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Re: HLPE consultation on the V0 draft of the Report: Biofuels and Food Security

United States of America ,
FSN Forum


The “Biofuels and Food Security” Report (“the Report”) addresses an important topic: the impact of transportation biofuels production and use on food security. The Report provides useful insights into the state of global agricultural markets and land use practices, as well as environmental and social implications. We wish to provide the HLPE with the following input.

The Report inadequately considers the work of the FAO Bioenergy and Food Security Project and the Global Bioenergy Partnership on bioenergy and food security. The CFS mandated: “the HLPE to conduct a science-based comparative literature analysis, taking into consideration the work produced by the FAO and Global Bioenergy Partnership (GBEP), of the positive and negative effects of biofuels on food security to be presented to the CFS.” However, the report only briefly cites work of the FAO Bioenergy and Food Security team. The work of GBEP is mentioned in a trivial way and is inaccurately listed under the section on certification schemes. The HLPE must restructure and rewrite this document in a manner that adequately takes into account the existing work of the FAO and GBEP on biofuels and food security.

The quality and impact of the Report will significantly benefit from considering previously published research, which assesses: the economic, social and environmental feasibility of biofuels; the impacts global and national biofuels policies; and the full range of impact(s) of biofuels production on food and nutrition security. In addition, more in-depth analyses of the industry dynamics and the forces leading to changes in local and global commodity markets would help in assessing the potential impact of biofuels on food security. Currently, the Report is written as a policy discussion piece, premised on the bias that nationally determined biofuels mandates - such as those in Brazil, the U.S. and EU - are overwhelmingly responsible for driving up the prices of food and thereby decreasing food security for the global poor. The report draws on a biased and unrepresentative sample of academic and (non-peer-reviewed) NGO publications to convince the reader of this outcome. The authors would be better served by summarizing the macro- and micro-economic literature, as opposed to using simplistic aggregate calculations of the possible impact of bioenergy on global energy supplies and on food security.

Future drafts of this paper should reflect the conclusions of FAO BEFS and GBEP, specifically that: bioenergy can improve energy access and food security for smallholder farmers in developing countries, when implemented in a rational and sustainable manner. In section 4.2.4 the paper mentions a balanced approach to bioenergy, citing “[a] recent UNU-IAS study on Biofuels in Africa by Gasparatos et al (2010) [that] develops a useful typology of biofuels at the level of individual production systems, demonstrating the importance of going beyond aggregate considerations.” The paper should be restructured to take into account the different roles that bioenergy and biofuels play in developed and developing countries, as well as the importance of looking seriously at distinct contexts when creating and implementing policies on the production and uses of bioenergy.


1) It is insufficient for the HLPE to merely consider globally aggregated impacts of transportation biofuel production and use on food security. The HLPE must disaggregate the impacts of industrial transportation biofuels production from bioenergy for sustainable development. We recommend more rigorous calculations of the impact of biofuels that provide a thorough treatment and clearer evidence from available data, taking into account regional and national circumstances. Throughout the report, we also recommend using consistent, clear, and standardized definitions of food and nutrition security and bioenergy.

2) The HLPE must provide a more nuanced and thorough account of the causes of food and nutrition insecurity in developing countries, which draws upon a broader selection of the literature. Examples of causes include: post-harvest losses, due to a lack of energy access; insufficient infrastructure to transport domestically produced commodities and foods; national policies that inhibit development of the agricultural sector; and other limits on production, including barriers to trade. The HLPE should reference the work of FAO BEFS and the recent World Bank Report entitled “Africa Can Help Feed Africa: Removing barriers to regional trade in food staples”. (See below for full bibliographic details.)


For the HLPE to be responsive to its mandate, the report should discuss and cite this work:

