Food and Biofuel Production: New Challenges Ahead

Energy is a crucial and vital ingredient for the modern development of economic activities of our society. It provides services for cooking, space and water heating, lighting, health, food production and storage, education, mineral extraction, industrial production and transportation. It is so crucial that, throughout the world, the energy consumption patterns largely determines the way in which people live their lives.

A review of current and future overall energy scenarios shows three main critical issues. First, only 25 percent of the world's population have access to modern energy systems, using approximately 70 percent of the total world primary energy consumption, while more than two billion persons live in dire poverty without access to energy for basic needs and development. Second, it is expected that energy consumption in developing countries will increase considerably in the next decades. Third, global energy scenarios will remain fossil fuels­based; hence the threat of global climate change related to atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases (GHG) due to fossil fuels use.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

Biofuel is a locally-available source of energy that not only can provide energy to meet the increased energy demand derived from the economic development of developing countries, but also contributes to climate change mitigation and rural development.

FAG, as an organization of the UN system with its mandate on agriculture, recognises fully the global energy-poverty perplexities and the bioenergy potentials. FAO's bioenergy programme bases its operations on the following concepts: a) bioenergy can stimulate diversification of agricultural and forestry activities; for example, through establishment of energy plantations with trees and crops; b) biofuels can provide locally the necessary energy to improve agriculture and forestry productivity; and c) bioenergy can attract investments to rural areas where most of the biofuels are produced.

    However, several barriers must be properly addressed and removed for the full utilisation of bioenergy potential. One of the main concerns is the availability of land for food and biofuel production. This tissue is particularly important in developing countries where food security deserves the highest priority.

    The analysis of land competition between food and biofuel production is not so simple and easy. There are many political, technical, economic, environmental and social implications that must be properly understood to have bioenergy systems integrated into agriculture and energy policies and strategies.

The following topics describe the characteristics of bioenergy systems, the interrelations between food and biofuel production chains and land requirements in order to identify new areas of challenges to be faced by bioenergy actors.

Bioenergy systems

Biomass conversion into energy carriers (biofuels) consists of a network of several stages and operations regarding multidisciplinary aspects such as: biofuel supply sources (such as forests, industries, farming activities, etc.), trade and market issues and energy conversion devices. The combination of all these processes and operations is generically called "bioenergy system".

    In general, the bioenergy systems are very site­-specific and complex. At micro level, supply sources of a simple bioenergy system can include a single