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The Impacts of Biofuel Production on Food Prices: a review


  • Gerber, Nicolas
  • Van Eckert, Manfred
  • Breuer, Thomas


The various calculations of the impacts of biofuel production on the mid-term projections of food and agricultural commodity prices are difficult to reconcile. This is largely due to the intricate set of assumptions, the differences in the baseline scenario and in the projection horizon they are built upon. For similar reasons, studies evaluating the impact of biofuel production on food and commodity prices to date do not provide a clear consensus. Rather than discussing the merits of the different assumptions and methodologies, this paper focuses on the global trends that can be extracted from the different sources. Agreed upon by all sources is the fact that between 2005 and 2007 many agricultural commodity prices increased sharply, especially nominal prices. The impact of commodity prices on final food prices affecting household food expenditures is less clear. Nonetheless, many food price indices (national CPIs, WB food price index and FAO food price index) have also risen over the same period. It is a fact that the increasing demand for feedstocks from the biofuel sector is one among several factors impacting on agricultural commodity prices. Other factors cited include poor harvests, the structural change in food demand in certain countries, population growth, high oil prices, or the devaluation of the US dollar. To calculate the longer term projected commodity prices, these factors are integrated in the simulations, which are then subjected to different biofuel production scenarios. These scenarios largely determine the extent of the biofuels’ impact on food and commodity prices. Despite considerable differences in projection results, methodologies and assumptions, some common trends can be observed. The latest EU and US biofuel programs and legislations are expected to have the largest impact on vegetable oils over the mid term, increasing world real prices by more than 30% between 2011 and 2016. The impacts on prices are generally projected as lesser (+3 to 15%) for commodities such as wheat, corn and soybean, whilst the price of oilseed meals (an important part of fodder markets and a by-product of vegetable oil production) is predicted to decline (-11 to -17%) due to the increase in vegetable oil production. A (hypothetical) freezing of biofuel production at the 2007 levels predicts a decline in cassava, oils, sugar and wheat prices by less than 10% between 1997 and 2020. The price decreases would reach 10 to 20% had biofuel production completely stopped in 2007. The magnitude of the impacts is more contrasted when looking at real regional prices, but across all given regions biofuel mandates and targets are projected to impact oilseed prices most strongly (+25 to +72%), followed by grain prices (+5 to +21%).

Suggested Citation

  • Gerber, Nicolas & Van Eckert, Manfred & Breuer, Thomas, 2008. "The Impacts of Biofuel Production on Food Prices: a review," Discussion Papers 48193, University of Bonn, Center for Development Research (ZEF).
  • Handle: RePEc:ags:ubzefd:48193

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Banse, Martin & Grethe, Harald, 2008. "Effects Of A Potential New Biofuel Directive On Eu Land Use And Agricultural Markets," 107th Seminar, January 30-February 1, 2008, Sevilla, Spain 6331, European Association of Agricultural Economists.
    2. Mitchell, Donald, 2008. "A note on rising food prices," Policy Research Working Paper Series 4682, The World Bank.
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    Cited by:

    1. repec:eee:enepol:v:108:y:2017:i:c:p:806-817 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Brian D. Wright, 2012. "International Grain Reserves And Other Instruments to Address Volatility in Grain Markets," World Bank Research Observer, World Bank Group, vol. 27(2), pages 222-260, August.
    3. Kretschmer, Bettina & Peterson, Sonja, 2010. "Integrating bioenergy into computable general equilibrium models -- A survey," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 32(3), pages 673-686, May.
    4. Bischoff, Johanna, 2010. "Spekulation mit Nahrungsmittelprodukten als Ursache für Welternährungskrisen: Untersuchung am Beispiel des Reismarktes
      [Speculation with food products as a reason for global food crises: Analysis u
      ," MPRA Paper 38023, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    5. repec:eee:enepol:v:108:y:2017:i:c:p:776-790 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. repec:unu:wpaper:wp2012-65 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Paltsev, Sergey, 2012. "Implications of Alternative Mitigation Policies on World Prices for Fossil Fuels and Agricultural Products," WIDER Working Paper Series 065, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    8. Mohajan, Haradhan, 2013. "Global food price hike is a burden to the poor," MPRA Paper 51822, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 05 Nov 2013.
    9. Breuer, Thomas & Henckes, Christian & Loos, Tim K. & Zeller, Manfred, 2011. "Nachwachsende Rohstoffe – entwicklungspolitisch einmal anders gedacht," Research in Development Economics and Policy (Discussion Paper Series) 114751, Universitaet Hohenheim, Department of Agricultural Economics and Social Sciences in the Tropics and Subtropics.
    10. Okwo, Adaora & Thomas, Valerie M., 2014. "Biomass feedstock contracts: Role of land quality and yield variability in near term feasibility," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 42(C), pages 67-80.

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    Agricultural and Food Policy; Crop Production/Industries; Food Consumption/Nutrition/Food Safety;

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