  • Dale VH and KL Kline. 2013. Issues in using landscape indicators to assess land changes. Ecological Indicators.
  • Djomo, S. N.; Ceulemans, R. 2012. A comparative analysis of the carbon intensity of biofuels caused by land use changes. GCB Bioenergy 4: 392-407.
  • Efroymson RA, VH Dale, KL Kline, AC McBride, JM Bielicki, RL Smith, ES Parish, PE Schweizer, DM Shaw. 2013. Environmental indicators of biofuel sustainability: What about context? Environmental Management 51(2) DOI 10.1007/s00267-012-9907-5.
  • FAO. 2010. Bioenergy and Food Security: the BEFS analysis for Tanzania, by Maltsoglou, I. and Khwaja, Y., Environment and Natural Resources Working Paper No. 35, Rome.
  • FAO. 2010. Bioenergy and Food Security: the BEFS analysis for Peru, Supporting the policy machinery in Peru, by Khwaja, Y., Environment and Natural Resources Working Paper No. 40, Rome.
  • FAO. 2010. Bioenergy and Food Security: the BEFS analysis for Thailand, by Salvatore, M. and Damen, B., Environment and Natural Resources Working Paper No. 42, Rome.
  • FAO 2010a. SOFI Technical Notes (methodology). The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2010 Technical notes.
  • FAO 2010b. Food Outlook. Nov 2010.
  • FAO 2009a. Hunger in the Face of Crisis: Global Economic Slowdown Underscores Urgency of Addressing Long-Term Challenges. Economic and Social Perspectives, Policy Brief #6. September 2009. This and other policy briefs at
  • FAO. 2009b. The State of Food Insecurity in the World.
  • FAO-IIASA (2007). “Mapping biophysical factors that influence agricultural production and rural vulnerability.” Food and Agriculture Organization and International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Rome 2007.
  • Fisher, M. J., I. M. Rao, M. A. Ayarza, C. E. Lascano, J. I. Sanz, R. J. Thomas, and R R. Vera 1994. Carbon storage by introduced deep-rooted grasses in the South-American savannas. Nature 371:236-238.
  • Global Bioenergy Partnership. 2011. The Global Bioenergy Partnership Sustainability Indicators for Bioenergy, First Edition, Rome.
  • Heaton E., Voigt T., Long S.P., A quantitative review comparing the yields of two candidate C4 perennial biomass crops in relation to nitrogen, temperature and water. Biomass and Bioenergy 27:21-30 (2004)
  • Heaton E.A., Dhleman F.G. and Long S.P., Meeting US biofuel goals with less land: the potential of Miscanthus. Global Change Biology 14: 2000-2014 (2008)
  • Kim, Hyungtae, Seungdo Kim, and Bruce E. Dale. "Biofuels, land use change, and greenhouse gas emissions: some unexplored variables." Environmental Science & Technology 43, no. 3 (2009): 961-967.
  • Kline KL, VH Dale, R Lee, and P. Leiby. 2009. In Defense of Biofuels, Done Right. Issues in Science and Technology 25(3): 75-84
  • Kwon, H.; Wander, M.; Mueller, S.; Dunn, J. B. 2013. Modeling state-level soil carbon emission factors under various scenarios for direct land use change associated with United States biofuel feedstock production. Biomass and Bioenergy, under review.
  • Mann, L., and V. Tolbert. 2000. Soil sustainability in renewable biomass plantings. Ambio 29:492-498.
  • Mueller, S.; Dunn, J. B.; Wang, M. 2012. Carbon Change Calculator for Land Use Change from Biofuels Production (CCLUB) Users’ Manual and Technical Documentation. ANL/ESD/12-5. May 2012.
  • Mueller, S.; Copenhaver, K.; Begert, D. 2012. An assessment of available lands for biofuels production in the United States using United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) cropland data layers. Journal of Agricultural Extension and Rural Development, 4: 465-470.
  • National Research Council. 2012. Sustainable Development of Algal Biofuels in the United States. National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.
  • National Research Council. 2011. Renewable Fuel Standard: Potential Economic and Environmental Effects of U.S. Biofuel Policy. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.
  • Oladosu, Gbadebo, Keith Kline, Rocio Uria‐Martinez, and Laurence Eaton. "Sources of corn for ethanol production in the United States: a decomposition analysis of the empirical data." Biofuels, Bioproducts and Biorefining 5, no. 6 (2011): 640-653.
  • Oladosu, Gbadebo, Keith Kline, Paul Leiby, Rocio Uria-Martinez, Maggie Davis, Mark Downing, and Laurence Eaton. "Global economic effects of US biofuel policy and the potential contribution from advanced biofuels." Biofuels 3, no. 6 (2012): 703-723.
  • Oxfam 2010. Hunger in the Sahel: A permanent emergency? Oxfam Briefing Note (Etienne du Vachat; Eric Hazard) 15 December 2010.
  • Accessed January 24, 2011.
  • Parish ES, KL Kline, VH Dale, RA Efroymson, AC McBride, T Johnson, MR Hilliard, JM Bielicki. 2013. A multi-scale comparison of environmental effects from gasoline and ethanol production. Environmental Management 51(2) DOI: 10.1007/s00267-012-9983-6
  • Pate, R., G. Klise, and B. Wu. 2011. Resource demand implications for U.S. algae biofuels production scale-up. Applied Energy 88(10):3377-3388.
  • Tolbert, V. R., D. E. Todd Jr., L. K. Mann, C. M. Jawdy, D. A. Mays, R. Malik, W. Bandaranayake, A. Houston, D. Tyler, and D. E. Pettry. 2002. Changes in soil quality and below-ground carbon storage with conversion of traditional agricultural crop lands to bioenergy crop production. Environmental Pollution 116: S97-S106.
  • Wallington, T. J.; Anderson, J. E.; Mueller, S. A.; Kolinski Morris, E.; Winkler, S. L.; Ginder, J. M.; Nielsen, O. J. 2012. Corn ethanol production, food exports, and indirect land use change. Environmental Science and Technology, 46: 6379 – 6384.
  • M. Wang, J. Han, J. Dunn, H. Cai, and A. Elgowainy, 2012, “Well-to-Wheels Energy Use and Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Ethanol from Corn, Sugarcane, Corn Stover, Switchgrass, and Miscanthus,” Environmental Research Letter, 7 (2012) 045905 (13pp).
  • Wang, M., J. Han, Z. Haq, W. Tyner, M. Wu, and A. Elgowainy, 2011, “Energy and Greenhouse Gas Emission Effects of Corn and Cellulosic Ethanol with Technology Improvements and Land Use Changes,” Biomass and Bioenergy 35 (2011): 1885-1896.
  • World Bank. 2012. Africa Can Help Feed Africa: Removing barriers to regional trade in food staples, Poverty Reduction and Economic Management - Africa, Washington, DC.

Together, these publications make the following essential points when considering the relationship between bioenergy and food security. Specifically:

1) The positive or negative impacts of bioenergy on food security raise complex issues, which need to be considered in country-specific, regional, and international contexts.

2) The production and uses of bioenergy have benefits and challenges. Policy tools - such as the BEFS Analytical Framework and the GBEP indicators - can assist countries in optimizing the benefits and minimizing the challenges, including challenges to food security.

3) Food insecurity is driven in large part by a lack of energy access. Bioenergy production and use can improve food security by providing energy for food production, food storage (drying and cold storage), and food transportation.