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

In October 2011 the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) recommended a “review of biofuels policies – where applicable and if necessary – according to balanced science-based assessments of the opportunities and challenges that they may represent for food security so that biofuels can be produced where it is socially, economically and environmentally feasible to do so”. In line with this, the CFS requested 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”.

The Final findings are to be presented to the CFS Plenary Session in October 2013.

The High Level Panel of Experts for Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) now seeks input on the following V0 draft of its report to address this mandate. The current V0 draft has been elaborated by the Project Team, under guidance and oversight of the Steering Committee, based also on the feedback received through the scoping e-consultation.

The present e-consultation will be used by the HLPE Project Team to further elaborate the report, which will then be submitted to external expert review, before finalization by the Project Team under Steering Committee guidance and oversight.

The current draft is work-in-progress towards a comprehensive yet accessible and succinct presentation, highlighting priority topics and areas that are useful for action to the diverse range of stakeholders, which form the CFS.

To be useful in the next steps of the report write-up, the HLPE seeks feedback and input according to the following lines:

1.    Is the V0´s appreciation of the current policy conjuncture adequate, particularly its interpretation of the changing significance of mandates and targets?

2.    Does the V0´s interpretation of land constraints regarding “available” lands  – from an integrated food security and carbon emissions perspective – take into account all the relevant scientific evidence and arguments?

3.    The V0 provides a detailed and comprehensive discussion of the central role of biofuels for high and volatile food prices. Are there further discussions that need to be taken into account?

4.    The V0 endorses initiatives which give priority to broad bioenergy strategies for local use in energy poor regions of the world where the potential social gains are large from even small quantities of energy and the impact on land use competition small. Which are the most far-reaching examples of such policies or experiences in practice?
The V0 draft report presents a series of policy proposals, which are understood to follow on from the analysis developed in the different chapters. These proposals are still very preliminary and general in character. Do these proposals adequately reflect the analyses developed in the V0 draft? 

The Report ambitions to pay particular attention to the changed conjuncture with regard to mandates/targets and subsidies and to the need to define policies to control the development of biofuels markets. Contributions on this theme would be particularly welcomed.

The HLPE welcomes contributions and evidence to sharpen policy proposals, including international ones, in the area of implementing and ensuring effectively responsible land investments.

The HLPE is concerned above all to develop policy proposals, which can be used as practical guides for policy formulation, and welcomes contributions, which identify policies, and initiatives, which can flesh out the general orientations, presented in the policy proposals section.
We thank in advance all the contributors for being kind enough to spend time in reading and commenting on this early version of our report. Supplementary information, references and evidence-based examples would be very much welcomed in such a format that could be quickly managed by the team (for instance, if you suggest a reference, a book etc, please highlight a/the key point(s) in 5 to 10 lines).

Contributions are welcomed in English, French and Spanish. The V0 draft is available in English. We look forward to a rich and fruitful consultation.
The HLPE Project Team and Steering Committee

This discussion is now closed. Please contact for any further information.

Luiz A Horta Nogueira Universidade Federal de Itajubá, Brazil
FSN Forum

This document addresses relevant aspects of global development of biofuels, focusing mainly the nexus of ethanol and biodiesel production with staple food availability and prices. It could be considered an improvement compared with previous studies from that UN agency, which have been oscillating between a generic apology of biofuels and a criticism without clear base.

It is really an advance to find in this report a prudent position with regards Jatropha as feedstock (formerly proposed in FAO docs as good choice for biofuels) and about the feasibility of 2nd generation biofuels in the medium-short term. However, the document is fragile in their core analysis, based largely on a partial perspective of biofuel markets, impacts and potential.

Following some remarks about this document are presented.

1. Need to include sugarcane more clearly

The review of current and prospective technologies for biofuel production (Chapter 2. Biofuels and the Technology Frontier, Figure 2 and Tables 1 and 2, pg 17/18, energy balance and GHG emission of biofuels) properly confirms the relevant differences among the several feedstock and process, endorsing the abundant literature indicating sugarcane by far as more sustainable than other alternatives. There is almost a consensus in the scientific community about the superiority of this semi-perennial grass as photosynthetic converter and recent papers reinforce this vision (for example, Runge et al., 2012, and Leal et al., 2013).

These significant differences were apparently no considered in other parts of the FAO document, developing the discussion on biofuels impact and potential essentially based on the production routes adopted in USA and Europe, almost ignoring the sugarcane. It is highly advisable to revise this lack of relevant information.

