Programme for the Development of Alternative Biofuel Crops


The development of pro-poor strategies for sustainable rural development is critical, as most of the world's poor live in rural areas and depend on agriculture and related activities for their livelihoods. Access to modern, clean energy services is vital for development, including liquid fuels for machinery and transportation. In particular, modern agriculture's dependence on fossil fuels has led to dangerous fluctuations in food prices and social unrest as world oil prices have risen. The challenge for poor farmers is to cushion themselves from these price shocks by becoming more 'Energy-Smart' – maintaining or increasing their food production without increasing dependence on costly fossil fuel inputs. Biofuels hold out the promise of making rural areas more energy independent as well as generating new and important income sources.

However, care must be taken that the biofuels and the income they generate is additional to that from existing food production and not hindering it or increasing pressure for land use change. More productive feedstocks and systems are needed to ensure that overall farm productivity is sustainably increased, enabling biofuels to be produced over and above the current baseline of food production. These are some of the issues that the Programme expects to clarify even as it develops realistic opportunities for biofuels.

Description: C:\Users\Owner\Desktop\7590100840_fdc6fe5966_o.jpgBiodiesel Macaúba. Photo by Agriculturasp.

Many developed countries have resorted to using food crops as feedstock and the resultant diversion of food crops to producing biofuels has partially contributed to sharp increases in food prices, setting up a backlash that sometimes blames rising food prices on biofuels in general, rather than distinguishing between biofuel crops that compete with food production and those that do not. In the ensuing food-versus-fuel debate, biofuels have often been portrayed as anti-poor because the rising food prices tend to cut into the limited purchasing power of the poor.


The overall goal is to improve the productivity of non-cereal biofuel crops that have higher oil, starch or sugar productivity than conventional biofuel crops. The project aims to develop market-ready products that will enable the poor, including women, to take advantage of this emerging and vast opportunity, thereby improving their cash incomes, improving their food security and increasing their access to affordable energy. All research will aim at sustainable development of natural resources. The Programme will also play a catalytic role in strengthening Public-Private Partnerships and cooperation between international financial institutions, development organizations, foundations and the private sector.

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To speed up the development of viable products, the programme would also focus on supporting the practices that are environmentally sound, sustainable and contribute to positive GHG balances. The programme will also assist governments of member states to develop suitable policies that strike a balance between land use, food security, fuel self-sufficiency. Policy advocacy will be linked through Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers to ensure that biofuels development has a pro-poor focus and, where appropriate, energy policies may be revisited to ensure consistency in governments' pro-poor policies and programs.
Farmers with cassava. Photo by CGIAR Climate.


An initial four-year phase of the programme will develop alternative biofuel crops for use by small-scale farmers in the tropics. This phase will comprise three inter-related components:
  • Research and Development, supervision, monitoring and evaluation
  • Local energy provision to enhance food security
  • Knowledge sharing, capacity building, policy studies and advocacy, and information and awareness campaigns

The work undertaken under the programme will serve as the basis for upscaling investments, in a sustainable manner, specifically to benefit the poor both as producers and consumers of energy.

The biofuel crops will be selected on the basis of agro-climatic conditions prevalent in the relevant country. Crops being considered for accelerated development are: Macaúba, Pongamia, Cassava, Sweet Sorghum, Simarouba, Tropical Sugar Beet, Salicornia and Nipa Palms, many of which are suited to marginal or degraded land.

The programme is a partnership between the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and ICRAF, with funding from IFAD and the Government of India. The programme will be situated within ICRAF's facility in New Delhi.