Sustainability is possible with biofuels

Photo: Biofuel Nursery, Hassan, Karnataka, India.

Photo: Biofuel Nursery, Hassan, Karnataka, India.

“Biofuels can have a positive effect on food security, provide new sources of income and employment for smallholders, and are a viable alternative source of energy for rural communities,” outlined Navin Sharma, Biofuel Programme Manager with the World Agroforestry Centre during a side event to the 12th meeting of the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP12).

The event on 9 October 2014 organized by the World Agroforestry provided examples of how mixed agroforestry systems can achieve sustainability as well as provide livelihood benefits.

An official CBD document on biodiversity and biofuels discussed the same day at COP12 states that “Strategies and approaches to achieve [this] sustainability, while simultaneously ensuring food and energy security, are already identified and in some areas are already being widely adopted”. It adds that “most of the solutions at the production level in agriculture centre on the sustainable intensification of production through the rehabilitation of ecosystem services in agricultural landscapes, and these ecosystem services are underpinned by biodiversity.”

The biofuel initiative which the the World Agroforestry Centre is leading in the Indian State of Karnataka is one such approach; centred around agroforestry which is key to achieving sustainability in bioenergy.

During the side event, Sharma explained how in Karnataka, a bottom-up approach is being taken with the aim of improving livelihoods through biofuels. The needs of farmers were identified at the outset: early flowering species, nursery technologies, oil expelling machines and appropriate agroforestry systems.

“The beauty of the Karnataka project is that farmers grow multiple feed stocks that rely on indigenous species, primarily tree crops,” said Sharma. “By growing 6 to 7 species that flower and fruit throughout the year, farmers are able to produce oil seeds year round.” They are encouraged to grow the trees on farm boundaries so as not to compete with food production.

Sharma gave examples of how farmers in the State are now producing fuel and other tree products for their own use. Mr Rajasekaran is using oil from the Punnai tree seeds and Calophyllum inophyllum to operate his 5 horsepower motor pump that irrigates his 5 acres. This previously barren land now supports close to 35 different tree varieties, including mango, guava, lime, teak, cashew and tamarind.

The project is working on identifying gaps in research and development to ensure the sustainable expansion of biofuels to new areas. It is also developing policy advocacy and identifying factors which lead to success. There are plans to scale up the project through the use of demonstration villages and then further expand the initiative to Latin America and Africa.

“We need to position biofuels for food security and livelihood improvements beyond solutions geared towards transport,” Sharma said, adding that there is a need to rethink biofuels so that they can addresses current concerns.

“National biofuel policies need to be refreshed based on solid science.”

Sharma explained how emerging science in this area suggests that mixed cropping systems (such as those which incorporate trees) are better than monocultures in addressing greenhouse gas reductions and carbon pay-back times.

But research gaps remain. Sharma spoke about further work that is required to evaluate livelihood impacts and energy contributions, and to analyze the provision of ecosystem services at local, district and state levels. “We need to assess the relative performance of selected species and mixtures of species, and compare the productivity of agroforestry systems to that of non-biofuel systems.”

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View Navin Sharma’s presentation on Slideshare: Karnataka (India) Biofuels

Find out more about the World Agroforestry Centre’s participation at CBD COP12

Visit the Bioenergy Forum hosted by ICRAF

Read more on the Programme for the Development of Alternative Biofuel Crops

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Kate Langford

Kate Langford

Kate Langford is a consultant writer with close to 20 years’ experience in communicating natural resource, environmental and land management issues for various government and non-government organizations. She previously worked as Communications Specialist for the World Agroforestry Centre in Kenya and has worked in Indonesia, Laos, Vietnam and Australia. She holds a Bachelor of Science and a Graduate Diploma in Scientific Communication.

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