Bioenergy in rural development

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Jatropha planted in Senegal.

Production, processing and sale of biofuels and bioenergy can contribute to rural development.




Projects in developing countries

Projects in developed countries

BioTown, USA


Women and girls in parts of developing countries spend many hours collecting wood for cooking in the home. (Flickr Creative Commons image by Genocide Intervention Network).

See books, reports, scientific papers, position papers and websites for additional useful resources.









  • Call for an effective implementation of the Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) issue in the EU biofuels policy, 21 December 2011 by E-Energy Market: "A group of companies, trade associations and NGOs have send a letter to the commission that a practical and effective solution are needed to address the ongoing debate about Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) in European biofuels policy."
    • "The group warns that it blocks 1)Meeting EU renewables targets, 2)Helping to deliver energy security, 3)Fostering rural economic development and, 4)Developing a sustainable bioenergy system that can help towards decarbonising transport in Europe and beyond."
    • "The companies also fear the ILUC policy is counterproductive in its exclusion of certain feedstocks. The effects of banning one feedstock would lead to an increased demand of the alternative feedstock and herewith increasing the need for land."
    • "The group claims that none one of policy options being assessed encourage producers to adopt additional practices that reduce ILUC risks, nor do they improve investor confidence for biofuel development."[1]
  • Sustainable palm oil initiative falters, 20 November 2011 by Mail & Guardian Online: "Environmentalists have warned that an effort to encourage the sustainable production of palm oil launched several years ago has not kept pace with expanding cultivation driven by rising demand."
    • "The issue will loom large this week at the annual meeting of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil from November 22 to 24 in key producer Malaysia."
    • "Despite some progress, major users of palm oil are not making enough effort to source and buy sustainably produced oil, while incentives for green production remain inadequate, green groups say."
    • "Growers produced 5.2-million tonnes of certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) -- accounting for about 10% of world supply -- last year but only about 56% of it was purchased."
    • "Environmentalists say the consequences for rainforests in major producers Malaysia and Indonesia -- which account for 85% of world production -- and other producing nations will be dire unless the situation changes."
    • "The forest loss contributes to climate change and further imperils threatened species like the orangutan while land disputes between local communities and large palm producers seeking to expand cultivation are rising."[2]
  • Senegal president regrets deaths in biofuels clash, 28 October 2011 by AFP: "Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade said on Friday he 'deeply regrets' two deaths after clashes broke out over a disputed biofuels project in northern Senegal, and wants an explanation."
    • "Two people were killed and 22 injured in the village of Fanaye, where people attacked each other with sticks and machetes in a dispute over the project which will see 20,000 hectares given to an Italian investor to cultivate sweet potatoes for the production of biofuels."
    • "A local organisation defending land rights in the village said the project would lead to 'displacement of villages, destruction of cattle and desecration of cemeteries and mosques.'"
    • "Senegal has in recent years pushed the idea of using its land for biofuel production, with the backing of Brazil and Wade's fervent support."[3]
  • Carbon credits tarnished by human rights 'disgrace', 3 October 2011 by EurActiv: "The reported killing of 23 Honduran farmers in a dispute with the owners of UN-accredited palm oil plantations in Honduras is forcing the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) executive board to reconsider its stakeholder consultation processes."
    • "In Brussels, the Green MEP Bas Eickhout called the alleged human rights abuses 'a disgrace', and told EurActiv he would be pushing the European Commission to bar carbon credits from the plantations from being traded under the EU's Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS)."
    • "But because they took place after the CDM's stakeholder consultations had been held, and fell outside the board's primary remit to investigate emissions reductions and environmental impacts, it had been powerless to block project registrations."
    • "Last week, proposals were submitted to a CDM board meeting in Quito, Ecuador, addressing the time-lag between project consultations and registrations. But carbon credits from the plantations can still be freely traded on the EU ETS, which allows polluters to offset their carbon emissions by nominally clean energy investments."[4]
