Food versus energy: Crops for energy

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 and the stalk is used for juice extraction for bioethanol. It is encouraging that the Western Australian Government in partnership with Kimberley Agricultural Investments has plans to grow sweet sorghum on 13,400 hectares of land for processing into bioethanol. Further, the use of sweet sorghum in existing sugar mills as biofuel feedstock provides a win–win situation for both farmers and industry. Data from India, the Philippines, China and Brazil indicate that sweet sorghum is an economically viable, socially equitable, environmentally sustainable and resilient smart crop.

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 Record created 2017-04-01, last modified 2018-01-23

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