Agriculture and forestry products such as sugarcane, maize and manure could become leading sources of energy, a key element in achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger and ensuring environmental sustainability, according to a report released today.
With around 2 billion people, mostly in rural areas of developing countries, still living without electricity or other modern energy services, increased use of so-called bioenergy can help diversify agricultural and forestry activities, improve food security, contribute to sustainable development and mitigate climate change by replacing fossil fuels that produce global warming greenhouse gases.
“The production and use of biofuels need to be properly managed in order to provide energy services to the rural poor while improving food security and contributing to sustainable development,” UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) expert Gustavo Best said in Rome, where the paper was presented to the agency’s Committee on Agriculture.
Bioenergy is produced from biofuels – solid fuels, biogas, liquid fuels such as bioethanol and biodiesel – which come from crops such as sugar cane and beet, maize and energy grass or from fuelwood, charcoal, agricultural wastes and by-products, forestry residues, livestock manure and others.
These products are a locally available energy source that can provide heat and power and contribute to the substitution of imported fossil fuels, thus enhancing national energy security, reducing the import bill of petroleum products and alleviating poverty.
In sub-Saharan Africa, where more than 90 per cent of the rural population live without access to electricity, bioenergy – with its two main components, wood energy and agroenergy – can have a significant impact on improving livelihoods.
In developed countries, there is growing interest on the part of governments and the private sector in expanding the use of biofuels, particularly in the transport sector. Scenarios developed for the United States and European Union indicate that short-term targets of up to a 13 per cent replacement of petroleum-based fuels with liquid bioethanol and biodiesel appears feasible on available cropland, FAO says.
For this century, the report anticipates a significant switch from a fossil fuel to a bioenergy-based economy which could benefit not only the rural poor but also the whole planet, since biofuels can help mitigate climate change.