Biofuels have come under increasing scrutiny due to adverse environmental and social impacts. In this context, the potential benefits of biofuel development for small family farmers is frequently overlooked. We analyze how sustainability standards and regulatory safeguards try to integrate family farmers' concerns in complex biofuels commodity chains. The study is based on castor feedstock production in the semi-Arid northeast of Brazil, where family farmers participate in the National Program on Biodiesel Production and Use through the Social Fuel Certificate mechanism. Our findings indicate that strong regulatory frameworks such as the Social Fuel Certificate are necessary to incentivize family farmer participation and guarantee their benefits. However, they may still be insufficient for sustainable rural development given existing livelihood diversification and limited impact of feedstock production on family income. Sustainable development in less-developed regions such as the semi-Arid northeast will thus likely depend on broader development strategies rather than process-oriented sustainability standards. © 2012 Future Science Ltd.
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