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close this book Application of biomass-energy technologies
close this folder VII. Perceived problems, solutions and policy options
View the document A. Environmental impacts
View the document B. Food or fuel?
View the document C. Land availability
View the document D. Raw-material supply
View the document E. R&D and technology transfer
View the document F. Social factors
View the document G. Economics
View the document H. Policy
View the document I. Institutions

C. Land availability

Chapter I discussed how biomass differs fundamentally from other forms of energy since it requires land to grow on and is therefore subject to the range of independent factors which govern how, and by whom, that land should be used. This point is also forcefully brought out by Newman and Halls (1990). There are basically two main approaches to deciding on land use for biomass energy. The "technocratic" approach starts from a need for energy, then identifies a biological source, the site to grow it, and then considers the possible environmental impacts. This has generally been the case in an the examples shown in chapter 1, especially in the first phases. As the case studies have shown, this generally had ignored many of the local and more remote side-effects of biomass energy plantations and also ignored the expertise of the local farmers who know the local conditions. This has resulted in many biomass project failures in the past. The "multi-uses" approach asks how land can best be used for sustainable development, and considers what mixture of land use and cropping patterns will make optimum use of a particular plot of land to meet multiple objectives of food, fuel, fodder, societal needs etc. This requires a full understanding of the complexity of land use.

FAO recently released data categorizing land use in 91 developing countries by rainfall class and techno-economic potential for agriculture (Bruinsma, 1991). Analysis of this data (see table 18) (Hall et al, 1992b) shows that, after accounting for food production (a 50per cent increase in agricultural land in developing countries by the year 2025), sufficient land would be available for biomass energy production which could even exceed developing countries' energy requirements, except possibly in the case of Asia. Table 18 shows that developing countries have an estimated 955 million ha of land potentially available for biomass production which, if it yields 10 t/ha/yr, could theoretically provide nearly three times their energy requirements. Hence, developing countries could provide 50 per cent of their total energy needs (Africa and Latin America could be completely energy self-sufficient) using only 10 per cent of their potential productive agricultural land (as defined by FAO). A similar estimate for industrialized countries shows that they could produce 72 per cent of their present energy use from biomass on available land (Hall et al, 1992).


Table 18. Potential land for agriculture and biomass production

However, some of the FAO-defined potential land would come at the expense of natural ecosystems which has to be avoided. Nevertheless, much land already too degraded to produce agricultural crops could be suitable for some energy crops. Much of this land has already been targeted for reforestation. According to Grainger (1988), 758 million ha of land in the tropics has a theoretical potential for forest replenishment (and biomass production). Houghton (1990) estimated that 500 million ha of land in Africa, Asia and Latin America could be available for reforestation and an additional 365 million ha of land in the fallow cycle of shifting cultivation might also be targeted for this purpose. In the developed world, large areas of surplus agricultural land in North America and Europe (possibly as much as 150 million ha in the next century) are potentially significant biomass producing areas (Hall et al, 1992).