Biofuels More than Alternative, Catalyst for Change

Agriculture and forestry could become leading sources of bioenergy and act as key elements in achieving two of the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations (UN): eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, and ensuring environmental sustainability.

In a paper presented by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN to the nineteenth session of its Committee on Agriculture meeting, the FAO stated that around two billion people, mostly living in rural areas of developing countries, are still without electricity or other modern energy services. Increased use of bioenergy can help diversify agricultural and forestry activities and improve food security, according to the paper, while contributing to sustainable development. FAO assists member countries in their interest to convert biomass into energy, and to set up national strategies and programs. Petroleum accounts for over 35 percent of the world’s total commercial primary energy consumption. Coal ranks second with 23 percent and natural gas third with 21 percent. These fossil fuels are the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions, causing global warming, and thus climate change, the report points out. Biofuels, of which fuelwood and charcoal occupy the largest share, represent around 10 percent of the total global primary energy consumption. Bioenergy is produced from solid biofuels, such as fuelwood, charcoal, agricultural wastes and by-products, forestry residues and livestock manure, and biogas. Liquid fuels that qualify as bioenergy are bioethanol and biodiesel, which come from crops such as sugar cane, beet, maize and energy grass. Biomass is a locally available energy source that can provide for heat and power. It contributes to the substitution of imported fossil fuels, thus enhancing national energy security, reducing the import bill of petroleum products and alleviating poverty, the FAO stated. “The production and use of biofuels need to be properly managed in order to provide energy services to the rural poor while improving food security and contributing to sustainable development,” FAO expert Gustavo Best said. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, bioenergy – with its two main components, wood energy and agroenergy – can have a significant impact on improving livelihoods because more than 90 percent of the rural population lives without access to electricity. Increasing the use of biomass for energy could lead to improved economic development, especially in rural areas, since it attracts investment in new business opportunities for small- and medium-sized enterprises in the field of biofuel production, preparation, transportation, trade and use. The use of biomass for energy also generates incomes and jobs for the rural people. “In fact, bioelectricity production has the highest employment-creation potential among renewable energy options. It can create several times the number of direct jobs than the production of electricity using conventional energy sources, and with lower investment cost per job generated,” the FAO stated in its paper. For this century, the report anticipates a significant switch from a fossil fuel to a bioenergy-based economy, which could benefit not only the rural poor but also the whole planet, since biofuels can help mitigate climate change.

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