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Biofuels: a threat to food security and landrights


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Topic: Biofuels


Policy recommendations

  • The European Union must  abandon the 10% target for renewable energy incorporation in transport as this leads to land grabbing in developing countries to increase the production of biofuels, to the detriment of poverty eradication and food security
  • The European Union must address land grabbing by expanding the current sustainability criteria to include social standards, by for one recognising land rights
  • These criteria must be legally binding to guarantee that the rural populations who live off marginal lands and forests are not hurt by expanding agricultural production;
  • The European Union must consider the effects of Indirect Land Use Change in the Renewable Energy Directive. The directive must not undermine the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and global food security;
  • The monitoring and evaluation of the implementation of the RED must take specific note of the impact of EU biofuels targets on food security and other development issues.


Current EU biofuel policy still has huge consequences for developing countries, because it causes rising food prices, land grabbing activities and contributes to the emission of greenhouse gasses.

In 2009, the EU introduced a biofuel blending obligation in the ‘Renewable Energy Directive’ (RED). In 2020, 10% of all transport fuels used in the EU member states should come from biofuels: fuel made out of (principally) food crops, for example rapeseed or sunflower oil. This blending obligation has major consequences for developing countries, as our Biofuels Impact Study conducted in Tanzania shows. In 2015, the RED directive and Fuel Quality Directive were amended, which concluded in a new proposed legislative text on EU biofuel policy. The proposal includes a 7% cap on conventional biofuels, with the possibility for member states to set a lower cap. The transition to advanced biofuels is encouraged, and the Commission is required to report to the European Parliament and the Council on the scope for including ILUC emission factors in the existing sustainability criteria. However, Fair Politics argues this legalisation is insufficient in addressing CO2 emissions arising from ILUC and it does not put a stop to the use of land-based food crops for biofuels. The following incoherences still exist:

Problem 1: Land Grabbing

In order to comply with the 10% blending obligation, as set by the RED, there is a great EU demand for biofuel production. European investors and companies therefore retrieve land in developing countries to produce biofuel crops. Land in developing countries is often cheap and easy to obtain. Because of buying up agricultural land for biofuel production, local farmers must give up land and cannot use the land for their cattle or other objectives. For this they get little or no compensation at all. This phenomenon is called land grabbing. Fair Politics’ research in Tanzania (link) shows that small local communities often are victims of large-scale European biofuel projects. They have to give up land but get little or nothing in return.

Besides social consequences, the ecological sustainability of soil- and water sources is also affected. Because of intensive agricultural production, biodiversity, water- and soil-sources can be damaged. Because of their short-term perspective, foreign investors are often not interested in these issues. In developing countries, land grabbing has enormous consequences for the development of essential resources for livelihoods of local communities. Without proper criteria for social sustainability of biofuels, biofuel policy forms a big problem for developing countries, which contradicts development objectives as set by the EU.

Problem 2: Biofuels contribute to the emission of greenhouse gasses

Land grabbing can lead to (indirect) changes in land use (ILUC, Indirect Land Use Change). According to estimations, under European biofuel policy almost twice the surface of Belgium of natural ecosystems will be converted in arable land to produce biofuel crops. These changes have major impact on food security, local livelihoods and natural resources. Natural forests have to be cut down to make space for sugar-cane plantations for biofuels, or food crops need to be replaced by biofuel crops.

Problem 3: Biofuels lead to increased food prices

Research by IFPRI from 2009 shows that the use of biofuels created a rise of food prices of 25-30%.[1] ActionAid announces that between 2007 and 2009 a significant part of worldwide crops were used for biofuels, like sugar-cane (20%), vegetable oil and wheat (9%).[2]
Because of the growing demand for such food crops as source of biofuels, prices of these crops rise. This means that it will become more expensive for people to buy food. Also the UN special rapporteur on the right to food pointed out the effects biofuel policy has on food prices.[3] This is also endorsed by the World Trade Organization in their report on price volatility in food and agricultural markets.[4]

For the background-paper on biofuels, click here

(Photo: European Community, 2006)