Global Agrofuels


Global Agrofuels
Global Agrofuels
A study by the Transnational Institute (TNI)
with a contribution by the Open University
Jennifer Franco, Les Levidow, Lucía Goldfarb, David Fig,
Mireille Hönicke and Maria Luisa Mendonça
8 June 2010 Brussels workshop on
What Knowledge for Sustainable Agriculture?
EU policy drivers
• Late 1990s: energy in/security drives biofuels
• By 2007, governments increasingly promoting
biofuels as ´greener, renewable sources to replace
fossil fuels
• EU biofuels policy driven by partnership of
government & agribusiness extending industrial
model from commodity crops to energy uses
• ‘Agrofuels’ express criticism of intensive/industrial
way in which they are produced, esp. as large-scale
monocultures in the global South
Creating markets
• Target in Renewable Energy Directive:
By 2020, 20% of all energy used in the EU -and 10% of each Member State’s transport fuel -must come from renewable sources, which is widely
expected to mean mainly biofuels.
• EU policy creates an agrofuels market and therefore
commercial incentives for agri-industrial development
in the EU and in the global south.
• Fulfilling EU targets depend on such development.
EU policy assumptions
• Various EC documents express optimistic assumptions
about benefits of biofuel expansion from EU targets.
Likewise assumptions about how to address
sustainability problems.
• Benefits for
Environmental protection, especially GHG savings
Energy security via substitution for oil imports
Rural development in EU and global South
• Such assumptions can be tested via comparison with
practices and effects of biofuel expansion – as in our
Environmental protection
Having expanded rapeseed production to the
maximum by 2007, it has become more dependent
on imports, thus generating emissions elsewhere –
initially in Eastern Europe, and later in South East
Asia (palm oil).
Comparative efficiency gains from ethanol are
undermined by destroying carbon sinks in plantations
in Cerrado savannah and Amazon rainforest.
Indirect impacts are not counted by EU sustainability
GHG savings from ethanol are undermined by land
clearances and infrastructure for de novo installations
Energy security
EU: Transport fuel usage is expected to increase, so
agrofuels will supplement fossil fuels and will be
increasingly imported, thus limiting benefits for
energy security.
Germany: Meeting the target will require more imports,
so diversifies sources but may not enhance energy
Mozambique: Most energy production is aimed at
export, so agrofuels will play a very small role in
import substitution
Rural development
General: Investments do not go to ‘marginal’ or
‘degraded’ land, but rather use high-quality land,
water sources and infrastructure, thus damaging
natural resources and local agriculture
Brazil: Plantations dominate the market.
Small-scale farmers have had a marginal role, e.g.
soya for biodiesel.
New employment degrades labour conditions
quasi-slave labour).
Mechanization reduces employment without
improving its conditions.
Mozambique: Conflicts with local residents over water
supplies for arable land, even for non-food crops
Assumptions about un/sustainability
Sustainability problems, esp. in global South:
competition for land use (fuel versus food or feed),
land grabs, GHG emissions from changes in land use
(especially indirect changes), environmental pollution
from intensive monoculture, etc.
EU policy documents explain these problems along two
lines, each with a remedy:
Inadequate management: to be addressed by
EC development policy and self-governance in global South,
e.g. voluntary schemes (corporate social responsibility model)
Yet EC development agencies lack resources and powers to limit
And self-governance readily accommodates agrofuels, e.g.
Brazil softening its law on environmental crimes.
• Inefficient use of resources: to be addressed through
eco-efficient technological innovation.
Assumption that the higher the productivity, the less it will compete
for land with food, until 2nd-generation biofuels are
commercially available
As our study shows, sustainability problems
have causes in political-economic drivers.
More efficient methods per se would not counteract monoculture
expansion or subordination of local land use to global markets,
which are the main drivers of harm.
Greater efficiency would provide financial incentives for extending
agro-industrial systems to more land, especially in global South.
‘Smart-green’ techno-fix provides a false solution, aimed at the
wrong problems – e.g. how to sustain Europe’s growing
consumption of transport fuel, and how to maximise valueadded from global commodities.

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