Return to previous page

In recent years, energy security concerns and growing commitment to address climate change have sparked off significant interest and debate on biomass for energy, particularly liquid biofuels. The debate on biofuels has been particularly controversial because it has largely been driven by politics, ethical/moral considerations, and vested interests rather than by science. As global energy resources become increasingly scarce in the face of growing energy demand for transport fuel and other productive uses, many countries have begun to turn to the possibilities that biofuels from renewable resources could offer in supplementing their domestic energy portfolio. Hunger is morally compelling. If people believe that liquid transportation fuels derived from plant-based feedstocks will take food out of the mouths of hungry people, there is an ethically powerful argument against the entire package of technologies dedicated to improving the biological efficiency of converting plant matter into combustible fuels, as well as to research on agricultural and energy policies intended to increase utilization of biofuels. Understanding the complex interactions among food security, bioenergy sustainability, and resource management requires a focus on specific contextual problems and opportunities.

This book presents the state of the art information on the complexities in assessing sustainability as related to energy and food security interactions among food security, biofuels, and resource management. In the first chapter, we draw the key linkages between future biofuels growth on agricultural commodity prices and highlight some of the key uncertainties over OECD fuel and energy policies, and their implications for global agricultural markets and the world food situation. The chapter shows some of the implications that biofuels expansion has on crop area expansion in regions where environmental concerns exist over land-use change and the possible impacts on the environment. A key objective of the second chapter is to provide an assessment of previous work on “food versus fuel,” a candent topic, which is shaping the future of biomass for energy, to provide an analysis of the current and future situation, and to contribute to possible alternatives to minimize or avoid future conflict. This chapter focuses on food prices, land competition, GHG, energy balance, and energy subsidies and concerns with the rapid expansion of bioenergy for electricity and heat, climatic changes, the role of agriculture as a key factor, the potential of biomass energy resources, and the various alternatives to minimize or avoid conflict between food and fuel production.

It is thus useful to understand how the idea of food vs. fuel tension arose and came to be seen as a crucial theme in the technological ethics of biofuels. The subsequent chapters shed light on food supply and bioenergy production within the global cropland planetary boundary; the potential of wastewater use for Jatropha cultivation in arid environments; a promising approach to gene confinement and breeding for genetically modified bioenergy crops; and biofuel impacts on the world food supply: use of fossil fuel, land and water resources.

Among the world’s continents, Africa has the highest incidence of food insecurity and poverty and the highest rates of population growth. Yet Africa also has the most arable land, the lowest crop yields, and by far the most plentiful land resources relative to energy demand. It is thus of interest to examine the potential of expanded modern bioenergy production in Africa. In the last chapter of this monograph, we consider bioenergy as an enabler for development and provide an overview of modern bioenergy technologies with a comment on application in the African context.