  • Biofuels may meet development needs of Sub-Saharan Africa, 3 October 2011 by Center for International Forestry Research blog: "Biofuel expansion has enormous potential to stimulate rural development in Sub-Saharan Africa, but ensuring local community benefits and adequate protections for food production and forests will require strategic policy interventions and close collaboration among stakeholders, according to a new study by the Center for International Forestry Research."
    • "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."
    • "The study urges for increased collaboration between government and the biofuel industry which will ensure that biofuel development can enhance livelihoods by bringing in urgently needed investment in the agricultural sector that would result in improved infrastructure and increased cash income in impoverished rural areas."[5]
  • Land grab for renewable energy production could impact beef capacity, 26 September 2011 by Beef Central: "Rising demand for the dominant form of renewable energy worldwide – wood – could drive yet more foreign acquisitions of land, particularly in developing countries where food insecurity is rising and land rights are weak, researchers say."
    • "Wood accounts for 67 percent of global renewable energy supplies, and many northern hemisphere countries were increasing their use of it both to reduce their reliance on costly fossil fuels and to mitigate climate change."
    • "New tree plantations in developing countries designed to be harvested to export wood could spell good news in terms of jobs, investment, climate change and conversation — if they were well managed, the IIED report said. But there was also a risk that plantations would displace poor and marginalised communities from land they had tended to for generations."
    • "Biomass plantations may also compete for the best lands with food crops and livestock (and with biofuel feedstocks), adversely affecting local food security and further marginalising smallholder farming."[6]
  • New map gives public a global view of biofuel development, 8 September 2011 by Center for International Forestry Research: "The Global Biofuel Information Tool (GBIT), developed by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), with support from Profundo, is the first systematic attempt at gathering and consolidating data on biofuels and making this accessible in a user-friendly format."
    • "The GBIT was developed under a project funded by the European Commission exploring bioenergy, sustainability and trade-offs between the two."
    • "The project aims to analyse bioenergy developments and their implications for forests and people’s livelihoods."
    • "Determining the magnitude and location of biofuel investments in forest-rich countries will help to assess how these investments affect forests and people and how they can be made more sustainable."
    • "The GBIT offers data on national biofuel production and consumption obtained and collated from the International Energy Statistics database of the US Energy Information Administration."[7]
  • Kenya's Tana Delta saved – for now, September 2011 by "A Nairobi newspaper reports that, after consideration of the scientific evidence, Kenya's National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) has decided to advise the Kenyan Government to halt the planting of the biofuel crop jatropha within the Coast region of Kenya."
    • "Proposed jatropha plantations would do irreparable damage to coastal Important Bird Areas (IBAs), including the Tana Delta and Dakatcha Woodlands."
    • "Even before NEMA's decision, a company planning to grow oil seed crops on 28,000 hectares of the Tana Delta pulled out after consultations with NatureKenya and other BirdLife Partners, citing concerns over environmental impacts and long-term climate change effects."
    • "The Tana Delta has long provided local communities with food and livelihoods. Its value to the nation includes ecosystem services such as water storage, shoreline protection and marine life spawning grounds. It also has huge tourism potential. But as demand for land to grow commodity crops has increased globally, the Tana Delta has become the focus of interest for international speculators and investors."[8]
  • FAO's Tool Weighs Pros and Cons of Biofuels, 7 June 2011 by "Calculating the costs and benefits of investing in biofuels may become easier for policymakers with a guide launched by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)."
    • "The Bioenergy and Food Security (BEFS) Analytical Framework, released last month (17 May), was developed over the past three years and tested in Peru, Tanzania and Thailand."
    • "Heiner Thofern, head of the BEFS project, said that the goal is to help policymakers make informed decisions on whether development of bioenergy is a viable option for their countries and, if so, identify policies that will maximise benefits for the economy and minimise risks to food security."
    • Chris Buddenhagen, council coordinator of the Hawaii Invasive Species Council who developed a tool for assessing the risk of invasion by biofuel species, also welcomed the method, but warned that it seems hard to use and difficult to apply quickly to make the best policy decisions."
    • "He also said the tool neglects some important issues, such as biodiversity and the invasiveness of biofuel species."[9]
