Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Quarterly Journal of International Agriculture

Quarterly Journal of International Agriculture No. 4/08

Agrofuel boom or doom? Opportunities and constraints for agrofuels in developing countries

Manfred Zeller and Martin Grass
University of Hohenheim, Germany


Progress towards substituting renewable energy sources for fossil fuels can contribute to the mitigation of climate change. Biomass may provide one such source, in addition to wind, solar, and water. However, the extent to which agrofuels, such as biodiesel and bioethanol, can sustainably replace fossil fuels will partly depend on whether their current competition with the traditional food, feed and fiber sectors can be substantially reduced. This paper describes the production and policy trends for biodiesel and bioethanol in developed and developing countries and analyses data on the production, social, and environmental costs. Agrofuels hold a number of opportunities, but also present formidable constraints, especially for poorer, food-deficient developing countries. We conclude that in order to address the constraints and capitalize on the opportunities that agrofuels hold for sustainable development, more investments in socio-economic and technological research, especially for agrofuels produced from cellulosic materials and agricultural byproducts and waste, are required. Furthermore, policies need to be improved to better address the constraints and opportunities for agrofuels with respect to equity, efficiency and environmental constraints.

Keywords: climate change, agrofuels, developing countries, food security

JEL: O13, Q4, Q13, Q54

Vol. 47 (2008), No. 4: 285-305