There has been a growing interest in jatropha- and sugarcane-based biofuels across Sub-Sahara Africa. Biofuel expansion in the region reflects policy concerns related to energy security, poverty alleviation and economic development. However, biofuels have also been linked to numerous environmental and socioeconomic impacts such as GHG emissions, water availability/pollution, deforestation, biodiversity loss, poverty alleviation, energy security, loss of access to land and food security, to name just a few. Yet there is an insufficient understanding of these impacts (and their synergies) in Sub-Sahara Africa, and a lack of policies that could regulate the biofuel sector and ensure its viability while at the same time preventing its negative impact.

This article reviews the literature on the current knowledge about biofuel impacts in Africa. It finds that biofuel impacts can be positive or negative depending on several factors such as the feedstock, the environmental/socio-economic context of biofuel production, and the policy instruments in place during biofuel production, use and trade. In most cases there are significant trade-offs but at least part of the negative impacts can be mitigated through careful planning.

The incomplete and piecemeal understanding of these trade-offs, as well as agronomic, institutional and market failures, are currently the most important barriers for the viability and sustainability of biofuel investments in the continent.

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