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FAO/UNEP/UN-Energy Bioenergy Decision Support Tool -
MODULE 5: Land Resources
defned as forests of outstanding and critical importance due to
their environmental, socio-economic, biodiversity or landscape
Central to the HCV concept is the recognition that areas may
have many different types of conservation value and that these
need to be defned in national or local contexts. The HCV toolkit
(Jennings et al. 2004) provides the basis for doing this with a
specially constituted working group that develops detailed criteria
around six major types of conservation value:
• Areas containing globally, regionally or nationally signifcant
concentrations of biodiversity values (e.g. protected areas,
threatened and endangered species, endemic species, areas
important at particular times);
• Globally, regionally or nationally signifcant large landscape
level ecosystems, contained within, or containing the
management unit, where viable populations of most if not
all naturally occurring species exist in natural patterns of
distribution and abundance;
• Areas that are in or contain rare, threatened or endangered
• Areas that provide basic services of natural remediation (e.g.
watershed protection, erosion control, prevention of destruc-
tive fre);
• Areas fundamental to meeting basic needs of local communi-
ties (e.g. subsistence, health);
• Areas critical to local communities’ traditional cultural identity
(areas of cultural, ecological, economic or religious signif-
cance identifed in cooperation with such local communities).
The HCV concept should ideally be implemented by developing
national (or sub-national) interpretations that clearly defne HCVs
in relation to the local context. The appropriate forum for national
interpretation of HCVs will vary; it can usefully be undertaken by
a technical working group, or a broad based multi-stakeholder
group that includes expertise on the full range of topics in the
HCV defnition, including biological, environmental services and
social aspects, and also represents a broad range of views and
experience. Once the nationally or locally appropriate defnitions
have been agreed upon, it will be necessary to make an assess-
ment of the land area to determine the presence of attributes
consistent with the High Conservation Values. The detail and
complexity of such an assessment will depend on the size of
the area to be assessed and its signifcance relative to the wider
landscape. It needs to make the best possible use of all available
information and tools and ensure that relevant experts are
In summary, it is important to establish assessment processes
that bioenergy production avoids adverse impacts on areas
of importance for biodiversity, which are best defned in terms
of several different aspects of conservation importance. Even
apparently marginal or degraded lands may have importance
and value for biodiversity that need to be considered in planning
bioenergy development. The tools discussed above can help
to identify such areas so that they can be taken into account in
project planning. Bioenergy production on land already converted
for agricultural production may have adverse effects on such
areas through displacement of agriculture for food production,
as discussed above. Decisions on bioenergy production should
as far as possible take account of such displacement and its
potential impacts on areas important for biodiversity.
Marginal and Degraded Lands
The opportunity cost of using land for bioenergy (as with any type
of production in relation to any resource) is equivalent to its value
in alternative uses. Certain types of land thus have lower opportu-
nity cost, including abandoned agricultural lands, degraded lands,
or economically or biophysically marginal lands. The increasing
pressures on land due to increasing demand for food, feed, fbre
and fuel has thus led to a greater debate and analysis on the use
of marginal or degraded lands for bioenergy crop production,
which can serve multiple purposes. Proponents argue that these
lands should be utilized because:
it makes use of lands that are diffcult or costly to use for food
it limits the potential for future competition with food produc-
if managed appropriately, marginal and/or degraded lands
can restore or improve soil quality and return land to produc-
tive use;
• can create carbon sinks by improving soil health and increas-
ing aboveground vegetation;
The use of such lands for bioenergy can reduce competition with
food production, improve soil quality or land productivity and
enhance carbon sequestration. The use of perennial and drought-
resistant crops can be especially valuable in such situations.
Production on marginal or degraded land, however, faces
signifcant challenges. The initial investment may be high or the
yields may not be high enough to generate returns on investment.
Even for crops with low threshold input requirements, increased
use of irrigation and fertilizer might be pursued to increase yields,
thereby potentially creating additional competitive pressures for
water and other inputs.
Furthermore, some lands considered as abandoned, marginal or
degraded may nevertheless have biodiversity or carbon storage
value, as well as having cultural signifcance. As with most
decision processes related to bioenergy, the local context must
be considered as the new uses for bioenergy and co-products are
compared with existing and alternative uses.
Land can be marginal from either a biophysical perspective or
from an economic perspective. From a biophysical perspective
land can be considered marginal if it can only support yields of up
to 40 percent of the potential for a specifc crop, thus making the
defnition crop-specifc. From an economic perspective marginal
land can be defned as an area where cost-effective production
is not possible under given conditions, cultivation techniques,
agriculture policies as well as macro-economic and legal
settings (Schroers, 2006). Commercial production of bioenergy
on marginal land is therefore not always an option. Land may
be regarded as marginal due to remote location, but become
available for cost-effective production – and also lose its marginal
status – if investment in infrastructure improves connections and
reduces transport and transaction costs.
The fact that subsistence farmers may occupy and use lands
considered as marginal, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, further
complicates the defnitions and the manner in which such