Analysing the effect of biofuel expansion on land use in major producing countries

Jul 2013

Existing estimates on the potential impacts of biofuel production are often based on projections made with models that have limited ability to incorporate changes in land use (notably cropping intensity). This paper studies biofuel expansion in 34 countries (Brazil, the USA, Indonesia, Malaysia, China, Mozambique, South Africa plus the 27 member states of the EU) between 2000 and 2010. In 2010, these countries produced 86 billion litres of ethanol and 15 billion litres of biodiesel, representing 97% and 77% of global production, respectively.
Key data on crop production and conversion were used to calculate biomass and land requirements for main biofuel crops. Between 2000 and 2010, biofuel land use in the study area increased by 25 million ha, of which 11 million ha is associated with co-products: byproducts of biofuel production processes that normally are used as animal feed. During the same period, agricultural land in the study area decreased with 9 million ha. It expanded by 22 million ha in Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia and Mozambique while 31 million ha was lost in the USA, the EU and South Africa. Main causes for loss of agricultural land are urbanization, industrialization, expansion of infrastructure, nature and forest development and land abandonment.
Increases in cropping intensity since 2000 generated 42 million ha of additional harvested crop area. Together with increased feed (co-product) availability, this was sufficient to increase Net Harvested Area (NHA, crop area harvested for food, feed and fibre markets) in the study area by 19 million ha. Thus, despite substantial expansion of biofuel production, more land has become available for non-fuel applications. Biofuel crop areas and NHA increased in most major biofuel producers including the USA and Brazil.
It is concluded that biofuel expansion between 2000 and 2010 is not associated with a decline in NHA available for food crop production. It is not the main cause of loss of agricultural area, while net crop production for non-biofuel use has increased.
The outcome of this study is surprising as it contradicts projections from modelling studies. However, modelling studies seem to have overlooked (impacts of) increases in multiple cropping. These changes should be considered as adaptations to increased demand for crop biomass, and they should be considered more fully in calculations of (indirect) land use change.

By: Biomass Research

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