Unraveling biofuel impacts on ecosystem services, human wellbeing and poverty alleviation in Sub-Saharan Africa
In the past decade, biofuel production expanded significantly across Africa, with Jatropha (for biodiesel) and sugarcane (for bioethanol) attracting the most attention. Despite initial success and signficant state, non-governmental organisation (NGO) and foreign investment, a number of biofuel ventures collapsed leaving poor communities even poorer.
Some of the poverty drivers are directly related to the loss of access to natural ecosystems (and the goods and services they provided) by the local community, implying there are significant linkages between the environmental and socioeconomic performance of biofuel projects.
This interdisciplinary project aimed to provide clear empirical evidence on whether, and how, biofuel production and use can improve human wellbeing and become an agent of poverty alleviation in Africa's least developed countries by comparing six case studies in Malawi, Mozambique and Swaziland.
Key academic findings comprised:
- Not all biofuels projects have the same impact, or even the same mechanisms through which impacts unfold. Numerous factors such as, among others, the socioeconomic/environmental context, management practices, institutional arrangements and crop itself combine to influence both the type and magnitude of the impact.
- In the sugarcane areas those involved in sugarcane activities as workers and smallholders tend to exhibit lower poverty and higher food security than control groups. Workers in jatropha plantations were also better off than control groups. On the other hand there was no significant differences in poverty/food security with control areas.
- Sugarcane growers and plantation workers had significantly higher income compared to control groups. Sugarcane smallholders had higher income than plantation workers.
- The effect of land use conversion on carbon stocks depends on the specific crop and original land use. Generally speaking sugarcane plantations (Swaziland, Malawi) and jatropha hedges (Malawi) tends to have larger carbon stocks over a 20-year period compared to the original land use as they converted mainly agricultural area, degraded forest or a combination of the two. On the other hand as the jatropha plantation (Mozambique) was established on miombo woodland and as a result had a significant negative effect on carbon stocks.
- Local communities in Swaziland, Malawi and Mozambique are highly reliant on provisioning ecosystem services from forest ecosystems for their livelihoods, and this reliance seems to be increasing over time.
Featured image courtesy of Mujahid Safodien/IRIN