  • Colombia Pursues Sweet Dream of Becoming a Sugar-Cane Ethanol Powerhouse, 9 May 2011 by The New York Times: "Though 85 percent of Colombia's cane crop is harvested in a old-fashioned way, industry leaders say they have no intention of mechanizing the harvest, for fear of mass unemployment in a rural area where people suffered during Colombia's five-decade-long civil war."
    • "Instead, sugar cane growers say they are modernizing in a different way, becoming generators of renewable energy."
    • "Envious of Brazil's accomplishments with sugar-cane ethanol, Colombia's then-president, Alvaro Uribe, championed a 2007 law that ordered all gasoline retailers in his nation to sell a mixture of 90 percent hydrocarbon fuels and 10 percent ethanol."
    • "Colombian government officials and industry leaders are eager to rapidly expand their biofuels effort, seeing it as an effective means of improving security and growing prosperity in struggling rural areas."
    • "Colombian officials see the potential for a lucrative export market in the United States. Unlike Brazil, whose ethanol faces a heavy U.S. tariff, Colombia has a pending free trade agreement with the United States that exempts Colombian ethanol from tariffs."
    • "Expanding from an 8 percent blend today to the industry goal of 30 percent will require almost tripling the area under cultivation. But Colombian biofuels enthusiasts insist this immense feat can be achieved without destroying sensitive natural resources or competing with food crops."[10]
  • New FAO study shows integrated food and energy crops work for poor farmers, 17 February 2011 by Food and Agriculture Organization: "Producing food and energy side-by-side may offer one of the best formulas for boosting countries' food and energy security while simultaneously reducing poverty, according to a new FAO report."
    • "'Farming systems that combine food and energy crops present numerous benefits to poor rural communities,' said Alexander Müller, FAO Assistant Director-General for Natural Resources."
    • "'With these integrated systems farmers can save money because they don't have to buy costly fossil fuel, nor chemical fertilizer if they use the slurry from biogas production. They can then use the savings to buy necessary inputs to increase agricultural productivity, such as seeds adapted to changing climatic conditions — an important factor given that a significant increase in food production in the next decades will have to be carried out under conditions of climate change.'"
    • "Integrating food and energy production can also be an effective approach to mitigating climate change, especially emissions stemming from land use change."[12]
    • "To see the full report, go to Making Integrated Food-Energy Systems (IFES) Work for People and Climate - An Overview(PDF File)"
  • Laws needed to guide biofuels development, 9 February 2011 by Business Daily Africa: "We have recently seen debates on a proposed large-scale foreign investment for 'jatropha' biodiesel crop in the Tana Delta area. The debate is an indication that we need national policies to guide biofuel development and also large-scale leasing of community lands by foreign enterprises."
    • "Over the last few years, many countries have been reassessing their strategies on biofuels especially where biofuels developments are in direct competition with national food self sufficiency and where they interfere with existing primary forests."
    • "The draft policy and strategy for biodiesel in Kenya centers mainly around rural communities primarily in semi-arid areas, where locally grown diesel crops (jatropha, croton, castor etc) would provide affordable and cleaner alternative rural energy for lighting and heating using locally customised equipment."
    • "With renewed focus on food crops in marginal areas, it is highly unlikely that the government will wish to emphasise promotion of biodiesel crops like jatropha in the same areas."[13]
  • Biofuels: A Boon for the Misbegotten, February 2011 by Steve Nadis, Harvard Kennedy School: "Harvard Kennedy School Professor Robert Lawrence, a trade economist, sees the U.S. government’s support of the biofuels industry in another light: as a textbook example of ill-conceived policy."
    • "Government-set mandates and blending quotas have created a growing demand for biofuels."
    • "The main problem, from an energy policy perspective, is that these fuels are being promoted domestically without a clear rationale."
    • "Proponents commonly cite three attributes: a reduced carbon footprint, a reduced dependence on foreign oil, and a boon to American farmers. Yet Lawrence believes that biofuels don’t deliver on any of these objectives."
    • "If the federal government wants to help the family farmer, Lawrence says, it should simply give money to struggling farmers — through tax relief, grants, or some other form — rather than prop up an industry predominantly run by large agribusiness corporations."
    • "Perhaps biofuels are appealing in large part because no one knows the cost of the government’s requirement that a certain (and growing) portion of biofuels be blended into gasoline. Concealing the costs of a policy may be politically advantageous, but it rarely leads to the best strategy."[14]


