Bioenergy, key to the fight against hunger
Two billion people lack access to sustainable energy services
14 April 2005, Rome - Agriculture and forestry could become leading sources of bioenergy, a key element in achieving two of the UN Millenium Development Goals: eradicating extreme poverty and hunger and ensuring environmental sustainability, according to FAO.
In a paper presented to the nineteenth session of its Committee on Agriculture meeting here (13-16 April), FAO recalls that around two billion people, mostly living in rural areas of developing countries, are still without electricity or other modern energy services.
Increased use of bioenergy can help diversify agricultural and forestry activities and improve food security, while contributing to sustainable development, the paper says.
Bioenergy is produced from biofuels (solid fuels, biogas, liquid fuels such as bioethanol and biodiesel) which come from crops such as sugar cane and beet, maize and energy grass or from fuelwood, charcoal, agricultural wastes and by-products, forestry residues, livestock manure, and others.
Biomass reduces the import bill
Biomass is a locally available energy source that can provide for heat and power. It contributes to the substitution of imported fossil fuels, thus enhancing national energy security, reducing the import bill of petroleum products and alleviating poverty.
FAO assists member countries in their interest to convert biomass into energy and set up national strategies and programmes. "The production and use of biofuels need to be properly managed in order to provide energy services to the rural poor while improving food security and contributing to sustainable development," explains FAO expert Gustavo Best.
In sub-Saharan Africa, where more than 90% of the rural population live without access to electricity, bioenergy -- with its two main components, wood energy and agroenergy -- can have a significant impact on improving livelihoods.
Investments and jobs
Increasing the use of biomass for energy could lead to improved economic development, especially in rural areas, since it attracts investment in new business opportunities for small- and medium-sized enterprises in the field of biofuel production, preparation, transportation, trade and use.
The use of biomass for energy also generates incomes and jobs for the rural people. "In fact, bioelectricity production has the highest employment-creation potential among renewable energy options. It can create several times the number of direct jobs than the production of electricity using conventional energy sources, and with lower investment cost per job generated," the report says.
In developed countries, there is growing interest on the part of governments and the private sector in expanding the use of biofuels derived from agricultural and forestry biomass. Liquid biofuels have gained importance, particularly in the transport sector.
Scenarios for the USA and the EU
Scenarios developed for the USA and the EU indicate that "short-term targets of up to a 13% displacement of petroleum-based fuels with liquid biofuels (bioethanol and biodiesel) appear feasible on available cropland," according to FAO.
Petroleum accounts for over 35% of the world's total commercial primary energy consumption. Coal ranks second with 23% and natural gas third with 21%. These fossil fuels are the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions, causing global warming, and thus climate change, the report points out.
Biofuels, of which fuelwood and charcoal occupy the largest share, represent around 10% of the total global primary energy consumption.
For this century, the report anticipates a significant switch from a fossil fuel to a bioenergy-based economy which could benefit not only the rural poor but also the whole planet, since biofuels can help mitigate climate change.
20 years of experience
FAO has over 20 years of experience in various aspects of bioenergy development and has provided technical assistance to member countries regarding the design and implementation of bioenergy policies, strategies, programmes and projects.
It plays an active role in generating and disseminating information on bioenergy production, trade and utilization, the paper indicates.
The growing importance of bioenergy could have a considerable impact on commodity prices, sustainability at the production points and food security.
The paper considers that the scale of bioenergy production and use will require a forum such as FAO, with its interdisciplinary expertise in the different areas of agriculture, forestry and economics, to facilitate international cooperation.
Based on the above, the paper says that the topic should be given more focus and visibility, and suggests technical and institutional approaches to realize this.
Information Officer, FAO
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