September 2008  -  Announcement of a publication

Bioenergy and Land Tenure

The implications of biofuels for land tenure and land policy

Land Tenure Working Paper 1

by Lorenzo Cotula,
Nat Dyer
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 secondary industry.

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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ę FAO, 2007