Sowing the seeds of prosperity: developing bioenergy technology to alleviate smallholder farmer poverty

Apr 2009

The challenges facing the Developing World’s rural poor are formidable. Not only must these agricultural societies become more productive in supplying food, they must also find a way to produce the jobs and incomes needed to stem the increasing migration of the rural work force to urban and peri-urban regions in search of better income opportunities. The lack of access to modern energy fuels and electric power services is one of the most critical factors that constrain economic development for the Developing World’s nearly one billion rural poor.
This report provides an overview of the opportunity to harness new biofuel technologies to create economically sustainable sources of local energy that can be used to provide family’s needs for lighting and cooking and to power village businesses. Unlike kerosene which is used for lighting and power generation, biofuel feedstocks can be grown and purchased locally. Despite the many advances being made in the field of bioenergy development and the growing evidence that these technologies are viable for many productive rural applications, most villagers do not have access to these transformative technologies.
This report describes the most promising crops and plants that can be cultivated and harvested to provide the feedstocks needed to produce biofuels. While there are many plant species that could serve as feedstocks, this report places a particular focus on crops that are best suited to the land, water and climatic conditions of Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. In these regions the constraints of poor soil fertility and limited water availability require crops that have the capability to deliver productive harvests under these conditions of duress.
The report notes the valuable properties and the public enthusiasm for these feedstocks; but it also recommends that more research in breeding improved varieties and field trials are still needed before countries make a significant commitment of their limited resources. The report also includes an assessesment of the best biofuel conversion technologies for smallholder farmers.

By: P. Binns (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)

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