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Western economies rush for “green oil” through expanding biofuels feedstocks farming, both at home and in developing countries.
The EU is pursuing the goal of replacing 10% of its oil consumption with renewable fuels by 2020. The U.S. wants to reach the threshold of 15% by 2017.
These ambitious blending targets were set in order to reduce both greenhouse gas emissions and energy dependence by replacing conventional fossil fuels with cleaner fuels produced from vegetable feedstocks: namely, bioethanol (for gasoline blending) and biodiesel (for diesel blending).
Those targets cause an increase of the global demand for biofuels. Since rich countries run out of land to grow enough feedstocks, in order to meet their domestic demand they need to import large volumes of vegetable oil from developing countries where under-used arable areas are widely available.
This potentially ensures steady profits for those who invest in this new business. However, because biofuels tend to compete for the same lands with food crops, they have often been linked to record grains prices, farmers evictions and rising hunger. There are also fears that they could increase, rather than decreasing, greenhouse gas emissions as a result of carbon release due to the deforestation needed to make room for the plantations, the production of the required fertilizers and pesticides and the transportation up to destination markets.
Experts’ analysis and experiences from the field show a controversial scenario: biofuels may bring either benefits or disadvantages to local communities and to the environment, depending on how and where they are produced and used.