Bioenergy can support rural development and the Millennium Development Goals
Bioenergy provides an opportunity for developing countries to utilize their own resources and attract the necessary foreign and domestic investment to achieve sustainable development goals. Particularly in developing countries where 75% of the world's poor depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, producing bioenergy can harness agricultural growth for broader rural development, reducing poverty and the drain on government budgets to pay for fossil energy imports.
Employment is a key element of rural development. In many developing countries, bio-energy has a large potential to create jobs in their labour intensive agricultural sectors. Additional job creation opportunities can also be found in the conversion process from feedstock to bioenergy as this process generally takes place close to where the feedstock is produced. The additional income from new jobs is likely to have a multiplier effect when spent locally, which can further spur development.
Access to cheaper energy from local bioenergy sources, particularly higher quality energy forms, can help increase agricultural yields and efficiency, particularly through some forms of mechanization, and enable crop preservation.
In addition, additional businesses and services requiring energy can be developed.
Higher quality energy such as biogas and electricity can reduce the time women and girls spend in a number of manual activities, such as fetching water and firewood. Electricity generated from biofuels can contribute to the goal of universal education by providing light for learning and power for telecommunications. Electricity can improve the health of rural households by purifying water, refrigerating medicine, sterilizing equipment, and powering health care centres.
The job creation, education and health benefits from improving access to higher quality energy can also help reduce the disparity between rural and urban amenities, thus lowering the migration rates to urban centres.
Achieving these benefits, however, depends substantially on the way in which the bioenergy is produced. A poorly managed bioenergy expansion can impact social values such as local customs, and may undermine traditional sustainable agricultural and land-use practices. In many regions, economies of scale and global trade tend to favor large, highly mechanized producers that provide higher skilled and better-paid jobs but less overall employment. If bioenergy crops become more valuable, the consolidation of land into larger holdings may favour larger landowners and displace small farmers. There is inherent in this argument the concept of scale - what's good for a large multinational corporation may not be appropriate for smaller communities or regions. This is particularly difficult as scale relates directly to the economics of biofuel production. However, most economic assessments only look at return on investment, and do not take into account the side-benefits for local development.
To obtain the maximum development benefits, however, a focus on small farmers is crucial, and needs to be strengthened, through both policies and measures helping them to participate in this new business directly, through organization in cooperatives and through participatory concepts in large scale operations.