Bioenergy can support food security and sustainable development

June 21, 2016, University of Twente
Bioenergy can support food security and sustainable development
Credit: University of Twente

Bioenergy development and food security can be simultaneously improved, contrary to the popular belief that biofuels displace food crops, according to a report released by an international, multidisciplinary team of experts from 10 institutions, with prof. dr. Joy Clancy of the University of Twente as one of the co-authors.

"Reconciling Food Security and Bioenergy: Priorities for Action" identifies science-based steps to ensure that biofuels, and natural resources can be managed sustainably together. The report, published in the journal Global Change Biology – Bioenergy, was coordinated by the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).


The recommendations include increasing production of "flex-crops" that can provide fuel, food and other services; working with local populations to assure benefits target the right people; diversifying crops, land cover, and product markets to increase resilience against external forces; and ongoing education and analysis.

The report explains how multiple goals can be achieved through proper monitoring of relevant sustainability indicators. "It is a mistake to ignore local costs and benefits of biofuels based on generalized assertions or global models. Reliable information about the actual local effects is essential, but has been lacking in food-biofuel-climate debates," said lead author Keith Kline of ORNL's Climate Change Science Institute.

The report's recommendations for ensuring that food security and bioenergy are successfully integrated include engaging local stakeholders to form the most effective strategies for their conditions, identifying and encouraging flex-crops and other strategies that diversify and stabilize local markets, applying good management practices and tools such as those provided by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, planning and implementing multiple-use landscapes that improve efficiency and minimize waste, communicating clearly about specific goals, and strengthening collaborations with existing development programs.

Informed debate

Prof. dr. Joy Clancy, professor in Development Studies specialized in gender and energy at the University of Twente, is one of the co-authors of the report. "There needs to a more informed debate and decision making in respect of bioenergy development", Clancy states. "Biofuels can make an important contribution to the livelihoods of rural people throughout the world while not threatening the food security of the general population. Understanding what motivates rural people to grow particularly crops and what constrains them from participating in biofuel production chains is an important part of making biofuel crops sustainable. You need the right conditions for people and for to flourish, involving them in identifying those right conditions is a key aspect of and sustainable livelihoods."

Explore further: Fuel or food? Study sees increasing competition for land, water resources

More information: Keith L. Kline et al. Reconciling food security and bioenergy: priorities for action, GCB Bioenergy (2016). DOI: 10.1111/gcbb.12366

Related Stories

Second-generation biofuels can reduce emissions, study says

January 11, 2016

Second-generation biofuel crops like the perennial grasses Miscanthus and switchgrass can efficiently meet emission reduction goals without significantly displacing cropland used for food production, according to a new study. ...

Planning sustainable energy at local scale

September 16, 2015

European forests have an important role in rural development as a source of raw material and food, as well as for their recreational value. Rural development focuses on the use of local resources to provide benefits to the ...

Recommended for you

Mount Everest, the high-altitude rubbish dump

June 17, 2018

Decades of commercial mountaineering have turned Mount Everest into the world's highest rubbish dump as an increasing number of big-spending climbers pay little attention to the ugly footprint they leave behind.

When the river runs high

June 15, 2018

A massive world-wide study of dry riverbeds has found they're contributing more carbon emissions than previously thought, and this could help scientists better understand how to fight climate change.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.