No conflict gallons? “Biofuels actually supports food security in developing countries”: IFPRI report

June 18, 2016 |

 

In Washington, a group of researchers from 10 institutions led by IFPRI released a report (access the complete report here) concluding that bioenergy can actually support food security. This challenges the “fuel vs. food” argument that biofuels contribute to global hunger. The effects of bioenergy policies on food security could be strongly positive, the team found, “if designed in the right way, and could help attract the kind of investments in agriculture that are sorely lacking in many of the developing countries that currently experience high-levels of hunger and poverty.”

According to Keith Kline, the lead author of the study, and a researcher at the Oak Ridge National Laboratories (ORNL) Climate Change Science Institute, “it is a mistake to ignore local costs and benefits of biofuels based on generalized assertions or global models. Reliable information about the actual local effects is essential, but has been lacking in food-biofuel-climate debates.”

“Many negative views about food security and biofuels are based on the misinterpretation of terms and modeling,” said co-author Jorge Antonio Hilbert of the Instituto de Ingeniería Rural INTA in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The report stresses that context matters greatly for understanding food security, and in determining the effect that energy policies (or other factors) might have on it. The effects of bioenergy policies on food security could be strongly positive, if designed in the right way, and could help attract the kind of investments in agriculture that are sorely lacking in many of the developing countries that currently experience high-levels of hunger and poverty. The report also stresses that food and bioenergy don’t necessarily compete for land, and that land is often not the most critical factor affecting food security.  The authors of the report put forward these messages to challenge many of the arguments that have demonized the role of biofuels and bioenergy, within the “fuel vs. food” debate.

One of the key goals of the report, “Reconciling Food Security and Bioenergy: Priorities for Action,” is to point out that food and energy security are complementary goals, as embodied in the United Nations-led 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and as also reflected in the Paris Agreement under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The authors outline a number of ways in which development-focused efforts to promote food security and secure clean and reliable sources of energy for local populations can align in a synergistic way.

The report identifies science-based steps to ensure that biofuels, food crops and natural resources can be managed sustainably together. Published in the journal Global Change Biology Bioenergy, the report is the final knowledge product generated by an international and multidisciplinary collaboration that was initiated at an international conference on Biofuels and Food Security, hosted by the International Food Policy Research Institute in November 2014.

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