Global Agrofuels: Sustaining What Development?

30 August 2009 - Event
30 August 2009 to 03 September 2009


, TNI, Lucia Goldfarb, Jenny Franco (TNI researchers)

>Download the programme (PDF) In recent years, across the globe, there has been renewed interest in developing and expanding agrofuels on a large scale as an alternative to fossil fuels, especially for use in transport. The idea of growing certain plants for converting into fuel had been experimented within the past. particularly during the 1970s oil crisis. This first wave of biofuels promotion lost impetus when the oil crisis subsided. More recently, the idea regained momentum amidst rising oil prices and predictions about reaching peak oil, along with growing concerns about accelerating global climate change. With huge resources being dedicated to their promotion, biofuels have increasingly been portrayed as sustainable development, bringing social, economic and environmental benefits. They are promoted as a more secure, “greener” renewable energy source, providing livelihoods and economic prosperity. Unlike the first wave of biofuels promotion, the current one has made substantial inroads in national policymaking, in countries of both the global North and the global South. This extends globalisation in several ways. Agricultural production is being linked to global energy markets, thus driving horizontal integration of industries. Countries are being further linked through trade, investment and R&D for agrofuels: energy imports (and their anticipation) can drive changes in land use elsewhere. As biofuels production has gone ahead on an industrial scale, it has been attacked as ‘agrofuels’. This term highlights the further extension of agri-industrial processes, by contrast to earlier meanings of biofuels (e.g. recycling waste). Agrofuels have been criticised for taking away key resources (such as land and water) from the production of basic foodstuffs at a time when persistent widespread hunger and poverty globally remain one of the biggest challenges humanity has ever faced. Leading promoters have also been accused of vastly overstating the supposed advantages of agrofuels. They are portrayed as an answer to the world’s need for “energy security”, but questions have been raised about its meaning – security for whom and for what purposes, as well as with what impact on vulnerable communities and ecosystems? Likewise, agrofuels are portrayed as better than fossil fuel in terms of the GHG emissions that contribute to climate change, but many in the scientific community have raised serious doubts as to whether this is in fact the case, particularly with regard to indirect changes in land use. Finally, some advocates of agrofuels have argued that agrofuels offer a pathway to development for many people in the global North and South, but others are asking questions about what kind of “development” this actually entails, for whom and for what purposes, as well as deeper questions about who decides which kind of development is pursued. Workshop aims Although many groups have already found their own answers on these issues, many questions still remain. Some relevant groups know little about the views and experiences of those in other countries. The main objective of the workshop is to broaden and deepen the debate, to continue addressing the profound issues at stake, while drawing in more people into an informed public discussion. The workshop attempts to foster active participation and exchanges. particularly among and between grassroots activists from two broad areas – the environmental justice movement and the agrarian justice movement. The timetable gives space especially to those from social movements to learn, share and articulate their own points of view on the issue. The workshop will also deepen links between activists and researchers, including those from social movements. It will analyse trade and investment links among countries, as a basis for joint research and advocacy across countries. In those ways, the workshop builds upon an international study of agrofuels, coordinated by TNI. This forms part of a larger research project, ‘Cooperative Research on Environmental Problems in Europe’ (CREPE), funded by the European Commission. Workshop dates The workshop starts in the afternoon of Sunday, August 30, 2009 and ends in the afternoon of Thursday, September 3, 2009. Co-organised by: Transnational Institute (TNI) and Uniao Nacional de Camponeses (UNAC) of Mozambique With support from the European Commission and the Inter-Church Organization for Development Cooperation (ICCO)