The potential for biofuel production and use in Africa: an adaptive management approach
Cozzens, Susan E.
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Biofuels are projected to play an increasingly important role in the gamut of sustainable energy options for the future. As countries such as the U.S.(corn ethanol), Brazil (sugarcane ethanol), Indonesia (oil palm ethanol), South Africa (maize, sugarcane) and others adopt and expand their biomass ethanol programs, many important questions have arisen in the media and elsewhere questioning the viability of biofuels. These articles have suggested that studies which had shown that biofuels would play a dominant role as an energy resource were wrong or exaggerated (Walsh 2008; Grunwald 2008). A review of assessments of the potential of corn ethanol reported that a positive net energy gain between the nonrenewable energy used to provide ethanol and the resulting energy from the fuel was obtained when ethanol co-products and the most recent data were included (Farrell et al. 2006). Another study has demonstrated that the net effect of the production of food crop-based biofuels through the clearing of carbon-rich habitats such as rainforests and savannas is to release more carbon dioxide than the reductions obtained by using biofuels (Fargione et al. 2008). It has also been reported that the diversion of existing crops or croplands into biofuels creates an increase in food prices, which further results in an accelerated rate of clearing forests and grasslands (Searchinger et al. 2008). Nevertheless, all three studies propose that cellulosic ethanol or bio-fuels derived from degraded crop land and waste biomass have the potential to reduce competition with food crops, minimize the destruction of habitats and reverse carbon debts that result from land clearing (Fargione et al. 2008; Farrell et al. 2006; Searchinger et al. 2008). Africa currently has a relatively low level of biofuel development and investment with the exception of a few countries such as South Africa (Dynes 2008). This situation presents a need for more information and research required to address policy options, land requirements, standards and investment opportunities on the continent (Arungu-Olende 2007). Many countries such as Ethiopia, Malawi, Nigeria and Uganda already produce sugarcane for sugar as well as some cash crops like oil palm which can be used as biofuels. However, their development as energy crops is constrained by the environmental problems and food production issues that take precedence as highlighted previously. Indeed, a preliminary content analysis (done by our group) of the newspaper coverage of biofuels around the world from May 2007 to May 2008 revealed that the majority of news articles from Africa displayed a greater emphasis on the food crisis than on the emerging potential for biofuels development. The objective of this paper is to analyze the currently dominant biofuels strategies and apply the principal elements of the concept of adaptive management to the selection, production and use of biomass ethanol in African countries. Given the difficulty of predicting the precise nature of the benefits and consequences of biomass ethanol to sustainable development, the adaptive management approach is pertinent as it emphasizes both substantive and procedural rationality. Substantive rationality is very specific, puts policy options on the table and tries to identify the quantifiable costs and benefits of the policy approach. Procedural rationality is the outcome of appropriate deliberation which does not yield a single decision point but guarantees that the policy decisions are made iteratively and that they are reversible (O'Neill, Holland, and Light 2008). It assists in the mitigation of unforeseen consequences that may disproportionately affect certain societal groups, particularly if they are not part of the decision making process. One implicit assumption that comes up in the discussion of biofuels is that all the stakeholders are primarily preoccupied by the energy crunch or by climate change. Some stakeholders are motivated by the economic profits from a new investment, others by jobs, others by environmental activism and a myriad other priorities, interests, preoccupations or lack thereof. In attempting to resolve the energy crisis sustainably, it is important to address such a system holistically, as a complex interaction of all the parts as opposed to adopting a reductive position such as linking the problem directly with the economy or with a purely ideological orientation. Furthermore, one individual or group‘s wellbeing in one way may ultimately be counterproductive for the whole system, thus reducing the range of options for future generations. As will be shown subsequently, these are all factors that must be taken into consideration in designing a biomass ethanol program.