All of us must be wondering how smallholder farmers that we serve, as well as global consumers of food around the world, will be affected by the enormous efforts being made in both temperate and tropical countries to grow their own fuel and move toward energy independence. Most likely, reduced competition from imported grains will be good for smallholder farmers and bad for urban consumers. For example, a couple years ago we were hearing that some farmers in Central America were not able to profitably grow corn (maize) because the price of imported corn was so low. This year we heard of protests in the streets of Mexico because so much corn was being used for making “gasohol” [a blend of gasoline and ethanol] in the USA that many could no longer afford their staple corn tortillas.
Regardless of what we think of using vast amounts of farmland to produce gasohol or biodiesel, it is a growing reality and we need to keep abreast of it. We’ve heard from many in ECHO’s network who are looking for ways to involve even smallholder farmers in producing energy crops, e.g. requests for information and seeds of jatropha. An article on jatropha published on ECHO’s website a few years ago received the highest number of hits of any article for several months.
If you have experience with biofuels (biodiesel and/or gasohol), we would like to hear from you. Is the production of these impacting your communities? In what way? We are especially interested to learn of situations where smallholder farmers are either growing or using biofuels. If we receive sufficient response, we will include the feedback in a future article. While ECHO is not planning on making biofuels a major focus (unless we see opportunities evolving for smallscale farmers), we will keep our eyes open for insights or opportunities that might be of interest to our readers. Here is a recent example.
“Soybeans produce approximately 50 gallons of fuel per acre, while traditionally grown peanuts can produce approximately 120 to 130 gallons of biodiesel fuel per acre.” Scientists in Georgia are testing a peanut variety called Georganic. “It’s not suited to current commercial edible standards for peanuts, but is high in oil and has low production input costs. Georganic— or similar varieties—will likely be the future of peanut biodiesel because it can be planted and grown with just one herbicide application for weed control, compared to the three to four applications typically sprayed during a growing season for edible peanuts. Additionally, these fuel peanuts are grown without fungicides, which are the greatest input cost in traditional peanut production.”
Scientists are screening other non-edible peanut varieties, to see if some may be exceptional for biodiesel.
Price, M.L. 2007. How Will Using Agricultural Land for Biofuels Affect Smallholder Farmers in Developing Countries?. ECHO Development Notes no. 97