26-28 August 2014
Food versus Energy: Crops for Energy
William D Dar
The global production and use of biofuels have increased dramatically in the past few years due to volatile and increasing oil prices, and environmental concerns. The main feedstocks for ethanol are sugarcane, maize and to a lesser extent wheat, sugarbeet and cassava. Biodiesel oil-producing crops include rapeseed and oil palm. All divert land away from food production to energy production. This has in turn triggered the food versus energy debate with several studies attributing the rising food prices to the feedstock diversion to biofuels, hurting poor consumers and net food importing countries.
To overcome the food-fuel trade-off, several countries are promoting feedstocks that can grow on marginal lands and hence do not compete with food production. At ICRISAT, we launched a global pro-poor ‘BioPower Initiative’ focusing on biomass sources and approaches that do not compete with, but rather, enhance food and nutritional security. Sweet sorghum is one such “smart” multipurpose crop that does not compromise on food security while producing energy. The grain is used for food while the stalk use used for juice extraction for bioethanol.
It is encouraging to note that the Western Australian Government, in partnership with Kimberley Agricultural Investments, has plans to grow sweet sorghum on 13,400 ha of land for processing into bioethanol. Further, the use of sweet sorghum in existing sugar mills as biofuel feedstock provides a win-win situation to both the farmers and industry. Data from India, Philippines, China and Brazil indicates that sweet sorghum is an economically viable, socially equitable, environmentally sustainable and resilient crop.