Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies Woods Institute for the Environment Center on Food Security and the Environment Stanford University

Biofuels Expansion: Implications for Global Food Markets, Land Use Change, and Climate

Rapid income growth in developing economies typically results in an increase in energy consumption by the economy as a whole. Rapidly expanding energy needs throughout much of the world have precipitated a global search for alternative fuels, a search which is profoundly affecting food markets in often under-appreciated ways, and which is rapidly changing the climate on which food production depends.

Biofuels are a hot topic in both the academic literature and the popular press. Much of the current debate over biofuels, however, is devoted to narrow issues of energy conversion to the exclusion of understanding the broader implications surrounding their rapid development. This research area embraces these larger questions, examining the role of biofuels development on global land use change and climate, on food markets, and on global food security. Primary questions include:

  • how could rapidly expanding biofuels production in developed countries such as the U.S. affect global commodity markets, either through direct price effects or longer-run changes in agricultural policy? 
  • Will local and global food security be enhanced or harmed under various biofuels expansion scenarios? 
  • How will price changes affect the ability of poor households to pay for staple food supplies?  
  • And what will changing commodity markets and policy mean for land use decisions in both rich and poor countries, and are their identifiable biofuels expansion pathways that are both food security enhancing and climate protective?

To quantify these effects, our work is globally oriented, with models of world commodity markets as well as country models and case studies in China, India, Indonesia, Brazil, Senegal, and Mozambique.