  • Biofuels: Is Palm Oil a Blessing or a Curse, 9 November 2010 by Robert Rapier: "Palm oil presents an excellent case illustrating both the promise and the peril of biofuels. Driven by demand from the U.S. and the European Union (EU) due to mandated biofuel requirements, palm oil has provided a valuable cash crop for farmers in tropical regions like Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand."
    • "The high productivity of palm oil has led to a dramatic expansion in many tropical countries around the equator. This has the potential for alleviating poverty in these regions."
    • "But in some locations, expansion of oil palm cultivation has resulted in serious environmental damage as rain forest has been cleared to make room for new palm oil plantations."
    • "Palm oil represents a difficult dilemma: How does the West address negative social or environmental implications from the development of a palm oil industry (or any industry) that is helping to lift rural people out of poverty by providing an income stream for farmers? Western objectives (saving the rain forests) may be viewed as conflicting with their basic needs (feeding their families and sending their kids to school) — which is of course why globally rain forest continues to disappear."[15]
  • Biofuel worse for climate than fossil fuel - study, 7 November 2010 by Reuters: "European plans to promote biofuels will drive farmers to convert 69,000 square km of wild land into fields and plantations, depriving the poor of food and accelerating climate change, a report warned on Monday."
    • "As a result, the extra biofuels that Europe will use over the next decade will generate between 81 and 167 percent more carbon dioxide than fossil fuels, says the report."
    • "Nine environmental groups reached the conclusion after analysing official data on the European Union's goal of getting 10 percent of transport fuel from renewable sources by 2020."
    • "But the European Commission's energy team, which originally formulated the goal, countered that the bulk of the land needed would be found by recultivating abandoned farmland in Europe and Asia, minimising the impact."
    • "The debate centres on a new concept known as "indirect land-use change."
    • "In essence, that means that if you take a field of grain and switch the crop to biofuel, somebody, somewhere, will go hungry unless those missing tonnes of grain are grown elsewhere."
    • "The report was compiled by ActionAid, Birdlife International, ClientEarth, European Environment Bureau, FERN, Friends of the Earth Europe, Greenpeace, Transport & Environment, Wetlands International."[16]
  • Reality check for 'miracle' biofuel crop, 27 October 2010 by Miyuki Iiyama and James Onchieku: "It sounds too good to be true: a biofuel crop that grows on semi-arid lands and degraded soils, replaces fossil fuels in developing countries and brings huge injections of cash to poor smallholders."
    • "In an attempt to test the claims, Endelevu Energy, the World Agroforestry Centre and the Kenya Forestry Research Institute embarked on the Reality Check study supported by the German government, which we published last December."
    • "The main finding of the Reality Check is that jatropha is not economically viable when grown by smallholders in Kenya, either in a monoculture or intercrop plantation model. This is due to low yields and high production costs, and a lack of guidelines for applying agronomic and silvicultural best practices."[17]
  • Africa Energy Forum Considers Renewable Energy and Biofuels Development in Africa, 2 July 2010 by "The Africa Energy Forum, which took place from 28 June-1 July 2010, in Basel, Switzerland, examined the interlinkages among environmental concerns, development goals and power supply in Africa."
    • "The Forum included, inter alia: an Africa Renewable Energy Forum, which considered government, financial and technology and efficiency solutions, as well as best practice examples of renewable energy projects; an Energy Summit, during which government ministers, industry leaders and development and environment experts discussed energy development goals; and AfricaBIOFUELS, during which African and European Government representatives and investors offered their perspective on the development of the African biofuels sector."[20]
  • Lula Defends Biofuel Push in Amazon Region, 12 May 2010 by Latin American Herald Tribune: "Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is championing efforts to industrialize the Amazon region with initiatives such as the cultivation of palm oil for biofuel production."
