OFID criticizes first-generation biofuels

First-generation biofuels are threatening food security in developing nations, and there is no guarantee that this approach will reduce GHGs and foster rural development, according to a recent report.

Mar 20th, 2009

Uchenna Izundu
OGJ International Editor

LONDON, Mar. 20 -- First-generation biofuels are threatening food security in developing nations, and there is no guarantee that this approach will reduce greenhouse gases and foster rural development, according to a report commissioned by the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID).

Speaking at the fourth International OPEC seminar in Vienna, Suleiman Jasir Al-Herbish, OFID director general, warned, "Current biofuels development is being pursued without a thorough assessment of the potential consequences on issues such as food security and deforestation, or the stated potential to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions."

The report analyzed biofuels development across the world, policy regimes, and support measures. It also quantified the agroecological potential of first and second generation biofuels crops and focused on the impact of transport fuel security, agricultural prices, land use change, and sustainable agricultural development.

According to the OFID study, under current biofuel targets in different countries like the US, the European Union, China, and South Africa, an additional 140 million people will face hunger by 2020. At least 150-240 million tons/year of cereal crops would be required for first generation biofuels and 30 million hectatres of land would need to be set aside for production.

Food prices are rising as operators increasingly foray into first generation biofuels, using cereal, sugarcane, and vegetable oil crops, to enhance energy security, the report said. "It is estimated, for example, that achieving a 6% use of biofuels in a transport sector would lead to a 34% increase in world cereal prices. Such an increase will cause a serious deterioration in food security in developing countries."

But Brazil has been successful with first generation sugar cane production for biofuels because it has developed this under rain-fed conditions in former pastures and grassland areas, the report conceded. This program was privatized in the late 1990s after being strategically developed with public funding from the early 1970s.

The authors called for an investment in second generation biofuels to address problems associated with using lingo-cellulosic feedstock and biomass residues from agricultural crops and forestry. "However, careful planning and comprehensive policies are required as these biomass feedstocks are often the main source of local household energy for rural population in many developing countries."

But conversion technology costs are the main barrier to commercializing second generation biofuels on an industrial scale and at a competitive price. "These technologies, still at the laboratory experimentation and demonstration stage, require large scale feedstock supplies and pose substantial logistical and sustainable management challenges," the study said.

In a separate session at the seminar, Gholamhossein Nozari, Iran's oil minister, also criticized the effect of biofuels. "The oil and gas industry is still capable of assisting bands of people who are destroying forests to meet their energy needs," he said.

The full report, "Biofuels and Food Security: Implications of an accelerated biofuels production," will be published in April.

Contact Uchenna Izundu at uchennai@pennwell.com.

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