2. The price question

As mentioned, the document developed an analysis and drawn conclusions about food prices, hunger, poverty, etc., focusing the market of grains, clearly affected by the biofuels production. It is correct in the case of corn in the USA or vegetable oil abroad, but is not applicable for the sugar market, directly related to ethanol in Brazil and other Latin-American countries.

Thus, the evaluation of “change in use for food and feed versus use for biofuel, sugar (2005-2012)” (Figure 10, pg 29) deserves more attention of authors. The price formation mechanisms are complex and should be more discussed. It could be also interesting to mention a study developed the Agricultural Development Unit of ECLAC on the relationship of crude oil price and agricultural commodities (for food and bioenergy), pointing out the lack of relevant co-variance in the case of sugarcane products (see pg 247-250 in BNDES/CGEE/CEPAL/FAO, 2008).

3. The impact of increasing biofuel production

The authors stressed their concern about the expansion of biofuels production by estimating the limited potential of biomass as source of energy to supply the huge current global demand (correctly) and assuming that “providing 10% of the world’s transportation fuel from biofuels would require roughly a quarter of all present crop production”. This last assertion is highly questionable and the footnote in pg 35 (“…and it takes very roughly the same quantity of crop energy to make each exajoule of biofuel – the mix of crops would not greatly vary this percentage”) should be carefully confirmed. There is a clear contradiction between the comparison of feedstock presented previously in this document and this hypothesis of no effect of feedstock.

The calculus procedure and assumptions adopted to estimate the land and feedstock requirement are not clear, but possibly are based on average values of the current situation, which includes the unsustainable production of ethanol from corn and biodiesel from soybean and rapeseed. Again, the sugarcane route was forgotten, with serious implications. Several studies indicate quite different requirements of natural resources if more efficient (and available) routes are adopted.

For instance, detailed evaluation of the expansion of ethanol production from sugarcane in Brazil, taking into account edafo-climatic constraints and the agro-ecological zoning, indicate that just about 23 million ha will be able to produce 5% of global gasoline demand in 2025 (Leite et al., 2009). This area is equal the area currently cultivated with soybean in Brazil and is less than 2% of area available for agricultural expansion indicated in this draft document (1,300 million ha of cropland potentially available, pg 39). Detailed assessment of land requirement of modern bioenergy (using sugarcane) to supply global transportation needs is available (Pacca and Moreira, 2010) and should be included.

As additional information regarding pasture land and taking into account the important increase in the animal protein demand, the evolution of livestock productivity has been remarkable. From 1995 to 2006, the area of grassland in Brazil decreased from 179 Mha to 172 Mha (-4%), while the bovine herd increase (+14%) (IBGE, 2008). This densification of livestock production is far from complete, and it should free up more areas for agriculture and bioenergy in the coming decades, in many wet tropical countries.

4. The electric car alternative

The authors indicated as an alternative more efficient than bioenergy the direct conversion of solar energy in photovoltaic cells: “Converting this biomass energy into electricity in turn reduces that efficiency down to 0.1 to 0.2%. By contrast, standard solar cells now convert 10% of solar energy”.

This comparison is, at least, very controversial. For what conditions? The LCA energy costs were considered? Are the inputs and outputs, the period of analysis, comparable? To compare photosynthesis with direct solar energy conversion impose clear definition of boundary analysis, contexts and aims, and this superficial judgement requires references and more data.

Unfortunately, this kind of mistake sometimes appear in the literature, such as in a recent paper that assumes direct solar radiation as electricity, forgetting the relevant conversion process efficiencies in the comparison of bioenergy and photo cells (Michel, 2012).

5. Ethanol production stagnation in Brazil

In the sentence “Ethanol production in the US shot up from 1.7 billion gallons in 2001 to 13.9 billion gallons in 2011, overtaking Brazil whose ethanol sector only produced 5.5 billion gallons (why not to use cubic meters?) in 2011 after being severely hit by the 2008 financial crisis.” (pg 20), it is advisable to review the causes behind the Brazilian situation.

Although some other causes can be mentioned, such as adverse weather, costs increase and yield reduction due to mechanical harvesting adoption, it is enough clear that the main reason is the progressive lack of competitiveness of ethanol due to the government intervention in gasoline prices. Officially motivated by inflation control, the Brazilian government has kept during the last 5 years the gasoline price at refinery gate (ex-taxes) around 70 US$/barrel, significantly below of the international parity prices formerly adopted, and gradually reduced the taxes on this fossil fuel. In the middle of 2012, the main Federal tax on gasoline was set to zero and currently the gasoline price at gas stations is about 30% below the expected value, if the taxes were kept. As the Brazilian fleet is predominantly flex-fuel, the ethanol demand has been substituted by gasoline and the ethanol production in 2010 shrunk 30% in relation to 2008. Thus, it is not correct to attribute to the financial crisis a situation essentially motivated by the lack of energy policy.

