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

World Vision International ,
11.02.2013
FSN Forum

General Comments

  • We have reviewed this report and find it, on the whole, to be a very useful and comprehensive survey of thinking about the current situation, a thorough analysis of the data and a clear statement of the likely future impacts of biofuels.
  • We really appreciated the clear discussion of the importance of land tenure and security of access. The lack of well-defined land tenure/access rights in various countries means that particularly (put not only) nomadic pastoralists are very exposed to this change in land use.
  • We also were very pleased to see the well-developed discussion of the food security (including not only poverty and hunger but nutritional) implications of biofuels.
  • The same applies for the author’s consideration of the gender dimensions of impacts.
  • We are of the opinion that food-displacing biofuels are ultimately a waste of effort.  There is not enough land to grow all the fuel needed and feed humanity.  Moreover, the push to biofuels has spawned even higher levels of land grabbing than would be seen with only the massive demand for increased food production to feed a growing population.  As well, there is great debate as to whether there is any meaningful reduction in greenhouse gas reductions from food-displacing biofuels. 
  • For this reason, we are largely in agreement with the conclusions of the report – with the exception that it is probably not stated strongly enough.  The biofuel mandate which causes food sources to be displaced would appear to be misplaced and ultimately harmful, especially to the poor whom World Vision serves. We are in agreement with recommendation #1, although we feel that it could be stated more clearly by having two recommendations. The first would state that mandates and subsidies need to end, period. The second would then deal with the emergence of a global biofuels market in the absence of mandates and subsidies – and discuss how to control its growth.
  • Second, non-food-displacing biofuels remain elusive right now.  Jatropha, for example, only becomes productive as a biofuel when it is cultivated to the same extent as food crops (i.e. with water and fertilizers).  The first conclusion then applies.  Algae and cellulosic biofuels remain over the horizon for now. 
  • Biofuel research remains worthwhile, however, as algae-based fuels offer the possibility of both dealing with liquid fuel needs as well as reducing atmospheric CO2 concentrations. 
  • Recommendation #6 should clearly state that all multi-stakeholder schemes need to consider social dimensions.
  • Recommendation #9 – we agree with this very clear statement about non-food-competing crops and their competition for land, but it should mention pastoralism and grasslands explicitly
  • In support of the above comment, it would be helpful in the sections which mention “marginal” lands or lands not in productive use or “underutilized” lands, to develop this concept and the counterargument more fully. The reality is that just because land is not being actively cultivated or used at a specific point in time does not mean that it has not been nor ever will be used. Fallow land is land that has been in active use and will be again – in fact it is intentionally left idle as a means to restore/rebuild its productivity. If not intentionally left “idle”, its productivity would suffer an irreversible decline – as would the sustainability and resilience of that production. Why should this be classified as “underutilized” or “available”? The same would apply to grasslands that are used seasonally or left as grazing reserves for periods when other lands need a rest. These should not be considered as being unproductive or available – they are essential to the overall productivity and resilience of pastoral livelihoods. The report really needs to include some discussion as to what is meant by “underutilized” or “available” and by whose standards. The fact is that managed fallows and grasslands used for pastoralism should be considered as being in productive use.
  • There is some discussion of the potential of cassava as both a food and a biofuel feedstock. When mention is made of its use as a human food, including both its leaves and the root, it would seem appropriate to acknowledge that it is not without health risk. Inadequate processing fails to remove the cyanic acid from the plant and can lead to goitre and cretinism. More importantly, for the purposes of this discussion, there is no mention of the negative impacts of inappropriate cassava production in monoculture on soils (soil carbon, soil fertility, water holding capacity). While cassava is very productive in the humid tropics, that is not the case elsewhere. Its production is really only sustainable as part of the transition back to forest as the final crop in long-rotation shifting cultivation systems. We would question its sustainability in other systems.
  • Section 3.1 , where the distinction is made between impacts on price and impacts on hunger and poverty is very important – especially the distinction between the quantity and quality effect. The last paragraph is particularly relevant.
  • Section 5.4, first paragraph – there is mention of wages for outgrowing schemes. It is important to consider their potential to provide a living wage. If they are insufficient to provide for a household’s needs and people have to resort to continued food crop cultivation on the margins of the growing area, one winds up expanding the area under cultivation. Hence, the importance of considering the earning potential or the wages being offered and whether they can be reasonably expected to provide an adequate living.