Food Security Implications of Bioenergy in Sub-Sahara Africa

Amadou Sekou Diallo, ELP 2013, Mali

Sub-Sahara Africa (SSA) has a huge potential in the production of bioenergy, whether in forms of liquid fuels, gaseous fuels, solid fuels, and even bioelectricity. Biomass (wood, energy crops, and organic wastes and residues) used in the production of bioenergy, which amounts to about 80% of the renewable energy, accounts for more than two-thirds of the primary energy consumption in SSA (except South Africa). The main modern biofuel crops (sugarcane, maize, and cassava for bioethanol and palm oil and soybean for biodiesel) are all developed in the continent. However, this potential suffers from a lack of infrastructures, transport costs, volatility of prices, and especially processing.

Over 2.5 billion people worldwide depend on agriculture for their living. Yet, around 800 million people are food insecure, according to recent statistics. Bioenergy production is an important strategy for poverty reduction, economic development, and food security. Food security is basically a situation in which food is available, accessible, stably supplied, and affordable, as well as healthy and nutritive.

On the food availability side, bioenergy brings about a new demand for agricultural products, which leads to higher returns to farming and increased production. Bioenergy growth may also lead to increased rural energy services which increases agricultural productivity. The negative side is that land, water, and other resources are diverted away from food production, creating a competition between food and fuel.

Besides, with respect to the accessibility of food, bioenergy, in pushing new demand for agricultural products and higher farm income generation, boosts greater ability to purchase food. However, higher food prices affect poor buyers. Moreover, the displacement of local food production by new biofuels reduces local communities’ access to food.

And with respect to the stability of food supply and marketing, there will be floor prices for staple food products, which ensure minimum return to all producers. Biofuels may offer better rural employment opportunities compared to subsistence farming. The adverse side of this is that the volatility between floor and ceiling prices increases risks to the poorest consumers.

Finally, bioenergy can promote proper and nutritive food consumption. Increased access to energy offers improved opportunities for food preparation and preservation, whereas competition for water may reduce water access and create hygiene and sanitation problems.

In conclusion, bioenergy adoption may very well contribute to food security in SSA. However, to ensure the least adverse impact on the food security of the populations, SSA countries should at first focus on the effective use of existing agricultural wastes for energy generation. Moreover, there should be subsequent investments in storage infrastructures and processing plants, and ensuring that small-scale farmers gain from the agricultural waste exploitation.