6. Incorrect data

With minor importance compared with the previous remarks, the data presented in the Appendix I, at least those with reference to Brazil, should be revised. The values for ethanol and biodiesel are swapped and must be clarified that the ethanol value does not represent “mandatory demand”, because consumers can choose freely their fuel (gasohol or ethanol). If the values represent production, the correct value for ethanol is 22,6 Mm3, (according to the Ministry of Energy and Mines), and the blending limits are E18-E25.

Final Comments

Despite of the relevant effort of this HLPE to assess globally the biofuel market, impact and perspectives, this draft report presents serious mistakes and naive arguments, essentially imposing an Eurocentric perspective and taking general conclusions based just in few productive routes (feedstock+process) broadly recognized as inefficient and unsustainable. Thus, the inconvenience of use of cereals (corn and wheat for ethanol, soybeans and rapeseed for biodiesel) is correctly stressed in this document, but the authors do not admit sufficiently the profound difference of sugarcane in this context. It is hard to believe that this report was done based on “field research carried out in different regions and localities” (pg 1), since it clearly does not reflect the reality in a large part of developing countries.

FAO plays, mainly in the developing world, an important role, opening desirable scenarios, informing about technologies and building capacities for proper decision making in relevant matters. This document, in this draft format, is evidently biased and do need to be improved, including other perspectives and escaping from the limited vision that the future of biofuels abroad will be the same observed nowadays in USA and Europe.

Biofuels are not equal. If a country as Germany is using 940,000 ha to plant rapeseed for biodiesel and diverting the production of 650,000 ha of crops directly to make biogas (RENI, 2011), consuming inefficiently a lot of natural resources, then the biofuels development is really a worrying issue. But, this can not be generalized, biofuels can also be beneficial and promote sustainable development in many contexts, help to protect natural resources, generate jobs and income, improve health and food security (Lynd and Woods, 2012).

Many developing countries are endowed with natural resources and should be helped to use them correctly, which include sustainable bioenergy. This document must be improved in order to reduce the polarized perception of impacts and benefits, and demonstrate the crucial importance of selecting efficient routes. To evaluate the future using the present situation is surely a mistake.


BNDES/CGEE/ECLAC/FAO, Sugarcane bioethanol: energy for sustainable development, Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social, Rio de Janeiro, 2008

available in

IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) Censo Agropecuário (Agriculture and livestock census), Rio de Janeiro, 2008

available in

Leal, MRLV, Nogueira, LAH, Cortez, LAB, Land demand for ethanol production, Applied Energy 102, 2013

doi: 10.1016/j.apenergy.2012.09.037

Leite, RCC, Leal, MRLV, Cortez, LAB, Griffin, WM, Scandiffio, MIG,

Can Brazil replace 5% of the 2025 gasoline world demand with ethanol?

Energy, 34(5), 2009

doi: 10.1016/

Lynd, LR, Woods, J, Perspective: A new hope for Africa, Nature, 474, 2011.

doi: 10.1038/474S020a

Michel, H, The Nonsense of Biofuels, Angew. Chem. Int. Ed., 51, 2012

doi: 10.1002/anie.201200218

Pacca S, Moreira JR, A biorefinery for mobility?, Environ Sci Technol, 45(22), 2011

doi: 10.1021/es2004667.

RENI, Biogas: an all-rounder, Renewables Insight: Energy Industry Guides, revised edition, 2011

available in

Runge CF, Sheehan JJ, Senauer B, Foley J, Gerber J, Andrew JJ, Polasky S and Runge CP, Assessing the comparative productivity advantage of bioenergy feedstocks at different latitudes, Environ. Res. Lett., 7, 2012

doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/7/4/045906


L A Horta Nogueira/UNIFEI/Brazil


José M Medina Rey PROSALUS - Campaña "Derecho a la alimentación. URGENTE", Spain
José M

Estimados amigos y amigas:

Las ONG españolas que impulsamos la campaña "Derecho a la alimentación. URGENTE" coincidimos con la preocupación manifestada en el borrador 0 del informe sobre el negativo impacto que pueden tener los agrocombustibles en la seguridad alimentaria.

