jatropha which has raised major concerns by policy makers.    (African Journal of Agricultural Research, 18/12/2014) 28/02/2014
This report by ODI, UK, summarises the results of scoping exercises carried out in early 2013 into the status of biofuel projects in five countries: Ethiopia, Indonesia, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia. These scoping exercises were undertaken to determine: (i) Whether countries which are commonly referred to as important for biofuel production have seen proportionate levels of biofuel project activity; and (ii) if so, whether projects have reached a stage at which it is possible to assess the impacts of biofuel projects on local food security. The report concludes that in the four African countries, there is little basis to comprehensively investigate the possible effects of increased biofuel production on food security. What could be further researched is the impact of the displacement of people and their agricultural activities, which often occurs as part of biofuel projects. It is too early to know whether the contraction in biofuels project development is indicative of a temporary setback or whether it is of a more permanent nature. However, the number of projects which have already ceased their operations and the time required for new projects to start up operations indicate that production will not reach significant levels in the four African countries anytime soon.    (ODI, 05/2013) 28/02/2014

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