Bioenergy and Land Tenure
The implications of biofuels for land tenure and land policy
Land Tenure Working Paper 1
by Lorenzo Cotula,
and Sonja Vermeulen
International Institute for Environment and Development ( IIED)
This document analyzes the implications for land tenure and land policy of biofuels. It examines the current and likely future impacts of the increasing
spread of biofuels on access to land in producer countries, particularly for poorer rural
people. It aims to pave the way for future empirical research on the links between the spread
of biofuels and access to land, through developing a conceptual framework for such research
and through taking stock of data available in the literature.
The rapid and accelerating expansion of bioethanol and biodiesel production is driven by
government targets for biofuel substitution in energy budgets for transport, driven in turn by
concerns about high oil prices, prospects for rural development, export opportunities and
means to mitigate climate change. Projections suggest that biofuel production is likely to
continue expanding in the coming years.
Parallel to these developments, the policy debate about the merits and demerits of biofuels is
growing and changing rapidly. Important concerns such as the ability of biofuels to mitigate
climate change effectively, the role of biofuels in the recent food price hikes, and the social
and environmental impacts of biofuels have been voiced in policy circles as well as in the
media and in public opinion at large.
The study finds that biofuels can be instrumental in bringing an agricultural renaissance that
revitalises land use and livelihoods in rural areas. Price signals to small-scale farmers could
significantly increase both yields and incomes, securing real, long-term poverty reduction in
countries that have a high dependence on agricultural commodities. Large-scale biofuels
cultivation could also provide benefits in the form of employment, skills development and
However, these possibilities depend on security of land tenure. Where competing resource
claims exist among local resource users, governments and incoming biofuel producers, and
where appropriate conditions are not in place, the rapid spread of commercial biofuel
production may result - and is resulting - in poorer groups losing access to the land on which
they depend. In these contexts, the spread of commercial biofuel crop cultivation can have
major negative effects on local food security and on the economic, social and cultural
dimensions of land use.
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