Aportamos en documento adjunto algunas reflexiones sobre:

  • - Posible impacto en el acceso de población rural a biomasa para sus propios usos.
  • - Cuestionamiento del modelo agrícola con que, en términos generales, se están produciendo los agrcombustibles.
  • - Necesidad de evaluación caso por caso para poder verificar si la producción de un biocombustible es económicamente rentable, ecológicamente sostenible, ambientalmente positiva y socialmente no dañina.
  • - Peligro de producir impactos medioambientales y sociales negativos para buscar rentabilidad en la producción de agrocombustibles
  • - Impacto de la producción de agrocombustibles en la disponibildiad y acceso a los alimentos.
  • - Cuestionamiento de las politicas públicas de promoción de los agrocombustibles, en concreto las de la Unión Europea.
  • - Necesidad de respetar, proteger y garantizar el derecho humano a la alimentación; establecimiento de certificaciones en los procesos de producción de agrocombustibles.

Agradecemos la oportunidad de participar en esta consulta.
Un cordial saludo

Eric Sievers Ethanol Europe, Hungary
FSN Forum

Please find attached a critique of the Biofuels and Food Security draft report of January 9, 2013.  It is emblematic of the analytical weaknesses, biases and narrow scope of the authors that their conclusions, if accepted, result in a proof that no European or Asian or South American biofuels policies or mandates have any impact whatsoever on food security.  We attribute this bizarre result to the authors not following the HLPE methodology guidelines, not assembling a literature review, not respecting basic rules of social science analysis, and possessing inadequate technological or industrial context and awareness.

Best Regards / Üdvözlettel,

Eric Sievers
Chief Executive Officer
Ethanol Europe

Abdul Razak Ayazi Alternate Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to ...
FSN Forum

We consider the Zero Draft on Biofuels and Food Security to be a science-based policy review of existing literature on biofuels and related issues, leading to some key recommendations of relevance to developing countries, especially those facing arable land limitation and severe food insecurity. However, there is room for improvement on the draft report and we look forward for the final version, incorporating the comments received from many individuals and institutions through electronic consultation.

Below are our comments chapter by chapter of the Zero draft report.


The introduction is fairly good and sets the stage for the study. However, it should inform the readers that renewable energy from all sources is a small portion of the  world’s total energy consumption (the IEA 2009 figure says 13.1%). The rest is all fossil fuel. In addition, the  global annual consumption of 120 billion liters of biofuels accounts for a miniscule of the overall fuel market for road transport. It is only 3 percent. This level of consumption is much below the optimistic prediction of 25% by 2050. We, therefore, suggest  the addition of a few short paragraphs on the composition of world’s renewable energy and the place of biofuels in total renewable energy.

The introduction should also underscore the fact that the biofuel market, especially ethanol, is grossly distorted by heavy subsidies, tax credits and high trade barriers. Without these incentives and protective measures, biofuel production will be uneconomical for producers, except in some countries like Brazil. It has been documented that the cost per barrel of biofuel in Brazil is about half of USA and one-third of EU.    

The introduction should also highlight two other important things. One, that  biofuels are not that green as originally thought, even the second generation biofuels. Biodiesel from soybeans and rapeseeds have a carbon print that is considered higher than the conventional diesel or gasoline. Similarly, the burning of forests to prepare land for the production of sugarcane, soya and palm oil as feedstock releases vast quantities of CO2 and often cancels the climate benefits associated with biofuels.  Two, biofuel is not a panacea for world’s energy crisis. In fact, the present euphoria for it may be distracting attention from the urgency of finding alternative renewable sources of energy. However, biofuel production could be the route to next technological breakthrough in diversifying the sources of energy such as from wood, grass, organic waste and solar energy.   

Chapter 1 ( Biofuel Policies)

There is no global or regional policy on the production and consumption of liquid biofuels for road transport. In fact, there is no global policy for fossil fuel either. But national policies exist in many developed and developing countries. However, none of the national policies are market driven. The policies have been put in place through legislation induced by environmental concerns and/or the desire to reduce reliance on imported fossil fuel. Some national policies have proved relatively successful and others not so successful.

Unquestionably, the chapter provides a concise and thoughtful overview of national policies on biofuels, especially by the major players (USA,  EU, China, Brazil and India).  Section 1.6 (country-based typologies) is very useful and may be worthwhile developing it further by making use of land data included in FAO’s publication ( SOLAW), especially Chapter 3 and Annex 4,  and  taking water availability as another key factor influencing the production of feedstock for first generation biofuels.

