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Wednesday, June 02, 2004

The potential of biofuels and bioenergy still too often neglected, FAO

Just like the BioPact, the FAO promotes biofuels and bioenergy for poverty alleviation and sustainable development.

While holding great promise for developing countries, bioenergy is often neglected by policy-makers and needs to be urgently integrated into agricultural and forestry programmes, FAO said today.

"Countries need to move towards more sustainable energy systems based on energy sources such as biomass, solar and wind energies," said Gustavo Best, senior FAO energy coordinator on the occasion of the International Conference on Renewable Energies in Bonn (1-4 June 2004).

Bioenergy includes fuelwood and charcoal, energy crops such as sugar cane, sweet sorghum and rapeseed and agricultural and forestry residues, to produce heat, ethanol, biodiesel, bioelectricity or biogas.

The potential of bioenergy

It offers great opportunities for developing countries in creating income and labour opportunities.

"The production and use of bioenergy also contributes to poverty alleviation and food security. It can reduce land degradation and helps to mitigate climate change," Best said.

Sustainable bioenergy systems should be promoted to prevent forest degradation or deforestation, deterioration of watersheds, and loss of soil fertility and biodiversity, FAO said.

"Bioenergy has emerged as an environmentally friendly, cost-effective and locally available source of energy," Best added.

Energy needs of the poor

Bioenergy in general and wood energy in particular are the dominant sources of energy for about half of the world's population, often the poorest of the poor who use this energy mainly for cooking.

The poor have very little access to other energy sources such as electricity or fuel, which would allow them to generate income and improve their living conditions.

Currently, energy from biomass accounts for 15 percent of energy consumed worldwide and for up to 90 percent in some developing countries.

Wood energy accounts for up to 9 percent of world energy consumption and for up to 80 percent in some developing countries. Wood fuels account for 60 percent of global forest products consumption.

Bioenergy can contribute to diversify agricultural and forestry production, FAO said.

Positive examples are the production of ethanol from sugar, sorghum and cassava or biodiesel from rapeseed and other energy crops. Considerable amounts of fossil fuels can be displaced by bioenergy.

Large carbon market

"There are indications of a growing and potentially very large carbon market converting agriculture into a major player in this field," Best said.

"International bioenergy trading is becoming a reality; wood, wood chips, ethanol, biodiesel and bioelectricity are being transported across borders. It needs to be ensured that the farmers do not miss the benefits of this trade," Best said.

FAO works with the Shenyang Agricultural University in China in developing new sweet sorghum varieties and technologies to produce ethanol to substitute gasoline. Sweet sorghum has the advantage of producing both animal feed and sugars for energy conversion.

Biogas from livestock waste was promoted by FAO as fuel for cooking in Nepal. FAO is also developing bioenergy activities in Brazil focusing on the integration of energy and conservation agriculture.

FAO promotes sustainable bioenergy systems for poverty alleviation and assists its member countries in the integration of wood energy and agro energy into agriculture, forestry and rural energy development efforts.


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