Bioenergy does not threaten food security says International Food Policy Research Institution paper

A recently published research paper on food security establishes that there is no clear relationship between bioenergy produced from crops and higher prices threatening access to food. The paper is an outcome of the 2014 IFPRI* Workshop supported by Climate-KIC, Novozymes, the World Bank and others.

The aim of the 2014 workshop was to understand the relationship between the use of bioenergy and volatility in global as well as local food prices and to explore the current and future interaction between biofuels and food security. This was achieved by project developers, researchers and policy-makers elaborating upon their learnings to date. Contributors to the workshop included Dr. Jeremy Woods from Climate-KIC’s partner Imperial College of London and Senior Advisor, Morten Gylling from the University of Copenhagen.  Dr. Woods was also one of the group of researchers who wrote a paper based on questions raised during the workshop. 

Previous analyses have suggested that the competition for land between crops for food and ones for bioenergy threatens food security. While this argument has been strongly advocated by environmentalists and others, biofuel advocates and oil companies have not shared this sentiment. One of several consequences of that debate has been that buy-in to the U.S.’ bid to reduce dependency on foreign oil and cut greenhouse gas emissions was impeded.

After the workshop, a group of researchers from Sao Paulo State Research Foundation (FAPESP), the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the World Bank, the Brazilian National Council for Scientific, Technological Development (CNPq), and Imperial College of London joined forces with the objective of unveiling the realities of the debate.

Their paper acknowledges the rivalry over land, but the researchers argue that a circular approach to production could improve resource management and thus increase food security. Identifying what might otherwise be considered waste from one part of the system, as input for other parts will become easier by a higher degree of integration between the two productions.’

One key message relates to how infrastructure and marketing improvements can make agricultural markets work better, and simultaneously enhance the viability of bioenergy projects. Another major message relates to how flex crops could be promoted that provide food in addition to other valuable co-products or uses that can contribute directly to bioenergy production. 

They conclude by encouraging the application of sustainability guidelines to the production of bioenergy in order to reduce hunger. Designing these guidelines requires a renewed focus on populations at risk and understanding local causes of food insecurity. Bioenergy can in this way contribute to improved food security by increasing the adaptability and resilience of human populations at risk and by reducing context-specific vulnerabilities that could limit access to nutrients in times of crisis.

Read the full research paper here

*IFPRI = International Food Policy Research Institution