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Agrofuels, Brazil and Competing Land Uses

  • Kenneth Hermele
Publiceringsår: 2009
Språk: Engelska
Dokumenttyp: Working paper


Biofuel production in the world has grown exponentially, stimulated by public policies, in countries of the North as well as of the South, and has been seen as one of the main drivers behind the recent food price hike. Thus conflicts over land need to be factored in when biofuels are assessed.

Nowhere in the world is biofuel production seen to be more successful – economically, ecologically – than the Brazilian ethanol programme based on sugar cane. But this stance regarding Brazilian ethanol misses the direct and indirect land use changes that accompany the increase of sugar cane cultivation to meet the increasing domestic and international demand for ethanol.

By comparing sustainability standards proposed (Roundtable on sustainable biofuels) with the ecological impacts including land use changes, the performance of Brazilian ethanol is seen to be much less impressive (although still "best in show").

Likewise, the social development potential of Brazilian ethanol can be questioned as evidenced by the alarming number of conflicts regarding land use, eviction, working standards, which have led to substantial critiques for violations of workers' and farmers' human rights, including murders of vocal workers and union activists.

This leaves us with the conclusion that Brazilian sugar cane ethanol basically is a geopolitical project, which also is corroborated by the fact that it was initiated after the 1973 oil price hike in order to reduce Brazilian dependence on (expensive) imported oil. It is only in this sense, then, that the Brazilian undertaking may be seen as a success.

It is argued here that a moratorium needs to be put in place to avoid further biofuel development as it today basically causes more problems than it resolves, at least in the realms of ecology and social development. This conclusion may of course be revised should second generation biofuel technology come on stream and prove economic viable and ecological sound, two propositions which so far remain doubtful.

Furthermore, the availability of "degraded", "unused", "marginal", or "deserted" lands for the production of biofuel feed stocks should also be subjected to scrutiny, since such conflict-free "win-win" possibilities can be expected to be extremely rare in a global context where the competition for land is fuelled by a growing world population as well as by a large segments of South adapting new (i.e. meatier) life styles at the same time that land degradation and decreasing land yields have appeared.


  • Social and Economic Geography
  • land use change
  • Brzil
  • agrofuels



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