Bioenergy and sustainability in Latin America and Africa: bridging the gaps through South–South learning

Panelists at the BIOENERGY & SUSTAINABILITY: Latin America and Africa workshop

Panelists at the Bioenergy & Sustainability: Latin America and Africa workshop

A group of 50 bioenergy experts from around the world met between 31 October and 2 November 2016 in São Paulo, Brazil to discuss the challenges and opportunities for developing sustainable bioenergy in Latin America and Africa.

I represented the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) at the event.

We at ICRAF were glad to contribute to the discussion, with a firm belief (backed by experience) that bioenergy, including biofuels, can be developed through pro-poor models that meet local socio-economic needs, benefit the environment, empower women, and contribute to rural development.

Building on experiences from the Programme for the Development of Alternative Biofuel Crops, ICRAF served as a workshop co-organizer, along with the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and SCOPE. The workshop was chaired by Prof. Gláucia Mendes Souza, member of the FAPESP Bioenergy Research Program (BIOEN) Coordination Committee.  It was hosted by FAPESP, through the FAPESP-funded Bioenergy, Biodiversity and Climate Change Programs (BIOEN, BIOTA and RPGCC) as well as the LACAF Project that focuses on sugarcane energy in Latin America and Africa.

Discussions centered on five key topics related to the linkages between bioenergy and: energy security; food security; environmental and climate security; sustainable development and innovation; energy access and poverty alleviation. Preliminary conclusions of the first day were then presented at a plenary session on the second day. Ensuing discussions counted also on the participation of representatives from industry, government, non-governmental and international organizations, including the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Sustainable Energy for All initiative (SE4All).

It was noted during the discussions that agroforestry, or integrated crop-livestock-forest systems (as this concept is better known in Brazil), can sustainably supply multiple bioenergy products, providing local energy access to smallholder farmers, as well as connecting them to large value chains. And all this can be accomplished while strengthening food security (as opposed to simply not

Croton nuts have been shown to contain high concentrations of oil and can be used to produce a fuel that could serve as an alternative to diesel.

Croton nuts have been shown to contain high concentrations of oil and can be used to produce a fuel that could serve as an alternative to diesel. Photo credit: Eco Fuels Kenya

threatening it), improving soil conditions and agricultural productivity, increasing resilience and mitigating climate change, among other benefits.

The event highlighted the important role of bioenergy in Latin America and Africa in supporting several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and in meeting commitments under the Paris Climate agreement.

“We decided to bring together a group of 50 experts to carry out a rapid assessment process of the ‘Bioenergy & Sustainability: bridging the gaps’ report, debating the publication findings in face of the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) and the SDGs, as well as the challenges for sustainable bioenergy expansion in Latin America and Africa”, said  Prof. Souza.

“The SEI has long research and policy experience in Africa in showing how the shift away from traditional biomass and towards modern bioenergy can support climate and development objectives. The constructive discussions and outcomes from this workshop will strengthen the evidence base for moving forward towards this vision” noted Francis X. Johnson, SEI Senior Research Fellow who represented SEI at this event together with his colleague Hannah Wanjiru.

The main conclusions of the discussions are currently being compiled into a policy brief, to be published in 2017. It will bring recommendations on issues related to the current scenario of bioenergy production in Africa and Latin America, as well as global trends in the production and use of bioenergy and their possible effects on public policies and markets.

“We hope that by listening to researchers, industry, government and non-governmental organizations, we will be able to broaden the scope of the report, including all sectors involved in the decision-making process, so as to come up with policy recommendations aimed at promoting sustainable bioenergy development globally”, said Souza.

The workshop followed a SCOPE Mini Rapid Assessment Process (Mini-RAP) approach, in which findings of the study Bioenergy & Sustainability: bridging the gaps were revisited and updated in light of recent global developments, such as the emergence of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement.

Launched in April 2015 by the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) and the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE), an intergovernmental agency affiliated with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the book stems from a collaboration of 137 experts from 82 institutions in 24 countries. Its authors affirm that “sufficient land is available worldwide for expansion of biomass cultivation, that most of this land is in Latin America and Africa, and that the use of these areas for bioenergy production would not represent a threat to food security and biodiversity under certain conditions”.

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Further information on the workshop, including its agenda, can be found at:

For related stories, see  Bioenergy Forum'

Rodrigo Ciannella

Rodrigo Ciannella is Programme Officer–Biofuels, at World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). He has more than seven years of global professional experience based in Brazil, Italy, India and Kenya, spanning from the private financial sector to the international development arena, including with FAO, IFAD and the CGIAR. Working at ICRAF for the last four years, he contributed to the design and management of a USD 3.5 million multi-stakeholder project that promotes alternative bioenergy sources for improving livelihoods in Asia, Latin America and Africa. He is an economist with an MPhil in Development Studies from the University of Cambridge, UK.

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