Archive - Environmental impacts

Impact of fertilisers and biofuel policies on the Global Agricultural Supply Chain

In November 2014, OECD published a report Fertiliser and Biofuel Policies in the Global Agricultural Supply Chain: Implications for Agricultural Markets and Farm Incomes.

This report analyses policies along the agricultural supply chain, in particular support measures for fertilisers and for biofuels. It uses the OECD Fertiliser and Biofuel Support Policies Database that covers polices in 48 countries (including the EU and its Members) and assesses the market effects of these policies with a computable general equilibrium model, MAGNET. This report finds that biofuel support policies generate additional demand for feedstock commodities and, therefore, higher incomes for crop farmers in subsidising and non-subsidising countries. In contrast, these policies increase costs to downstream industries, including livestock farmers, and to consumers. Fertiliser support policies reduce crop production costs and hence increase yields, production and incomes for crop farmers in subsidising countries. However, they lower crop farm incomes abroad, while livestock farmers in both country groups face lower feed costs and, in consequence, lower livestock prices.

Preserving biodiversity, ecology and soil quality

Generally, a certain proportion of biomass (straw, stalks, fallen wood, etc) has to be left in situ to maintain forest or field ecology, and to maintain the condition of the soil, prevent erosion, and provide habitat, for example for beneficial insects and fungi, and to promote biodiversity.

In many potentially productive areas (globally), preserving biodiversity may offer greater environmental and economic benefit than clearing forest to produce energy crops. Hence mechanisms need to be put into place to recognise the value of biodiversity These include the use of payments for ecosystem services, such as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) and REDD-plus (which places a greater value on biodiversity rather than just the quantity of carbon held in the forest system).

Energy crops and phytoremediation

Cultivation of energy crops can be used for phytoremediation of contaminated or poor soils, while offering the potential of future feedstock production. For example, see Multi-tasking plants for phytoremediation and bioenergy [Source: CABI 2013]. Globally, there is vast potential to grow energy crops on 'contaminated' land and poor soils, which are unsuitable for food crops. Current research is focused on trials of energy crop strains that could offer reasonable production potential. The low nutrient levels and inconsistent soils of marginal land tend to result in lower yields, especially in initial years. However, many plant species have evolved to grow in poorer soils, and may improve soil condition and future yields if cultivation is properly managed to maximise soil carbon and nutrient cycling. See also Second Harvest: Bioenergy from Cover Crop Biomass [Kemp Consulting and NRDC, 2011].

In August 2013, the U.S. EPA announced an update of its RE-Powering Mapping and Screening Tool, which has now identified 66,000 locations where contaminated land, landfill and mine sites could be used for cultivation of energy feedstocks.

Water resources and bioenergy production

"The avilability of freshwater resources is an increasingly important in many parts of the world. A growing population and changing dietary trends mean a steeply rising water demand. Under the impact of climate change the population at risk of water stress could increase substantially by the end of the century. In this context, water demand for bioenergy production might place an additional burden on water availability worldwide and induce increased competition over water resources in an increasing number of regions. However, bioenergy demand also leads to new opportunities to develop strategies to adapt to climate change in agriculture: a number of crops that are suitable for bioenergy production are drought tolerant and relatively water efficient and by adopting such crops farmers may better cope with a change in precipitation patterns and increased rates of evapotranspiration1 (ET) due to higher temperature." [Source: Water demand for global bioenergy production: trends, risks and opportunities; Göran Berndes, WBGU].

In November 2009 the Water Supply and Sanitation Technology Platform WssTP launched a consultation on the review of the WssTP Strategic Research Agenda, (727 Kb PDF), which covers among other topics the use of water by agriculture and industry.


Archive Reports on environmental impact of biofuels

Sustainability Standards for Bioenergy (1.5 Mb PDF) – Uwe R. Fritsche, Katja Hünecke, Andreas Hermann, Falk Schulze and Kirsten Wiegmann with contributions from Michel Adolphe, Öko-Institut e.V., Darmstadt. Published by WWF Germany, Frankfurt am Main, November 2006.

Please note that the material in this report is copyright of WWF Germany, Frankfurt am Main and that any reproduction in full or in part of this publication must mention the title and credit the copyright holder.