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Unraveling biofuel impacts on ecosystem services, human well-being and poverty alleviation in Sub-Saharan Africa

Through a series of three projects funded by the UK Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) Programme, SEI staff worked within an international research team that used the ecosystem services approach to analyse land use, household energy, multidimensional poverty and food security impacts for households engaged in biofuel feedstock production in three countries (Eswatini, Malawi and Mozambique).

Inactive project


The research was groundbreaking in scope and approach, as it involved conducting a highly detailed survey across 1500 households and accompanied by statistical analyses and hypothesis testing across two feedstocks (sugarcane and jatropha), two institutional set-ups (smallholders and plantations) and different technical packages (irrigated and non-irrigated) across the three countries and six feedstock production sites.

A novel interdisciplinary approach using the lens of ecosystems services is taken in evaluating biofuel developments in three countries: Malawi, Mozambique and Swaziland. The research approach also incorporates input from private stakeholders involved in the projects as well as third party stakeholders or NGOs involved in sustainability assessment and certification.

The research considers the relationship between biofuel production and energy access by involving actors who are trying to transform household energy options through substitution of biofuels for wood or charcoal. The project has three main objectives:

  • To compare environmental and socioeconomic impacts of different biofuel production modes (scale of production, ownership and market linkages) and biofuel uses (transport, cooking, lighting) for the two main feedstocks in the region: jatropha and sugarcane
  • To elucidate mechanisms by which biofuel-driven ecosystem change affects human well-being
  • To identify operational examples of novel institutional arrangement that provide significant poverty alleviation potential through biofuel projects in African LDCs.

The ecosystem services approaches makes it possible to go beyond traditional measures of poverty such as income and employment opportunities, so as to capture further biofuel-related impacts such as energy poverty, food security, education and public health that are pertinent in the African context. This multidimensional understanding of poverty provides a comprehensive perspective on the benefits and negative aspects of biofuel expansion in the region.

This project is among the first to analyse the multiple ecosystem services and human well-being trade-offs that emerge during biofuel production and use in African LDCs, with the added benefit of comparing these trade-offs across different modes of biofuel production and use. The overall policy impacts are also greatly enhanced by the inclusion of private sector actors as well as NGOs that are active in the case study countries/projects. The project thereby also builds capacity in both scientific and policy terms in these three countries/localities and creates a new network of collaborators in the region.

Design and development by Soapbox.