Given the diversity of policies pursued by developed and developing countries and the danger associated with their continuation, the draft report should have made an attempt to flag the idea of an international protocol for rationalizing the production, consumption and trade of biofuels.  Recommendation 2 of the draft report (i.e. the principle of prior, informed consent and full participation of all concerned in land investment deals) falls far short of ideas in support of a possible international protocol.  

Chapter 2 (Biofuels and the Technology Frontier)

This chapter adequately explains the technologies currently employed in the production of bioethanol and biodiesel and their efficiencies in terms of energy balances. However, it should have been more forceful by saying that technologies for first generation biofuels are evolving and hopefully will become more cost-effective and profitable, which, in turn, might have a positive influence on decisions by policy makers and farmers and processors of biofuels.

The Chapter also presents an fair assessment of second generation technologies for biofuels, though this subject remains somewhat speculative and it is hasty to draw any firm conclusions. Nevertheless, one could say with a fair degree of confidence that the prospects for second generation technologies in developing countries do not look promising over the foreseeable future.  

The prospects and limitations of jatropha and algae in the production of biofuels are also fairly assessed in the draft report and the three points highlighted in section 2.3.1 are indeed  pertinent.

Chapter 3 (Biofuel, Food Prices, Hunger and Poverty)

In tracing the precise effects of biofuels on food prices and of the latter on hunger and poverty is by no means a linear process and therefore the subject is open to question. However, the linkages between these variable cannot be denied. The main argument used in the literature is that the production of biofuel takes away grains from the global commodity markets, thereby forcing food prices to rise and encouraging farmers to clear tropical forests for new agricultural land. Therefore, we tend to go along with the statement on page 22 of the draft report which says “In truth, we do not know what percentage of reduction in consumption the food insecure experience when crops are diverted to biofuels and prices rise. Yet these very rough figures provide reason to believe the effects is substantial and could be extremely substantial”.

The experience of the last decade as presented in section 3.2 is undoubtedly valuable but it is largely based on  events in one major biofuel producer (USA). The inclusion of experience from other biofuel producers would have enhanced the quality of the chapter.

The influence of other factors as explained in section 3.3 is appropriate and convincing but putting the culprit on Chinese Stock Management may be somewhat premature. We find the contents of sections 3.4.2 , 3.4.3 and 3.5 to be useful, especially 3.5 which places the future demand and price effect of biofuels in proper perspective.

Chapter 4 (Biofuel and Land)

It is difficult to grasp the core essence of this chapter? Does it relate to land use in general or to some specific aspects of land use influenced by the increase in the production of biofuel feedstock, whether this be food crops or lignocellulosic material?

Generally speaking, we have no problem with the information assembled in the chapter.  What is not clear is in what way the analysis presented is linked to biofuels.

 In our judgment , the parts of land use relevant to biofuels are sections 4.2.2, 4.2.3 and 4.2.4. The rest of the chapter is marginally related to the subject matter under discussion.

There is a general consensus that biofuels, which feed vehicles, is taking away a lot of land from crops which feed human beings and animals. This situation is unsustainable and therefore must come to an end. In this connection, the OECD estimates that in the absence of new technology, North America and the EU would require between 30 to 70 % of their crop area if 10%  of their transport fuel were to be met from biofuel.

With good confidence one can say that a sharp increase in the production of biofuel feedstock, either from virgin land or from the intensification of existing crop area, is undermining many ecosystem service.

Chapter 5 (Social Implications of Biofuels)

The basic purpose of this chapter should be clarified. That said, the three points raised in the chapter (certification schemes for social compliance; gender issues in biofuels; and the multiple use of biomass to ensure energy security) are all important and need to be given serious consideration. And it is good to see that the three points are reflected in the brief section on recommendations. Yet, the three points should have been parts of the broader picture.

We support the importance of the four principles mentioned at the bottom of page 53.

Draft Policy Recommendations

Each of the 11 paragraphs in this section has a message. However, in some paragraphs it is not clear as to what is being recommended.  From our reading of the 3 pages, we conclude that:

  • The last bold sentences of the first six paragraphs can definitely be considered as recommendations;
  • Paragraph 10 related to alternative policy measures is a good one but it needs to be formulated in the language of a recommendation;
  • From the remaining four paragraphs (paragraphs 7, 8, 9 and 11), it is not clear what the recommendations are?

For ease of reading, it is advisable to number the recommendations.

Finally, we wish to suggest the inclusion of a small chapter devoted exclusively to the benefits and risks associated with biofuels. This should come before the recommendations.

