A very recent research publication found harvested area with food crops to be increasing during 2000-2010 period simultaneously with biofuel expansion. Models could be wrong evaluating Land Use effects.
Continuing our last post on land use trends we want to share a recent publication. The study (available here) is entitled: “Analyzing the effect of biofuel expansion on land use in major producing countries: evidence of increased multiple cropping“. As the authors mentioned, “biofuel expansion is often considered a major threat for biomass availability for food and feed production and an important source of land use change”. In their publication, Hans Langeveld et al., (www.biomassresearch.eu) have found clear evidence that biofuel expansion cannot be linked to net harvested area dedicated to food production.
After analyzing several regions of the world, the study clearly concludes that: “Land use increased by 25 Mha, of which 11 Mha is associated with co-products, i.e. by-products of biofuel production processes used as animal feed. In the decade up to 2010, agricultural land decreased by 9 Mha overall.It expanded by 22 Mha in Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Mozambique, some 31 Mha was lost in the USA, the EU, and South Africa due to urbanization, expansion of infrastructure, conversion into nature, and land abandonment.”
The relevance of this study reflects the fact that most alarmist claims and critiscism againts biofuel expansion because of land competition could be mistakenly evaluated. The multi-cropping systems that biofuel production can allow is possibly overlooking several sinergies like those of co-products and double cropping systems.
Main conclusion of the study is that: “An increase of 14 million ha was noted in 34 major biofuel producing nations over a period of a decade. During the same period, increased cropping intensity generated over 42 million ha of extra crop land – three times the biofuel expansion. Further, an area of 31 million ha of agricultural area was lost (amongst other due to urbanization) in the USA, the EU, China, and South Africa. Consequently, there are strong drivers for expansion of land availability for traditional food and feed markets which has led to increased food and feed crop area. With the exception of the USA, biofuel expansion has not made up more than a quarter of the total loss of agricultural.
Lignocellulosic crops and biomass
Now, what comes to our vision is that lignocellulosic crops might allow an amazing opportunity since most of the best alternatives for marginal lands are perennial species (perennial grasses, short rotation coppice, shrubs, etc.) that could occupy unused lands. Additionally they admit and allow food production in same farmlands. A clear example of this is shown in the following articles related to agroforestry, rotations and double cropping systems. Producing food and lignocellulosic crops for bioenergy uses (solid biomass for second generation biofuels, heat and power applications or biogas) may admit crops like Napier grass, Miscanthus, Arundo donax, Cardoon, Virginia fanpetals and even rotations and double crops with sorghum and oil crops.
- Worldwide commercial development of bioenergy with a focus on energy crop-based projects
- Life cycle assessment of different bioenergy production systems including perennial and annual crops
- Land-use and environmental pressures resulting from current and future bioenergy crop expansion: A review
- Modelling management strategies for wheat–soybean double crops in the south-eastern Pampas
- Double-cropping with winter camelina in the northern Corn Belt to produce fuel and food
- Second generation biofuels and food crops: Co-products or competitors?
Another great example of sinergies in land use is shown in agroforestry. Planting trees between strips of cashcrops is very well documented. Biofuels and lignocellulosic crops can be used in the same parcel as shown by several studies we show here when evaluating sustainable alternatives for marginal lands. Hedgerows and unproductive sides of most farmlands have always been a lack of efficiency. As biomass becomes a valued product, farmers and ranchers all over the world can start producing bioenergy crops and biofuels, without affecting food areas and providing MULTI-CROPPING SYSTEMS and several products that will reduce business risks. Biobased industries may take advantage of it as we already see in biomass projects worldwide.
Additionally, we think more studies assessing land use changes effects and life cycle assessments should take into consideration marginal lands that are often managed in the same farmlands. Most owners in Brazil or Argentina produce grains and livestock in the same farm. As experts involved with bioenergy crops in South America, our team have been involved several times with growers that have properties from 500 to 10,000 hectares in which we often see different parts of the field that are just NOT USED.
The authors of the mentioned publication, suggest that most models do not consider co-products, double cropping systems and other factors we mentioned here such as sinergies between food and bioenergy crops.
Our final question is: are most most models regarding biofuels and land use effects wrong?