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Biofuel Cropping Systems: Carbon, Land and Food

By: Hans Langeveld1*, John Dixon2 and Herman van Keulen3 (eds) 4



Biofuels have been criticized to impact food availability, land

demand, food prices, undernutrition and deforestation. Biofuel
policies have been especially targeted as they enforce blending with
fossil fuels no matter the costs. The book Biofuel cropping systems
analyses biofuel development in 34 countries, covering 95% of
global ethanol and 75% of biodiesel production. It describes
policies, market development, land use, crop cultivation and
production chains in Brazil, the USA, the EU, China, Indonesia,
Malaysia, Mozambique and South Africa.

Demand for biofuel feedstocks was more than compensated by

improved yields and multiple cropping; biomass availability for
food and feed increased with 618 million tonnes. Loss of
agricultural land in the EU lead to a decline of food crop area. In
other countries, improvements in land use and crop management
were sufficient to compensate for enhanced biomass use in the
biofuel industry. During the first decade of the 21st century, in
other words, biofuel expansion did not reduce food availability.

Land and biomass balances were calculated from land use and crop
production statistics from the Food and Agricultural Organization of
the United Nations (FAO). The use of additional local data sources
allowed a detailed and realistic description of production practices
related to land preparation, crop production, biomass conversion and
co-product generation. Main production chains that were studied
include ethanol from sugar cane, corn, wheat, sugar beet, and
lignocellulosic crops, plus biodiesel from soybean, rapeseed, palm
oil, and Jatropha. Chains were evaluated with respect to crop yields,
by-products, nutrient and water efficiency, water and soil quality,
reduction of Greenhouse Gases (GHG), economic impacts and
social implications.

Figure 1 Land balance of the EU

Results of the analysis

Discussion and Conclusion

Major findings of the book include:

Biofuel production increased with 68 billion (thousand million)
litres of ethanol and 14 billion litres of biodiesel between 2000
and 2010, requiring 324 million tonnes of biomass feedstock
Some 24% of the biomass was recovered from co-products
which mainly were applied as animal feed in livestock industry
Biofuel harvested area increased with 25 million ha, of which
11 million (46%) ha is associated with co-products
During the same period, 30 million ha of agricultural land has
been lost, due to urbanisation, expansion of infrastructure,
industrial areas, touristic areas, etc.
Loss of agricultural land was partly compensated by expansion
of agricultural area (net expansion 9 million ha). Farmers also
changed harvesting frequency, which increased harvested area
with 42 million ha without the need for land expansion
This phenomenon is explained by a reduction of fallow and
expansion of double cropping (two harvests in the same year).
An increase of the so-called Multiple Cropping Index (MCI),
provided sufficient compensation for biofuel crop area
expansion in all countries of the study area
Expansion of biofuel production may locally affect existing
land use practices. It is crucial that local land use rights should
be respected

The results are remarkable in the light of criticism received by

biofuels and the alleged effect of biofuel policies on food prices,
undernutrition and deforestation. The authors demonstrate that
economic models used to assess biofuel policies do not give heed
to observed changes in multiple cropping as they focus on
commodities (tradable crops) rather than land, and have only
limited capacity to analyse (changes in) land use.

The book provides a clear analysis of biomass production and

land use, using balances calculated from public land and crop
statistics. Its outcome sheds a fresh light at the food vs. fuel and
land use change debates. It is recommended that crop
management data play a more dominant role in the evaluation of
biofuel policies. Day-to-day management of soils, crops, coproducts, and inputs will affect the performance of biofuel
production chains. Ignoring this impact may lead to incomplete
(or incorrect) analyses.
Reference and dedication
The book, published by Routledge (an imprint of the Taylor &
Francis Group), is dedicated to the farmers in all parts of the
world met by the authors, in appreciation of the dedicated and
innovative way they are making sustainable use of valuable
resources. ISBN13: 978-0-415-53953-1.

Biomass Research, P.O. Box 247, 6700 AE Wageningen, the Netherlands,

ph + 31 6 520 58 537. *Corresponding author:
Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, ,
Former professor, Wageningen University and Research Centre (deceased in 2014)

The editors declare that the research for the book was
conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial
relationships that could be construed as a potential
conflict of conflict of interest