GIGA Focus International Edition English , ,

Food or Fuel – The Role of Agrofuels in the Rush for Land

GIGA Focus | International Edition English | Number 05 |

The production of agrofuel crops is believed to be playing a decisive role in the so-called "land rush," the international scramble for arable land in developing and emerging countries. Reports of an alarming wave of land acquisitions due to "agrofuels Hype" initiated by agrofuel investors have made headlines in recent years. The potential merits and dangers of agrofuel production are the subject of heavy debate, with food-security concerns and environmental impacts fueling the controversy.

Based on data from the Land Matrix Global Observatory, our analysis assesses the role of agrofuel production in the “rush for land” and sheds light on the often-nontransparent investment process of agrofuel projects. We find that these projects account for an important share of the global demand for land. However, the "agrofuels Hype" is over. Land deals with the intention of cultivating agrofuel crops are particularly prone to failure, especially early on in the projects. We expect that the investors that have survived this first period of investments are here to stay, and that "cowboy Investors" have been turned off by difficult investment environments in low- and middle-income countries.

  • Agrofuel production is one of the main drivers of the global rush for land. Twentythree percent of the concluded transnational deals currently recorded in the Land Matrix include plants intended for agrofuel production.

  • Sub-Saharan Africa appears to be the most heavily favored region for agrofuel investments.

  • European investors top the rankings of investor countries for agrofuel projects.

  • Agrofuel crops require huge initial investments and take several years to yield returns. In difficult investment environments, agrofuel projects require experienced and serious investors in order to be successful.

  • Jatropha projects have a particularly high record of failure.

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Suggested Citation Style

Nolte, Kerstin, Martin Ostermeier und Kim Schultze (2014), Food or Fuel – The Role of Agrofuels in the Rush for Land, GIGA Focus International Edition English, 05, August, urn:nbn:de:0168-ssoar-396661


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The GIGA Focus is an Open Access publication and can be read on the Internet and downloaded free of charge at According to the conditions of the Creative-Commons license Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 this publication may be freely duplicated, circulated and made accessible to the public. The particular conditions include the correct indication of the initial publication as GIGA Focus and no changes in or abbreviation of texts.

The German Institute for Global and Area Studies (GIGA) – Leibniz-Institut für Globale und Regionale Studien in Hamburg publishes the Focus series on Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and global issues. The GIGA Focus is edited and published by the GIGA. The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the institute. Authors alone are responsible for the content of their articles. GIGA and the authors cannot be held liable for any errors and omissions, or for any consequences arising from the use of the information provided.

General Editor GIGA Focus Series: Prof. Dr. Sabine Kurtenbach

Dr. Kerstin Nolte is a postdoctoral researcher at the GIGA Institute for African Affairs and Speaker of the Research Team Sustainable Development of GIGA Research Programme 3: Growth and Development.

Martin Ostermeier

Research Fellow / Doctoral Student

Recent Publications by the Authors

Jann Lay / Kerstin Nolte / Kacana Sipangule

Large-Scale Farms in Zambia: Locational Patterns and Spillovers to Smallholder Agriculture

World Development, forthcoming

Insa Flachsbarth / Jann Lay / Kerstin Nolte / Angela Harding / Ward Anseeuw / Jeremy Bourgoin

Responsible Large-Scale Agricultural Investments in and by G20 Countries: A Call for more Transparency

Policy Brief, Task Force 10: Sustainable Energy, Water, and Food Systems, 2020

Kerstin Nolte

Doomed to Fail? Why Some Land-Based Investment Projects Fail

Applied Geography, 11, 2020, 102268

Jann Lay / Kerstin Nolte / Kacana Sipangule

Large-Scale Farms and Smallholders: Evidence from Zambia

GIGA Working Paper, No. 310, February 2018

Jann Lay / Kerstin Nolte

Determinants of foreign land acquisitions in low- and middle-income countries

Journal of Economic Geography, 18, 2018, 1, 59-86