Is biofuel production the long-term answer to enhancing food security?

With the United Nations calling for countries to mobilise efforts to improve food and energy security, new research has suggested that an accelerated push to generate sustainably sourced biofuel could actually eradicate long-term hunger.

The paper, which is part funded by the US Department of Energy, has suggested that prioritising and engaging with six key areas to promote bioenergy growth could enhance regional development – considered a precondition for food security and sustainability by the paper – and create resilient food supply chains.

Despite the negative public perceptions surrounding the relationship between bioenergy and food security in regards to “feeding the nine billion”, the paper highlights that prominent bioenergy sectors would foster social development, enhance food security by pulling households out of poverty and improve systems to streamline the production, processing and transportation of food.

“Applying sustainability guidelines to bioenergy will help achieve near- and long-term goals to eradicate hunger,” the report states. “Bioenergy can foster social development, which is a precondition for food security and sustainability.

“Bioenergy provides energy security not only for transport (and hence broader access to food, selling markets, employment, and services) but also for food processing, business development, and drying and storage of surplus production.”

Fundamental priorities

Focusing on Brazilian sugarcane and US maize as examples, the paper suggests that creating a clear communications drive to dispel biofuel myths would create the foundation to build the relationship between the two issues. The report claims that food and bioenergy don’t need to compete for land and should be integrated to improve resource management instead.

The paper notes that investing in technology and rural extensions should be coupled with an innovation drive to build capacity and infrastructure for biofuel production. This would enable regions to adopt “flex crops” which would serve as both a food source and a biofuel product. The final priorities focus on promoting stable prices that incentivise local production and engaging with stakeholders to identify opportunities to improve food security.

According to the paper, biofuel could be used to power the food supply chain which would create vibrant employment systems for low-income, rural regions. By utilising biofuel’s prominence as a low-carbon transport fuel, increased transport and trade opportunities would be opened.

But in order to create this interdependent scenario, the paper highlights that systematic monitoring and analysis of biofuel creation would be needed to support adaptive management techniques that enhance production.

Building synergy

In turn, these new techniques would “build synergies” that would help societies meet the growing demands for food and energy production highlighted by the Sustainable Development Goals. By applying best practice, the paper states that biofuel projects would reduce risk exposure in food generation while diversifying income sources and building more rural assets.

Investments in infrastructure and technological advances were highlighted as the two biggest drivers needed in order to develop the new system, as food security “requires the means to produce, package, and distribute high-quality food”.

Green campaigners have recently questioned the use of biofuel as viable, low-carbon source of energy, stating that instead of reducing levels of pollution, the use of biodiesel in transport will increase emissions by 4%.

With the concept of biofuel to enhance food production still casting doubts, London’s first underground herb farm has highlighted an innovative new method of tackling food production in urban environments.

Matt Mace

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