Biomass for bio-fuel production options on family farms in Manica (Mozambique): integrated assessment of sustainability, risks and organisational configurations

PhD project by Wilson Leonardo. The soaring of fossil fuel prices observed in 2007 till mid-2008, concerns with climate change and the need for energy independence have contributed to a sharp increase worldwide in demand for biomass for biofuels with focus on first-generation techniques.

Mozambique is considered to have relative abundant land and favourable agro-ecological conditions for production of biomass for biofuels. These factors have led to a huge demand for land by private companies who actively seek to invest in the production of biomass for bio-energy. Manica is one of the provinces experiencing this demand due to its strategic position (relatively close to a harbour) and good bio-physical conditions for crop production. However, at the same time there are opposing positions on potential benefits and risks of their adoption. Optimists claim that production of biofuels is an opportunity to promote rural development, to link farmers to markets, to increase yields of current food crops through spillover effects and to mitigate global warming. Pessimists express their concerns on expected negative impacts on food availability, soil nutrient depletion and no environment benefits. In Manica, as elsewhere in the country agriculture is dominated by subsistence small-scale farmers with an average land size of about 2 ha. Their farming systems are highly diverse and input use is low, leading to extensive farming. Intensification is constrained by the limited available resources such as labour, capital, production irrigation schemes and improved seeds. Surprisingly the highlighted potential benefits and threats of biomass production for energy production in Mozambique, particularly in Manica, are not supported by critical analysis of the biophysical and socio-economic conditions in which small-scale farmers operate.
When farming system dynamics are poorly understood and levels of uncertainty are high, speculations play a dominant role affecting the success of interventions. To understand farming systems dynamics an interdisciplinary approach is required. System theory using models will be applied at three hierarchical levels (field, farm and regional) with main focus on farm level. We will assess feasible options for small-scale farmers to engage in production of biomass for biofuels production. The over-arching questions are (a) what are the major factors determining the opportunities and risks, for sustainable production of biomass for energy under agro-ecological and socio-economic conditions that prevails in Manica Province and (b) what are the indicators to capture relevant environmental, economic and social issues in the production of biomass for biofuels? The following questions will be addressed more specifically:

  • Which changes in farm systems are required to include crops for bio-energy in a sustainable way?
  • What are the consequences of growing biomass crops for livelihood strategies and risks at farm level taking into account production and price variability, and required flexibility?
  • What is the impact of production of biomass for biofuels on feedstock availability for commercial livestock production at regional level?
  • What external conditions (production organisation, policies) are conducive for farmers to access local or international biofuels market?
  • How does introduction of biomass crops influence food security at regional level?

The broader aim is to provide guidelines to be used at farm level for integrated assessment of biomass production for biofuels. Assessment of external conditions that are required to link farmers to biofuels markets in a sustainable way will also be considered. It looks at feasible options rather than potential production to avoid the over or underestimations of small-scale farmers’ capacities.