At what price biofuels?

New posting in SciDev.net — an online science news culling site which everyone should have in their inbox has posted an odd article from Brazil arguing that there are millions and millions of hectares of land available to grow biofuel currently being used for pasture.

Global Biofuels posting

Unfortunately there seems to be very little context in this article about how governments or investors are to determine that a pasture land is ’empty’.  The article proposed intensification of animal rearing and grazing — counter to much of the more recent research by WISP (http://www.iucn.org/wisp/) (a pastureland advocacy program of the World Conservation Union) and by the World Bank and others.  That research found that many of the pasturalists practicing transhumant or rotational grazing in Africa, Asia and Latin America can in fact make very efficient use of grasslands — rearing for meat, hides and dairy with much less use of water and other inputs that intensive livestock rearing.  African transhumant herders have long complained that intensive urban livestock rearing programs in Sahelian and sub-Saharan countries in fact require much more intensive use of water and inputs (and carbon emissions) than their traditional systems kg. per kg. of output.   Women displaced from transhumant systems by allocation of land and resources can also be serious losers in large scale production of biofuels — losing income generating opportunities, access to natural resources, family consumption goods, and status.

It also found that tenure of pasturalists can be quite precarious — (see RRI policy briefs by Liz Alden Wily) ignored historically by nation states laying claim to natural resources in their boundaries  or undermined by conflicting forest, biodiversity, livestock and agriculture policies.  This too commonly leads to decisions over allocation of grasslands that ignores indigenous and local tenure and rights, international agreements over movement of transhumant peoples, and blindsides the environmental community looking for ways to store carbon and reduce consumption of oil, gas, and other non-renewables.

It is a complex story — I am sure there are opportunities, but without a careful examination of rights, realities of the full landscape, traditional and alternative practices, and gender equity, expanding biofuels can just be the source of a different social and environmental problem.

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