|With depleting fossil fuels and soaring oil prices (US $130 a barrel)- biofuels are seen as the �Green Alternative�. Investments in crop-based biofuels production are rising steadily as countries seek substitutes for high-priced petroleum products, GHG-emitting fossil fuels, and energy supplies originating from politically unstable countries. With climate change a big threat, several countries, like the EU, US, Brazil etc., have set targets to increase biofuel use and adopted various promotive policies for the same. While the European Union (EU) considers biofuel to be a sustainable source of energy, the United States (US) tends to see them as an alternative for reducing oil-dependency and as a technical option to respond to climate change. In addition, several developing countries, such as, Brazil, Mexico, Malaysia etc. have engaged in an export oriented development of biofuel. While on the other hand the increasing use of food and feed crops for fuel is altering the fundamental economic dynamics that have governed global agricultural markets for the past century. African economies are concerned that an increasing diversion of arable land to bio-fuel may threaten food security especially for the vulnerable sections of their population.
India is in the process of putting up a comprehensive National Biofuel Policy, which is pending finalization with the government. However, the government has been carrying out experiments and pilot projects to study the viability of biodiesel. 5% ethanol blended gasoline was mandated in 9 major sugar cane growing States and 4 Union Territories (UT), which was extended to 20 States and 4 UTs from 1st November 2006 subject to commercial viability. The next stage is a mandatory 10% blending by the Oil Companies from October 2008. Oil from Jatropha is an option for India, but it is still in the phase of maturity. Few State Governments in India viz. Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Orissa have undertaken some concrete measures to promote the cultivation and production of Jatropha. This momentum is expected to accelerate in near future. It is being argued in policy debates that a �climate of food insecurity� is being created as the developed countries are turning �food crops� into �biofuels�. It is expected that 20% of the corn produced in the US goes for making biofuel, while the world�s poor struggle with surging food prices. The question arises as to how to tackle this dilemma, i.e. taking immediate efforts to mitigate the adverse impacts of climate change, at the same time ensuring sufficient amount of food availability for the world�s population, particularly poor at the international level.
Growth in biofuels production capacity offers many promises, but also many challenges for the future course of sustainable development. The design and implementation of sustainability audits is critical as the biofuels industry develops, with clear metrics for evaluating the social and environmental consequences of biofuels and feedstock production. The best way forward would be to strengthen the technological capacity of the developing countries by ensuring access to adequate technology at affordable costs for accelerated mitigation efforts to tackle adverse climatic changes, inter alia, through increased use of renewable energy, including biofules, and enhanced energy efficiency.
In defense of the world�s poorest populations, it is of utmost importance that the ripple effects of crop-based biofuels on food-security and the environment be understood soon and considered carefully in the design of development policies and investments. Instead of diverting crop land for the production of biofuels, methods should be adopted to utilize the wastelands or dry lands or uncultivable lands into such use. Almost thirty million hectares of wasteland is available in India, which can be efficiently used for the cultivation of Jatropha and similar crops to produce biofuel. In fact, keeping in view of the costs and viability of biofuels, there are suggestions in academic circles that instead of using biofuels as transport fuel, it should be made available to the poor for their household energy needs; and in that case the subsidies given by the government on kerosene could be diluted.