Background: Since the early 2000s, biofuel production has been developed in West Africa with the encouragement and support of notably Europe, Brazil, and China. Yet the development of biofuels can also be viewed from the angle of West African interests. The principle arguments advanced in favor of biofuels pointed to their potential to reduce oil trade deficits and improve the populations’ access to ready, cheap energy. Biofuels consequently began to be put on the political agendas of West African countries. Ten years after the first Jatropha plantations for energy use were established in West Africa, and in the light of the uneven development of the biofuel sector across the region, we analyze the factors that surprisingly led to policy inaction in many of these countries. Methods: We used the concept of policy cycle stages to analyze the involvement of stakeholders in building biofuel policy and the factors behind incomplete public policies. The methods and tools that have been defined for the analysis of the relationships and interplay between actors are based on an analysis of the positions and interests of different stakeholders and on the comparison of their influence and importance in the design and implementation of projects, programs and policies. Our approach is inspired by the literature on Stakeholder Analysis, but also draws from the field of New Institutional Economics. We developed our own analytic framework (the “4C”) which breaks down the interplay between different types of stakeholders and into four types of relationships: coordination, concertation, cooperation and contractualization. Our research process was based on a ranging study conducted between 2011 and 2014. Multilevel approaches were used to understand multi-scale and multi-sector biofuel issues. The analysis employed a large range of methods, including the reading of reports and political texts and conducting interviews. The documentary analysis helped to identify stakeholder groups for the stakeholder analysis. We then carried out interviews with a panel of stakeholders. Results: The study shows that it was the energy ministries of West African countries, encouraged by international cooperation agencies, which stepped forward to establish biofuel strategies, paying little attention to the issues at stake for agricultural producers or local communities. Around the same time, increases in food prices on the international market began to damage the image of biofuels, which came to be perceived as a threat to the food security of populations in developing countries. In several countries dependent on outside technical and financial support, this shift in the international discourse influenced the position of agriculture ministries, which became lukewarm or even opposed to biofuels. An outstanding result of the study is that the double talk at the international level—favorable and unfavorable to biofuels—and power games inside the countries crippled the coordination of public action to support the sector, generated an institutional vacuum, led to conflicts between stakeholders, and hampered the sustainable development of biofuel projects and sectors in several West African countries. In conclusion, we then emphasize the need to turn inaction into action: regulation frameworks must be implemented if the biofuel sector is to survive in West Africa. Conclusions: The development of biofuels in the majority of West African countries suffers from an absence of a clear vision shared by all stakeholders and a lack of coordination between public actors. An institutional vacuum has taken hold which prevents investments in and the sustainable development of the biofuel sector and respectful of the interests of family farmers, who represent the majority of the population. The governments in these countries mainly worked through the ministries in charge of energy, which have become the leaders on the biofuel question. National biofuel policies are thus primarily focused on the energy potential of biofuels and on technical and economic dimensions of processing Jatropha seeds into oil and biodiesel rather than on upstream and downstream social objectives. If the biofuel sector is to survive in West African countries, the inaction of public actors has to be reversed by establishing the institutional frameworks needed to facilitate such development.
Gatete, C., & Dabat, M. H. (2017). From the fuel versus food controversy to the institutional vacuum in biofuel policies: evidence from West African countries. Energy, Sustainability and Society, 7(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13705-017-0114-3