The Project: Executive Summary

Below is the executive summary of the proposal submitted to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2007, which succinctly describes the goals and methods of this project. Download Executive Summary

Proposal Overview

The recent rapid global expansion in the demand and supply of biofuels is shaping agricultural markets in new and fundamental ways, linking food prices to energy prices and potentially re-writing the rules of rural development. Such growth in biofuels is alternately viewed as a beacon of hope or a message of despair for the world’s billion poor people – with little existing data to support either position.

Here we propose an international collaborative effort to systematically address the effects of biofuels expansion on the global poor. Our proposed work will describe the pathways of impact between expanding biofuels production and its effects on global commodity markets, poverty, and food security, and to assess the feasibility of investing in biofuels systems in poor countries, shedding light on when and where such investments might help or hinder efforts at poverty alleviation.

Central Questions & Project Approach

Two avenues of questions guide the proposed work.

1. 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? Are producers and consumers in poor countries helped or hurt by increased biofuels production in countries such as the US, EU, Brazil, India, and China?

2. What are the costs and benefits to poverty-stricken farmers and consumers in poor countries from locally produced biofuels? Where might investments in biofuels production in poor countries help alleviate poverty, and where might such investments worsen it?

To answer these questions, we will build a global analytical platform that will link national and international energy and commodity markets to quantify the direct and indirect effects of biofuels expansion from the global down to the household level. Our approach will build on a number of existing global and country models, linked in new ways and expanded to capture novel connections between energy and food markets. As such, it will represent the first systematic, detailed effort to address the effects of biofuels expansion on welfare in poor countries, and the first available analytic tool for assessing possible biofuels investments in individual developing countries.

Institutions & Investigators

The proposed work will be carried out by a global team of economists, agronomists, and energy experts who understand questions of global food systems, poverty, land use, and energy, and who have proven success in international collaborative research. Team members include:

Mark Rosengrant and Siwa Msangi, International Food Policy Research Institute
Scott Rozelle, Rosamond Naylor, and Walter Falcon, Stanford University
Jikun Huang, Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy
Ken Cassman, University of Nebraska
And collaborators in India, Senegal, & Mozambique

Timeline, Activities, & Funding

Project work will be carried out over three years and will include the following activities:

Year One

Assembly of necessary databases, construction of global modeling platform, begin collecting data for an assessment of future yields, begin an assessment of biofuels technologies that may be appropriate for the poor, hold Biofuels Forum 1, and launch of internal and public (or external) project websites.

Year Two

Construction of case-study country models and begin to analyze effect of biofuels on households in developing countries and assess impact of different technologies, conduct yield assessments simulations, improve the public website.

Year Three

Integrate the global model with the country case study model (finish modeling platform); analyze alternate scenarios (different levels of income, energy prices, technologies, yields assessments, etc.), synthesize project results, hold a final workshop as will as final set of policy briefings with key policy makers/stakeholders.