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Amici di Beppe Grillo - Svizzera Romanda Message Board › BIOFUEL ? A CRIME AGAINST THE HUNGRY


A former member
Post #: 96

The impact of biofuels on the right to food

The right to food is defined as:

?the right to have regular, permanent and unrestricted access, either directly or by means of financial purchases, to quantitatively and qualitatively adequate and sufficient food corresponding to the cultural traditions of the people to which the consumer belongs, and which ensures a physical and mental, individual and collective, fulfilling and dignified life free of fear?.

For millions of people around the world this basic human right is today gravely and permanently violated. The number of people suffering from hunger has increased every year since 1996. This number has now reached an estimated 854 million people, despite Government commitments at the 2002 World Food Summit and at the 2000 Millennium Summit to eradicate hunger. Every five seconds, a child below ten dies from hunger and malnutrition-related diseases. One hundred thousand people die from hunger or its immediately related diseases every day.

Global plans to increase rapidly the production of ?biofuels? or what is termed by many environmental and social organizations in developing countries, ?agrofuels? constitutes a grave menace for the hungry of the world. Rushing to turn food crops ? maize, wheat, sugar, palm oil ? into fuel for cars, without first examining the impact on global hunger is a recipe for disaster. It is estimated that to fill one car tank with biofuel (about 50 litres) would require about 200 kg of maize ? enough to feed one person for one year.

Lester Brown from the Earth Policy Institute, briefing the United States Senate in June 2006 suggested that, ?the stage is now set for direct competition for grain between the 800 million people who own automobiles, and the world?s 2 billion poorest people?. Increasingly unconvinced of the positive net impact of the production of agrofuels on carbon dioxide emissions, non-governmental organizations have started to call for a global moratorium on the expansion of agrofuels until the potential social, environmental and human rights impacts can be fully examined and appropriate regulatory structures put in place to prevent or mitigate any negative impacts.

The sudden explosion of interest in agrofuels is evident in massive increases in investment and the setting of ambitious renewable-fuel targets across the Western countries. The European Union now requires that agrofuels provide 5.75 per cent of member States? transport power by 2010 and 10 per cent by 2020. The United States has set targets to increase usage of agrofuel for energy to 35 billion gallons per year. The President of the United States, George W. Bush, and the President of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, signed an agreement in March 2007 committing those two countries to increase their ethanol production. But why are agrofuels so suddenly being promoted? One answer is that Governments are finally waking up to the need to do something about global warming and climate change. Another answer is that Governments see the need to reduce dependence on oil for strategic reasons in the current war on terror. In his 2007 State of the Union message, President Bush was explicit about this goal: ?It?s in our vital interest to diversify America?s energy supply ... Let us build on the work we?ve done and reduce gasoline usage in the United States by 20 per cent in the next 10 years. When we do that we will have cut our total imports by the equivalent of three quarters of all the oil we now import from the Middle East.? Garten Rothkopf, author of a new report commissioned by the Inter-American Development Bank, Blueprint for Green Energy in the Americas, has argued that Latin America will be the new Middle East: ?Latin America will be the Persian Gulf of biofuels, except that of course Latin America is much more stable as a source of energy.? Another reason is pressure from the agro-industrial interests that will benefit from a rapid expansion in the production of agrofuels. As oil prices rise, it becomes more viable to invest in alternative energies, the ?green gold? of biofuels.

I use the term ?agrofuels? interchangeably with the more commonly used expression of ?biofuels?. Using the term ?agrofuels? highlights how the interests of the agro-industrial monopolies will dominate over the interests of the world?s poor and hungry, especially in the developing world. As E. Holt-Giménez of Food First has argued, the myths of the green and pure image of ?biofuel? are being used to ?obscure the political-economic relationships between land, people?s resources and food, and fail to help us to understand the profound consequences of the industrial transformation of our food and fuel systems?. If there are not conscious efforts to ensure that producing biofuels does not bring greater hunger in its wake, then the poor and hungry will be the victims of

these new fuels.
A former member
Post #: 97
What is agrofuel?

The two main types of agrofuel are bioethanol and biodiesel. Both are produced from a variety of food crops. Bioethanol is produced from sweet and starchy crops, which can be fermented to produce alcohol ? mostly sugar cane and maize, but also sugar beet, potatoes, wheat or even manioc (the staple food of many African nations). Biodiesel is produced from vegetable oils by reaction of the oil with methanol. The oils used are mostly from soya, palm or rapeseed, but also from peanuts, coconuts and many other oil-rich plants. P. Garde in his study on biofuels in Senegal points out that most of the plants used for agrofuels are food products and form the basic staple foods of millions of people in the poorest regions of the world, including in Africa, where food security is already seriously in peril.