Patrick Binns Westbrook Associates LLC, United States of America
Patrick  Binns

I appreciate the opportunity to provide comments and suggestions for improving the current draft of the Biofuels and Food Security report.  The team has done a good job of drawing attention to many of the critical issues and trade-offs that are involved with increased development of bioenergy resources.

However, I believe that the draft report would be significantly improved by addressing the potential benefit and contribution that locally produced, smaller scale bioenergy resources could provide to enhance overall food production and achieve sustainable food security.  Although the report mentions “the potential … to supply meaningful quantities of bioenergy for local consumption without greatly taxing the world’s land use.” (p 42); there is little discussion of this critically important observation!  One of the most severe limitations to improving agricultural productivity in the Developing World is the lack of modern energy fuels and electric power that are needed for farm mechanization, irrigation, production of inputs, post harvest storage and delivering food to markets.

There is a significant opportunity to increase smallholder farmer productivity through access to appropriate farming technologies and affordable biofuels that are produced in village-to-watershed scaled “biorefineries.”  The potential to increase crop yields per hectare through the judicious use of locally produced biofuels warrants discussion and endorsement in this report.  I am disappointed that the local production of biofuels to power farm and non-farm rural enterprises is often ignored in most assessments of the bioenergy versus food security question.

When considering options for local production of biofuels, the most feasible near term technologies tend to rely on converting 1st generation biomass feedstocks (e.g. sugar cane, starch crops, oilseed or palm oil, etc.) into energy dense liquid fuels.  While it is true that these feedstocks are also used for food or fodder; ethanol and biodiesel conversion technologies are relatively mature and within reach of being economically viable.   What we urgently need is greater attention to improving the design and engineering of smaller capacity systems and the adoption of sustainable, appropriately scaled feedstock cultivation practices.  It is also critically important to recognize that most of these processes produce by-products (e.g. oilseed meals, bagasse, etc.) that have substantial value as livestock feed, organic compost fertilizer and other uses.   A strategy to build distributed, rural biorefineries could effectively supply farmers with both fuel and by-product agricultural inputs that could increase farm productivity.

The report also ignores the bioenergy resources produced by anaerobic digestion or thermo-catalytic processes that convert livestock manure and organic wastes into biogas for use in process heat, mechanical power or electric power generation applications.   Rural biogas power generation and thermal energy value-added processing facilities would contribute to greater economic output and improved social services within rural communities.  These systems also produce valuable by-products in the form of organic fertilizers, livestock bedding materials and biochar soil amendments.  Organic composts and biochar can stimulate the ‘below ground biodiversity’ of beneficial microbes and fungi that are integral to soil fertility and promote plant growth and resiliency.  As with the local production of liquid biofuels, decentralized biogas facilities in rural areas would also provide farmers with economical access to energy services and valuable agricultural inputs.

I encourage the authors to provide greater discussion in the report of the fundamental role of retained crop residues in reducing soil erosion, contributing to soil organic carbon sequestration and recycling organic nutrients for continued soil fertility.  Far too often proponents of 2nd generation biofuels argue that crop residues (e.g. corn stover, etc.) are essentially ‘waste’ resources that have limited utility in food production systems.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The beneficial use of crop residues to protect and nourish arable topsoils (as well as to feed livestock) must be noted and accounted for in any assessment of the availability and ‘best use’ of such biomass resources for 2nd generation biofuels production.    If we fail to focus on the need for long term stewardship of our soils, humanity will not be able to achieve sustainable food security.

The authors have correctly emphasized that any assessment of the benefits and detriments of expanded production of biofuels must include consideration for how such development would impact humanity’s capability to achieve sustainable food security.  As this report notes, the production of all biomass resources, whether food or non-food, will require inputs of land, water and nutrients (and of course inputs of labor, capital and energy as well).  All of these inputs have competing uses; whether to produce food, feed and fiber; to convert to biofuels; or to recycle as organic nutrients and carbon to the agricultural or forest ecosystems from which they were sourced.  Even inedible cellulosic crop and forest residues, non-food crops and algae feedstocks must be considered within the context of finding optimum balances between the opportunity costs and benefits for these renewable, but still relatively limited photosynthetically generated resources.

Finally, I applaud the report’s attention given to the issues of social equity and ethical treatment of the rural poor whose livelihoods and survival are dependent upon access to land, water and other productive resources.   Far too often the rights and needs of these important members of our society are overlooked and ignored in pursuit of grand visions of industrial development and wealth creation.  The report’s discussion of social responsibility and its recommendation for objective certification of equitable and sustainable development of biofuels is an important contribution to improving global attitudes, policies and practices with regards to bioenergy development.

