Project: Main Questions

How will shifts in world prices caused by changes in some of the world’s largest biofuel producing countries affect the rest of the world— either directly or through secondary ripple effects?

Acknowledging that there are many more questions than answers, we are most directly concerned with two broad categories of research questions:

1.) Will poor food producers in countries without large biofuel programs benefit from higher commodity prices?

2.) What will be the impact on subsistence farmers, particularly those who face high transportation costs that isolate them from world markets (e.g. Sub-Saharan Africa), and those who produce rice, horticultural and other commodities that are not used as feedstock for biofuel production? What kind of substitutions will occur within cropping patterns and what will their significance be?

3.) What are the impacts on livestock and aquaculture producers and others who use maize, soybeans and other feed grains as inputs?

4.) How will the net food consumers, including the urban poor (landless laborers) in developing countries be affected? What will be the impact of alternative biofuel development pathways on poverty and food security?

5.) Will higher prices induce an expansion of cultivated areas devoted to biofuel feedstocks? What are the environmental impacts of expansion into new areas? How will higher prices shift the demand for water and affect water resources? Will higher prices induce farmers to apply higher levels of chemical fertilizers and pesticides?

6.) In short, which pathways (including those involving policy interventions by governments and international organizations) most effectively offset the (likely) negative poverty/food security impacts of rapid biofuels expansion, and how do they vary across the regions we are studying? (e.g., improved grain and commodity storage policies vs. increasing irrigated area vs. supplemental feeding programs vs. increased agricultural investment and extension vs. not-doing-biofuels).

What are the benefits to poverty-stricken farmers and consumers in poor countries from locally produced biofuels?

1.) What types of biofuels systems will have the largest positive impact on the poor? What pathways are most effective in offsetting any unfavorable food security impacts of rapid biofuel expansion? How do they vary across the regions under study?

2.) What countries will need the above interventions beyond crop technology enhancement to offset potential adverse impacts? In other words, in which countries do the necessary improvements seem out of reach, given their current levels of productivity and patterns of historical growth? Have we "tapped-out" the possibilities for growth in some/most places, or are there still low-hanging fruit to be picked?

3.) Are some production technologies/feedstocks more pro-poor than others? Are there economies of scale in bioenergy production – can small-scale technologies compete in local and/or international markets?

4.) What are the benefits of small-scale farmers producing crops other than feedstock crops?

5.) When biofuels are produced separately for domestic consumption and export, will producers benefit differently?

6.) Where and to what extent should sound investment be focused: towards development of 2nd generation technologies or improve the productivity of 1st generation?

7.) Will the rise of biofuels accelerate or slow progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)?

8.) What are the appropriate policies and institutional and market reforms that can make biofuels development more accessible to the poor?