Toward Sustainable, Biodiverse, and Decentralized Bioenergy Alternatives

Posted by – October 06, 2015
Categories: Ecology & Sustainability Food & Nutrition Society & Politics

Excerpt from Soil Not OilSoil Not Oil by Vandana Shiva


Toward Sustainable, Biodiverse, and Decentralized Bioenergy Alternatives for India

Diverting land and food to produce industrial biofuel undermines the land and food sovereignty of the poor, generating social conflicts and threatening the fragile fabric of democracy. Ethanol production has already contributed to an increase in food prices. With 1 billion people already going hungry, high food prices can only increase hunger around the world. Even when nonfood crops like jatropha are grown on nonagricultural lands, the poor lose. They are losing their commons, which supply them fodder and fuel. This in turn undermines their livelihoods, food security, and energy security.

The climate crisis and the end of cheap oil demand a shift to sustainable energy. However, energy supplied from plants and crops is not necessarily sustainable. Energy can only be considered sustainable if it does not compete with the food supply, does not divert organic matter from the maintenance of the essential ecosystem, is decentralized and based on decisions by local communities, and is based on biodiversity, not monocultures.

Local energy needs decentralized energy systems. Decentralization needs diversity, not monocultures. Biodiversity with multifunctional uses makes for the best local energy supply. It is complementary and not competitive with the local food supply. India has a rich diversity of oilseed trees and crops. Diverse oilseed-bearing tree crops used locally can be an important source of village energy security. A Navdanya report on biodiversity-based organic farming shows that food production can increase with biodiversity intensification and ecological agriculture. And biodiverse organic farming also fixes more carbon in vegetation and the soil.

At the village level, multiple sources of biodiversity provide multiple sources of renewable energy—from animal energy to biogas to biomass for electricity. Biogas digesters were first developed in the 1950s in India, using cow dung to produce methane gas and a nitrogen-rich fertilizer. Asia has more than 15 million small digesters in rural areas to provide cooking fuel and fertilizer.

Alternatives to fossil fuel are limitless. Industrial biofuels are not an alternative because

• Their net energy efficiency is negative.

• They restrict themselves to liquid fuels, forgoing the many other forms of bioenergy needed at the village level.

• They promote non-sustainable industrial monocultures that serve to increase greenhouse gas emissions.

• They are becoming a major cause of hunger and landlessness.

Industrial biofuels threaten to impoverish the planet by reducing biodiversity and its benefits. This reductionism is leading to ecological and economic impoverishment. Biodiversity can lead to ecological and economic enrichment. A decentralized, biodiversity-based bioenergy policy can be a major component in rural development.
Democratic decision-making at the village level is the best process for determining the best mix of energy needed to meet local needs. Unfortunately, the current model of industrialized production of ethanol and biodiesel from plants based on monocultures fails the criteria of sustainability, justice, and democracy. It is centralized and driven by corporate greed, not community needs.

We need a new model, one that respects people’s right to land and food, to their commons and biodiversity. A biodiversity-based, democratically evolved bioenergy program could enhance food security, energy security, and livelihood security of the poor.


Excerpted from Soil Not Oil by Vandana Shiva. © 2015, North Atlantic Books.

Tags: Farming & Permaculture Global Politics Vandana Shiva Food Policy & Sustainability
About the Author

Marina is the Marketing & Digital Programs Coordinator at North Atlantic Books. After living in New Orleans and Amsterdam, and exploring a couple of continents, she returned to the San Francisco Bay Area to work at NAB. She's passionate about astrology, nonfiction books, and sustainable living, as well as all things metaphysical.