Patrick Binns

Westbrook Associates LLC
Seattle, WA   USA

Bambang Prastowo Indonesian agency of agricultural research and ...
FSN Forum

Dear HLPE project team on biofuel and food security of FAO

As announced on the website about the FAO report on Biofuel and food security, i would like to share my opinion, based on the Indonesian experiences so far on the developing and encouraging of the biofuel utilization and also how far we support the national food security

I hope the sentence below could be inserted or included as the policy recommendation of the report

My sharing is as follow :

"Solid biomass resources from rural sector as potential solid biomass energy are however coming from agriculture crops and or the people forest. So for developing biomass energy or utilizing solid biomass, the sustainability of food and agriculture and forest (and environment in general) much be ruled as the first determinant factor. That’s why solid biomass much be considered also as an organic material that required by the soil/land and the crops as well, so the residue (even in the form of ask or burned residues) have to be put back into the soil . That mean, the solid biomass and it’s biomass energy much be utilized in the country where the biomass were taken, that mean solid biomass export or biomass trade globally have to be regulated" 

Best regards,

Bambang Prastowo
Research professor on agric technology and mechanization and bioenergy
Indonesian agency of agricultural research and development
Ministry of agriculture of the republic of Indonesia

FSN Forum Team FAO, Italy
FSN Forum

Posted on behalf of Jean Emile Song Minyem, Ministere de l`Agriculture et du Developpement Rural, Cameroun

Ce rapport fouillé et bien détaillé sur les multiples facettes des biocarburants est une sonnette d’alarme pour les preneurs de décidons en Afrique. C'est aussi un appel a réflexion avant tout investissement dans les biocarburants. Il faudrait que ce rapport devienne un guide a l'intention des promoteurs des biocarburants.
Ingénieur Agronome
Ministere de l`Agriculture et du Developpement Rural
Sous Direction des Engrais et des Sols

FSN Forum Team FAO, Italy
FSN Forum

Posted on behalf of the Finnish Biogas Association

Enclosed is a feedback of Finnish Biogas Association to the "Biofuels and Food Security" draft report.


Ari Lampinen

Chairman, Finnish Biogas Association

See the attachment:FBA_feedback_food_security.pdf
Henrique Pacini UNCTAD, Switzerland

Good work on the V0 draft on the report on Biofuels and Food security.

Kindly follow some comments aiming at assisting you in the preparation of the second draft.  I also attach a publication which might be of interest on the theme of costs of biofuel certification and impacts on developing countries.

Kind regards,

Henrique Pacini

1.    Is the V0´s appreciation of the current policy conjuncture adequate, particularly its interpretation of the changing significance of mandates and targets?
•    Need for better modeling (or review of third-party modeling done) before making policy recommendations against biofuel mandates – while biofuels can compete with food production via land use, they are also energy carriers which have higher labor-density in their production (as compared to oil, see Goldenberg 2004).  Higher employment thus facilitates access to food, especially in rural areas. (see Figure 7)

3.    The V0 provides a detailed and comprehensive discussion of the central role of biofuels for high and volatile food prices. Are there further discussions that need to be taken into account?
•    Correlations shall be explored not between food prices and biofuel demand , but instead between nutrition statistics and biofuel demand.  Food prices (as wisely mentioned in the draft report) are subject to too much speculation to serve as a basis for long-term recommendations on biofuel policies.

4.    The V0 endorses initiatives which give priority to broad bioenergy strategies for local use in energy poor regions of the world where the potential social gains are large from even small quantities of energy and the impact on land use competition small. Which are the most far-reaching examples of such policies or experiences in practice?
The V0 draft report presents a series of policy proposals, which are understood to follow on from the analysis developed in the different chapters. These proposals are still very preliminary and general in character. Do these proposals adequately reflect the analyses developed in the V0 draft?

p. 40 biofuels and ILUC section is rather biased – arguments on paragraph 3 such as “what happens biofuel producers use crops that farmers were growing anyway” ignore much of the demand additionality brought on by bioenergy crops.
P. 40 last paragraph: “… because we instead call for abandoning mandates and incentives to divert crops to biofuels in the first place” – While based on good argumentation and sources for this statement, the phrase proposes “shooting down” bioenergy without proposing alternatives to decarbonizes economies (and to make up for the reduced agricultural income, in case biofuels are not stimulated). A wiser path would be to call for a reflection on the way biofuels are “picked” by policy makers as the only way to achieve a higher share of renewables in transport.  Similarly to the EU RED directive from 2009, legal instruments could instead focus on “low-carbon energy” or overall sectoral emissions thresholds (as a mandate) instead of selecting biofuels as the technology to be deployed.   

