22 November 2012

Africa: Aviation Biofuels - IFAD Calls for Sustainable Pro-Poor Development and Small Farmers Engagement in Developing Countries

press release

Rome — An international workshop on Sustainable Pro-poor Development of Aviation Biofuels washeld in Rome today at Roma Tre University.

Supported by The Boeing Company and the Sustainable Pro-poor Development of Aviation Biofuels, the workshop was organized by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Italian Ministry for the Environment, Land and Sea, the Vicariate of Rome, and Roma Tre University.

Experts, policy makers and other global stakeholders gathered to identify the way forward for the development of aviation biofuels, to ensure a sustainable and pro-poor approach. Panellists discussed the need to engage with smallholder farmers in developing countries to avert the risk of non-inclusive biofuel policies at local and international levels.

Among others, speakers at the workshop included: Corrado Clini, Minister for the Environment, Land and Sea; Don Emilio Bettini, Professor of Theology, Universitá Cattolica Sacro Cuore and Universitá Europea of Roma; Antonio de Palmas, President EU & NATO, Boeing; and Carlos Seré, Chief Development Strategist of IFAD.

Panellists looked at the opportunities biofuels present both in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the aviation industry and employment creation in rural communities. But panellists agreed that many areas need to be addressed before these opportunities become a reality.

"Biofuels potentially present an opportunity for rural development that reduces poverty and boosts food security," said IFAD's Seré at the opening session. "How biofuels are produced, however, may bring significant risks that need to be fully understood and addressed."

It is particularly important to examine the impact of increasing investment in biofuels as it concerns food security in all of its dimensions. Now, at a time when food security is becoming more challenging to achieve due to land and water degradation and the projected increase in global population.

Smallholder farmers, as the stewards of natural resources and key decision makers in land-use decisions, must play a vital role in this process, as it is their livelihoods that are often most affected. And the choice of the most appropriate technology to be deployed requires a meticulous analysis of local economic, environmental and social conditions.

Participants at the workshop also identified risks, and deliberated the potential impact of biofuels on food security, when food-based crops are used for biofuel production. " There are certain crops with high oil, starch or sugar content that can thrive in marginal areas," Seré explained.

"These are either multiple use or non-edible crops that can be grown in these areas for feedstock production, where it is not economical and bio-physically challenging to grow food crops. There are also other technologies being developed that produce biofuels from cellulose and algae that do not compete directly with food production. We urgently need to understand all the dimensions of developing these options both in the short term and the longer term."

"In this context, a US$12 million initiative to conduct research and development of alternate crops (non-food or multiple use) is being implemented by a consortium with funds mobilized through IFAD.

The consortium comprises the World Agroforestry Centre and other partners who are centres of excellence with proven expertise in selected crops. The objective is to explore options for developing competitive, sustainable smallholder-based biofuel production based on underutilized crops capable of growing on land less suitable for food crop production," Sere added.

In addition, IFAD has financed $4.4 million in other research grants implemented in partnership with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, the Asian Development Bank, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture and others to study the possibility of producing biofuels, for instance, in the greater Mekong Region as well assess the impact on food security and poverty reduction in other developing regions of the world.

"IFAD support of programmes and projects involved in biofuel production must be pro-poor, support local livelihoods and the environment, promote gender equality and women's empowerment, and contribute to food security," Seré emphasized. "It is part of a comprehensive approach to stimulating rural development to reduce poverty and boost food security, a means to an end, and not an end in itself."

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