Top international experts met in Rome to consider the environmental and food security impact of the rapidly-expanding bioenergy industry and agreed that governments could use bioenergy as a positive force for rural development.

“It was the first time that experts in bioenergy, food security and the environment came together to discuss the important linkages between those sectors,” said Alexander Müller, Head of FAO’s Natural Resources Management and Environment Department, commenting on last week’s meeting.

‘While there is legitimate concern among some groups that bioenergy could compromise food security and cause environmental damage, it can also be an important tool for improving the well-being of rural people if governments take into account environmental and food security concerns,” he said.

“In food security terms, bioenergy only makes sense if we know where the food-insecure populations are located and what they need to improve their livelihoods. Environmentally, we must make sure that both large- and small-scale producers of bioenergy fully take into account both the negative and positive impacts,” Müller said.

“There is a key role for governments to play in setting standards of performance. International organizations such as FAO can also have a major role in providing a neutral forum and policy support,” he noted.

“We need an international commitment to make sure that food security is not impaired and that natural resources are used sustainably,” he added.

Last week’s three-day meeting, which was attended by experts from round the world plus specialists from FAO and other organizations, agreed that FAO’s International Bioenergy Platform should promptly draw up a series of guidelines for Governments and potential investors.