    • "He said the initiative would end the state’s dependence on the timber market, considered a main culprit of Amazon deforestation, and hailed palm-oil plantations as environmentally friendly, saying they would re-use deforested areas."
    • The project is "[b]acked by the federal government and state-controlled energy giant Petrobras," and "would involve total investment of 1.3 billion reais ($702 million)."
    • "The Brazilian government estimates that close to 2,000 Para farmers would benefit from the project, which is expected to create 7,000 direct jobs and 15,000 indirect jobs. The plan also involves improvements to roads and bridges that would benefit the entire region."[22]
  • Participatory Market Mapping in the PISCES project in Kenya, 7 May 2010 by HEDON Household Energy Network: "The PISCES project is looking at ways of giving poor people easier access to cheap and renewable energy options, specifically focussing on the potential of biofuels."
    • "Markets matter to the rural poor. It is increasingly clear that in tackling rural poverty, market-related issues - including access to information, institutions, linkages and trade rules - are vital considerations. Failure to address these issues means that the benefits of other developments threaten to by-pass the rural poor."
    • This article includes links to a podcast on the mapping project as well as supporting documents.[23]
  • DOE, USDA Announce Funding for Biomass Research and Development Initiative, 6 May 2010, press release by the Department of Energy: "The U.S. Departments of Energy (DOE) and Agriculture (USDA) today jointly announced up to $33 million in funding for research and development of technologies and processes to produce biofuels, bioenergy and high-value biobased products, subject to annual appropriations."
    • "DOE also released today a new video which showcases how cellulosic biofuel technologies can help decrease U.S. dependence on foreign oil, spur growth in the domestic biofuels industry, and provide new revenue opportunities to farmers in many rural areas of the country."
    • "The video, shot at a harvesting equipment demonstration in Emmetsburg, Iowa, highlights a new way of producing ethanol from the cellulose fibers in corn cobs, not from the corn kernels. The technology generates a new opportunity for farmers to harvest and sell the cobs that they’d normally leave in the field."[24]
'Just four per cent of biofuels imported from abroad are sustainably produced - the vast majority are causing deforestation and land use changes that are increasing climate changing emissions and pushing people off their land.
'Biofuels are not the answer to our energy woes - the UK should scrap its targets and must focus our attention on developing greener transport alternatives to cars, such as fast and affordable rail services and cycling and walking.'"[25]
  • 'Invasive' biofuel crops require monitoring and mitigation measures, 21 January 2010 by ENN/European Consumers Bioenergy Division: "Biofuel crops will impact on biodiversity and natural ecosystems unless tightly controlled, says a panel of European experts."
    • The Bern Convention "adopted a recommendation on potentially invasive alien plants being used as biofuel crops (Recommendation 141, 2009). They warn that some biofuel crops are able to escape as pests, and in so doing impact on native biodiversity. As rural communities plan to grow more biofuel crops, the likelihood of new and harmful 'invasions' will increase apace."[26]
  • CLIMATE CHANGE: Brazil Defends Biofuels, 9 December 2009 by IPS/TerraViva: "Being the world’s largest producer and exporter of ethanol it is natural for the Brazilian government and its partners to push biofuels as the only real alternative for a world trying wean itself away from fossil fuels that contribute to global warming."
    • "Brazilian authorities were ready with their arguments at the United Nations climate change summit"...."at pains to show that not only is biofuel production the best way to reduce greenhouse gas (GhG) emissions but can also combat poverty as exemplified by the country’s scheme to promote micro-distilleries to provide additional income for rural families."
    • "While admitting that "biofuels are no silver bullet," Brazilian authorities insist that biofuels are the best way forward for developing countries."[27]

Bioenergy in rural development edit
Jatropha in rural development | Biogas in rural development
Types of bioenergy edit

Gases: Biopropane | Biogas | Synthetic natural gas | Syngas
Liquids: Biodiesel | Biobutanol | Biogasoline | Biokerosene | Biomass-to-Liquids (BTL) | Dimethyl ether (DME)
ETBE | Ethanol | Methanol | Pure plant oil (PPO) | Pyrolysis oil | Synthetic Natural Gas
Solids: Biomass pellets | Char/Charcoal | Wood


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