Logo 'Fair Fuels?'

Between dead end and energy transition:
A social-ecological multilevel analysis of transnational biofuel policy

Module three: Case Studies in Sub-Saharan Africa

The impact of the global biofuel hype on Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) was primarily indirectly through price effects on global commodity and food markets in the past. However, the potential for biofuel production is considered to be large in several African countries. Several opportunities and risks for rural regions arise when African countries become active stakeholders in global biofuel production. Small-scale biofuel production for local community use is likely to bear only few risks; however, export-oriented plantation or contract-farming-based approaches have led to highly controversial debates on the risks and opportunities of biofuels in Sub-Saharan Africa. Much criticism has focused on potential environmental risks, the exclusion of marginal groups, exploitation of local communities, the dependency on volatile energy markets, and risks for local food security. On the other hand, large-scale agro-industrial investments are considered to have large potential for rural development as they provide factors which rural areas in Sub-Saharan Africa often lack (technology, management know-how, input and output markets, economies of scale, etc.). Given the levels of rural poverty and food insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa and the role of agriculture as the main income source, the implications of a large biofuel expansion in SSA for rural food security and incomes and for the ability of households to cope with the uncertainties of structural changes in formerly subsistence-oriented regions are of particular importance.

The research focused on existing agro-industrial investments in potential biofuel feedstock, especially sugarcane. Specific agro-industrial investments in the rural areas of two African countries were analysed; this included household- and community level surveys in the vicinity of existing sugarcane clusters to be compared to other non-producing regions (quasi-experimental design).