Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN)

Spotlight on Biofuels: The research challenge
December 2007
Science and Development Network (SciDev.Net)

Acknowledgements: FANRPAN acknowledges SciDev.Net as the source of this information:

Biofuels are described by some as 'absolutely catastrophic' because of their potential consequences for example, raising the cost of food or diverting agricultural land to energy production but are seen by others as 'the driving force for development in some of the world's poorest regions'.

SciDev.Net picks a path between doomsayers and utopians, and looks at the reality of biofuels research and development in the developing world.

  • William Dar, director general of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), addresses the lack of research on the yields of biofuel crops, such as jatropha, and the uncertainty this brings energy economies and their farmers.
  • Maureen. R. Wilson, chemist/laboratory manager at the Sugar Industry Research Institute in Jamaica, argues that biofuels are a lifeline for sugar-producing countries hit by the European Union's 2006 sugar reforms, and focuses on improving technology to produce ethanol from crop residues.
  • Siwa Msangi, research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), demands strong international policies to stop the biofuel revolution threatening food security for the poor.
  • S. Arungu-Olende, secretary-general of the African Academy of Sciences, calls for 'massive investment' in energy resource development and use, and the putting in place of mechanisms for capacity building in the energy sector.
In an accompanying editorial, I suggest that, despite the many promises of biofuels, the potential severity of their side-effects means we should proceed with caution. It also means that more research is needed to enable us to take sound evidence-based decisions on biofuels policy, and avoid a reckless leap of faith.

Finally two of our freelance correspondents describe how biofuels research projects are developing on the ground. Carla Almeida highlights Brazil's biofuel success and the country's need to develop new applications of ethanol. Kimani Chege explores what is being done to harness Africa's vast biomass resources and the research needed to achieve better yielding biofuel crops and more efficient fuels.

We have also collated SciDev.Net's coverage of relevant news and created a collection of links to key background documents and organisations.

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