How can development in Africa be promoted best? One suggestion has been to utilize the wet savannas and shrublands to produce crops of biofuel. Previous studies describe these as vast expanses of low-environmental-cost cropland. New research published in Nature Climate Change however shows that this may not be feasible. Aside from the potential biodiversity disaster from cropland expansion into these important biomes, biofuel production may not reach key-market standards.
Do the wet savannahs and shrublands of Africa provide a large reserve of potential croplands to produce food staples or bioenergy with low carbon and biodiversity costs? We find that only small percentages of these lands have meaningful potential to be low-carbon sources of maize (~2%) or soybeans (9.5–11.5%), meaning that their conversion would release at least one-third less carbon per ton of crop than released on average for the production of those crops on existing croplands. Factoring in land-use change, less than 1% is likely to produce cellulosic ethanol that would meet European standards for greenhouse gas reductions.