The world agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) is implementing the four-year Programme for the Development of Alternative Biofuel Crops in partnership with centres of excellence in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Launched in 2013 with seed capital from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), this initiative was designed to conduct research in development along several biofuel value chains, while at the same time strengthening food security and improving the livelihoods of smallholders. Pursuing a landscape approach, the programme has already started operations in India, Brazil and Kenya where it is developing sustainable agroforestry systems with integrated food and energy production. The Programme is also one of ICRAF's pillars for the implementation of its new Strategy on Tree-based Energy.
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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 sourcesHowever, care must be taken that the biofuels and the income they generate are additional to that from an existing food production and not hindering it or increasing pressure for land use change. More productive feed stocks 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, and without harming the environment. These are some of the issues that the Programme expects to clarify as it develops realistic opportunities for biofuels.
The programme's overall goal is to improve the productivity of agroforestry based biofuel production systems that are economically viable, socially acceptable and environmentally sustainable. This is being pursued through the development of market-ready products that 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 aims at sustainable development of natural resources.The Programme also plays a catalytic role in strengthening public-private partnerships and cooperation between international financial institutions, development organizations, foundations and the private sector.
- Conduct coordinated action research along the entire value chain of non-food or multiple-use biofuel crops that can be grown on degraded lands, including under saline conditions.
- Support local energy provision and offer policy recommendations to governments on biofuel production that does not compromise food security.
- Disseminate knowledge and support the mainstreaming of biofuels as an instrument of rural development.