There is a long-term concern that the cultivation of biofuel feedstocks could have negative impacts on communities involved in, or adjacent to, such projects. In southern Africa, the acquisition and allocation of large blocks of land for biofuel feedstock production has been especially contentious. This study investigates the local multi-dimensional poverty effects of growing biofuel crops using the Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative’s Multidimensional Poverty Index. It investigates different modes of production (large-scale vs. smallholder-based) and different feedstocks (sugarcane vs. jatropha) in four study sites in Malawi, Swaziland and Mozambique.

In the sugarcane growing areas, those who participated in the value chain as farmers or workers had lower poverty than those who were not involved. However, for jatropha growing areas, there were no clearly defined differences between the controls and the jatropha farmers in Mangochi, while in Mozambique the plantation workers had slightly lower poverty than the control groups. Although it was not possible to make direct comparisons between all projects, sugarcane areas seem to be better off than non-sugarcane areas. In all projects there was generally high incidence of deprivations in indicators related to living standards, particularly access to electricity and cooking fuel.

This article is part of a special issue of Biomass and Bioenergy, “Using an Ecosystem Services perspective to assess biofuel sustainability“, edited by Francis X. Johnson and others.