p. 41 Section on Bioenergy: It is unrealistic to make comparisons between global energy demand and the small share of it that could be met by using large amounts of harvested biomass. This disconsiders other actions taken to cap energy demand (ee.g. efficiency, other renewables, urban planning, transport policy, smart logistics, etc). It should be made clear that proposals to use biofuels are often “complementary” to the usage of fossil fuels and other renewables – no country yet attempted or envisions full substitution of energy demand via biomass alone.

p. 51 Section 5.3: You may want to view information on certification costs explored by Pacini and Assuncao (2011).

Focusing on different usages is very important.  Electricity generation and better cooking prode lower-cost development multipliers based on biofuels.  See Gomez and Silveira (2010).

See the attachment:Pacini.pdf
Prof. Gerhard Flachowsky Federal Research Institute for Animal Health, Germany

Dear FSN-moderator,

Congratulation to your interesting and very informative V0 Draft on “Biofuels and Food Security”.

The authors summarized in a short time up to date information, which should be presented to policy and an interested public audience.

But nevertheless, I allow me some comments to this valuable document:

- Co-poducts of biofuel production (they are called by-products in your paper; why? This are valuable products/animal feeds which are available after taking out starch and/or fat from cereals, oilseeds etc.) are underestimated/neglected in your paper. Their importance for your calculations is mentioned on p. 28 for the first time!

I would like to go more in detail: Grains/cereals contain between 65 and 80% carbohydrates (mainly starch) in the dry matter. If we consider a complete fermentation of carbohydrates into alcohol; about 20-35% are residue (mainly consisting of protein, fat, fibre and ash) and are available as valuable feed for animals. The fat content of oilseeds varied between about 20 (soybeans) and 50% of DM (canola, rapeseed; also jatropha); that means, the amount of co-products varies between 50 and 80% of the rough material used for biodiesel production.

Recently (2012) the FAO published an excellent Review-book “Biofuel co-products as livestock feed – Opportunities and Challenges. Edited by H.P.S. Makkar, Rome; 533 pp.) In this book, you may find many information about co-products, their nutritive value and significance in animal nutrition. You will also find some information about biology and botanical origin of some plants, also with potential for the second generation for biofuel (e.g. algae, p. 423-446). It seems to me that some information in your draft concerning jatropha (e.g. p. 20; origin of jatropha etc; see p. 351-378 of FAO 2012) need corrections or improvements.

Furthermore co-products should be also considered in your financial calculation (e.g. see p. 23 ff.), in your land use aspects (p. 38 ff.) and also in your calculation of energy balance (p. 16-18).

- The interesting and important calculations to bioenergy (p. 41 ff.) should be demonstrated/deduced more in detail. It is difficult to follow/believe in all the figures. A detailed information/explanation under consideration of the scientific origin (show and mention references) for all the data in an appendix may be helpful. Furthermore, the replacement potential of co-products for other feeds for animal nutrition should be also considered in such calculations.

- I miss some consequences of expected climate changes on land and water use as recently described and discussed in many books and papers (e.g. Reynolds et al.2010; Whitford et al. 2010).

Furthermore consequences of all the future developments discussed in the Draft for plant breeders are also missing. Plant breeding (and cultivation) is the starting point of the food chain (and also the fuel chain). Therefore this aspect should be also mentioned and discussed in your policy recommendations (p. 1-3).

- Your Draft Policy Recommendations are informative, but relatively long, descriptive and conservative for my understanding. I think that we need some new ways of thinking. In addition or instead of long recommendations I would prefer some (short) conclusions (for policymakers) to show important challenges for future research such as:

  • Promotion of public research in the field of plant breeding under consideration of limited resources (e.g. such as water, arable land, fuel etc.) and better adaptation of plants to greater extremes in climate conditions and higher temperatures.
  • Research to develop methods of biofuel production from non food products such as lingo-cellulose and wastes.
  • Development of new strategies for mobility without or with low amounts of fossil fuel and biofuel (individual mobility with electricity, replacement of individual mobility by other systems etc.)
  • Calculation of emissions (Carbon Footprints) for various systems under consideration of all inputs and outputs.

Best regards

Gerhard Flachowsky

Prof. Dr. G. Flachowsky
Institute of Animal Nutrition
Friedrich-Loeffler-Institute (FLI)
Federal Research Institute for Animal Health
Bundesallee 50
38116 Braunschweig