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25 June 2024

Leveraging agroforestry for bioenergy security in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia

Biomass is an important traditional energy source, especially in rural Africa and Southeast Asia. As the world moves away from fossil fuels, there is a growing demand for sustainably sourced biomass. Agroforestry offers opportunities for bioenergy security. Sustainable biomass use requires innovative mechanisms to reduce health and climate risks, efficient energy conversion, and adaptable land tenure systems. Bringing biomass production closer to homes and farms reduces labour and environmental risks and is vital for food security.

This policy brief emphasizes the importance of agroforestry as a key source of bioenergy for households and small-scale industries. It also discusses market, production, and labour constraints and highlights the significance of improved cookstoves, briquettes, and biogas infrastructure in enabling simultaneous food and fuel production.

The policy brief highlights some significant contributions of agroforestry in addressing crucial energy shortages and improving livelihoods:

  • Provides a cheap and convenient source of energy: Agroforestry provides sustainable biomass for household and industrial needs. With an average farm size of 2 hectares, many agroforestry systems can supply up to 12 times annual household bioenergy needs in in SSA and SEA.. Managing trees through pruning and pollarding improves energy sufficiency and reduces pressure on natural forests. Agroforestry also helps fill biomass supply gaps during energy crises, preventing reliance on low-quality biomass or plastic waste.
  • Improves food and nutrition security: Cooking with biomass allows for nutritious, well-cooked meals multiple times a day, contributing to better digestion, nutrient absorption, and food safety. Improved bioenergy access also enables households to preserve seasonal foods and extend their shelf life.
  • Supports small-scale processing and increases household incomes:  Biofuel-fired processing equipment can support small-scale agro-processing for smallholder producers, and biomass can be processed into biogas for cooking and powering small farm machines. Thus, biomass-based energy can catalyse engagements in higher value chains and rural structural transformation.
  • Saves labour and reduces health risks: Women and children spend significant time and effort collecting solid biomass, facing risks such as injuries, attacks, and other dangers. Sustainable biomass from agroforestry reduces these risks and saves time, allowing for more productive activities and increasing children’s school attendance.