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BiomassWeb – Improving food security in Africa through increased system productivity of biomass-based value webs

Given the increasing global demand for food, feed, industrial raw material and energy crops, BiomassWeb aims at contributing to food security in Sub-Saharan Africa through harnessing productivity and efficiency gains in the whole biomass-producing, processing and trading system. This will be achieved by an increased integration of all value web components and the cascading utilization of biomass.

Biomass as a renewable resource is expected to play an increasingly important role in the future economies of most countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The expected trends of rising demand for more diverse biomass-based produce from agricultural land will transform the traditional agriculture from a food-supplying to a biomass-supplying sector. Many African countries have the potential to not only meet their own future demand for biomass-based produce but also to provide other African and industrial countries with raw materials and, most importantly, processed biomass products. But the actual available biomass is underutilized in sub-Saharan Africa. Concepts to increase food security while attending growing demands for non-food biomass and developing alternative biomass sources are still in their infant stages. These gaps will be addressed by the BiomassWeb project.

Project goals

With BiomassWeb, we aim to provide concepts to increase the availability of and access to food in Sub-Saharan Africa through more and higher-value biomass for food and non-food purposes in the next decades. We identify biomass-based value webs and study selected entry points to increase the overall system productivity. We are seeking exemplary agronomic, technological and institutional innovations in production, processing, and utilization of biomass-based goods.

Through our work, we address the three pillars of food security, i.e. food availability, through enhanced biomass productivity; access to food, through income generation from non-food biomass production, processing and trading; and use of food, through increasing nutritional quality.

BiomassWeb expects to contribute to enhancing the capacity of Africa to participate in the emerging regional and international bioeconomy. BiomassWeb intends to strengthen existing African expertise and add value to African agricultural efforts rather than to offer and transfer ready-made solutions to the African biomass-producing, processing and trading sector. Therefore, we integrate innovation system approaches, stakeholder participation, and demand-driven research and development activities.

Biomass and the biomass-based value web approach

Biomass is defined as biological material from living or recently living organisms, which can be used for food, feed, sources of energy and industrial raw materials. The rapidly evolving and growing global demand and competition for biomass as agricultural output can hardly be captured in a conventional value-chain approach. Various production, processing (incl. cascading reutilization of biomass), trade and consumption pathways requires new concepts centering on biomass-based value webs.

Biomass-based value webs are thus complex systems of interlinked value chains in which food and fodder, fuels, and other raw materials are produced, processed and traded.

The concept of biomass-based value webs is a useful scientific perspective to take when investigating agricultural activities in sub-Saharan Africa: (1) The development of multi-purpose crops allows producers to react flexibly to shifting demands, (2) the organizational features of value webs are inherently flexible and thus better suited to a volatile price environment when compared to the classical linear value chains, and (3) the web perspective better allows exploring synergies and identifying inefficiencies in an emerging agro-biomass sector, and thus could be critical to increasing the sector’s efficiency.

Main Funding Partners

BiomassWeb is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) supported with funds from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development as part of the GlobE – Research for the global food supply program.

Duration of the Project: Phase 1: July 2013-June 2016, phase 2: July 2016-June 2018.

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