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Leveling the field for biofuels: Comparing the economic and environmental impacts of biofuel and other export crops in Malawi:


  • Schuenemann, Franziska
  • Thurlow, James
  • Zeller, Manfred


Biofuel production can have conflicting impacts on economic growth, food and energy security, and natural resources. Understanding these trade-offs is crucial for designing policies that are consistent with the Sustainable Development Goals. This is particularly true in low-income countries, where the need to promote both energy and food security is most pressing. To this end, we develop an integrated modeling framework to simultaneously assess the economic and environmental impacts of producing biofuels in Malawi. We extend earlier studies by incorporating the effects of land use change on crop water use, and the opportunity costs of using scarce agricultural resources for biofuels rather than other export crops. We find that biofuel production is generally pro-poor and reduces food insecurity by raising household incomes. Irrigated outgrower schemes rather than estate farms lead to better economic outcomes, fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and similar crop water requirements. Nevertheless, Malawi must reduce emissions from its ethanol plants in order to access European markets. We also find that the economic and environmental impacts of biofuels are preferable to those of tobacco or soybeans. The European Union has raised the standards expected of biofuel producers, but it should “level the playing field†by applying similar standards to other export crops from developing countries.

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  • Schuenemann, Franziska & Thurlow, James & Zeller, Manfred, 2016. "Leveling the field for biofuels: Comparing the economic and environmental impacts of biofuel and other export crops in Malawi:," IFPRI discussion papers 1500, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
  • Handle: RePEc:fpr:ifprid:1500

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Brinkman, Marnix L.J. & Wicke, Birka & Faaij, André P.C. & van der Hilst, Floor, 2019. "Projecting socio-economic impacts of bioenergy: Current status and limitations of ex-ante quantification methods," Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Elsevier, vol. 115(C).
    2. Bellemare, Marc F. & Bloem, Jeffrey R., 2018. "Does contract farming improve welfare? A review," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 112(C), pages 259-271.
    3. Aragie, Emerta & Pauw, Karl & Pernechele, Valentina, 2018. "Achieving food security and industrial development in Malawi: Are export restrictions the solution?," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 108(C), pages 1-15.
    4. Hunsberger, Carol & German, Laura & Goetz, Ariane, 2017. "“Unbundling” the biofuel promise: Querying the ability of liquid biofuels to deliver on socio-economic policy expectations," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 108(C), pages 791-805.
    5. Benfica, Rui & Cunguara, Benedito & Thurlow, James, 2019. "Linking agricultural investments to growth and poverty: An economywide approach applied to Mozambique," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 172(C), pages 91-100.
    6. Schuenemann, Franziska & Msangi, Siwa & Zeller, Manfred, 2018. "Policies for a Sustainable Biomass Energy Sector in Malawi: Enhancing Energy and Food Security Simultaneously," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 103(C), pages 14-26.
    7. Franziska Schuenemann & James Thurlow & Stefan Meyer & Richard Robertson & Joao Rodrigues, 2018. "Evaluating irrigation investments in Malawi: economy†wide impacts under uncertainty and labor constraints," Agricultural Economics, International Association of Agricultural Economists, vol. 49(2), pages 237-250, March.

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    water use; land use; energy; biofuels; food security; bioenergy; fuels; natural resources; sustainability;

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