These food crops can be directly converted into energy and can be used to fuel cars and other transport. Up to 10 per cent of bioethanol can be mixed into normal petrol and can run in any car. Cars with specialized engines can also run on 100 per cent bioethanol, although so far Brazil is the only country to have made substantive progress with these cars. Biodiesel can also be blended directly into standard diesel and can be used by standard diesel engine cars. Adding between 5 and 10 per cent of biofuel to petrol and diesel can simply replace additives that oil companies normally add to improve combustion. Current forecasts therefore suggest that biofuels will account for less than 5 per cent of total transport fuel use in 2010. ?Because most liquid biofuels will be consumed as blends with gasoline or petroleum diesel, biofuels will for some time to come be complements to petroleum-based transport fuels, not major competitors with them?, the Director of Research of the Global Subsidies Initiative, Ronald Steenblik, has observed. This means that, so far, oil companies do not feel threatened by the shift towards agrofuels. On the contrary, the global corporate monopolies of oil, grain, cars and biotechnology are rushing to consolidate partnerships: Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM) with Monsanto, Chevron with Volkswagen, BP and DuPont with Toyota.

Global production of agrofuels is currently dominated by one continent (the Americas) and one type of fuel (bioethanol). This bioethanol is produced mostly from maize (in the United States) or sugar cane (in Brazil). The United States has doubled its production of bioethanol over the past five years and has now overtaken Brazil as the dominant producer. Brazil, which produced over 12 million tons of ethanol in 2006, much of it for the domestic market, plans to become a dominant producer for the global market by 2025. By contrast, Europe?s production of ethanol, at 3.5 million tons, is still relatively low. However, Europe dominates the production of biodiesel, using rapeseed oil and palm oil predominantly imported from India and Malaysia, although biodiesel production remains one tenth of total ethanol production. Other than Brazil, few developing countries produce significant amounts, but China, Colombia, India and Thailand have started production. So far, production is focused on food crops in the ?first generation? of agrofuels and there has been little production and investment in what are known as ?second-generation? cellulose-based fuels which could convert non-food crops and agricultural wastes (for example, the fibrous stalks of wheat) for production.

Global consumption of agrofuels is low, but will rise rapidly under targets set in the European Union, the United States and Latin America. The European Union has set targets requiring that agrofuels provide up to 10 per cent of transport fuels by 2020. The United States has also set targets to increase the use of agrofuel. But the target objectives cannot be met by agricultural production in the industrialized countries. It has been estimated that Europe would have to devote 70 per cent of its arable lands to agrofuel production to meet these objectives and the United States would have to convert its entire production of maize and soya into ethanol and biodiesel.

Therefore, the industrialized countries of the North are very interested in the production of the countries of the southern hemisphere to meet these needs. According to FIAN International, the United States and the European Union are heavily dependent on imports from Latin America of soya, sugar cane and palm oil, some African countries, such as Nigeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Ghana, for palm oil and Asian countries, including India, Indonesia and Malaysia, which are the main palm oil producers. Such production is also much cheaper in developing countries. For example, it is much cheaper to produce a litre of ethanol in Brazil (15 Euro cents) than in the United States (30 Euro cents) or Europe (50 Euro cents).

Increasing food prices

I insist: It is unacceptable that increasing production of biofuels should lead to greater hunger. The greatest risk is that dependence on the agro-industrial model of production will fail to benefit poor peasant farmers and will generate violations of the right to food. As the Brazilian Landless Workers? Movement argues, ?the current model of production for bio-energy is sustained by the same elements that have always been the cause of the oppression of our peoples? ? the appropriation of land, concentration of ownership and the exploitation of the labour force.

The prices of basic staple foods are likely to increase, threatening economic access to sufficient food, particularly for the poorest who already spend a high proportion of their incomes on food. The well-regarded think tank, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), has estimated that prices will rise dramatically in the near future if the production of biofuels is increased. It is estimated that there could be a rise of 20 per cent in the international price of maize between now and 2010, and 41 per cent by 2020. The prices of vegetable oil crops, especially soya and sunflower seeds could increase by 26 per cent by 2010 and 76 per cent by 2020, and wheat prices could increase by 11 per cent and then by 30 per cent. In the poorest regions of sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and Latin America, the price of manioc could rise by 33 per cent and up to 135 per cent by 2020.

IFPRI believes that this will set up a battle of ?food versus fuel?, unless there are urgent investments in moving to the second generation of biofuels that will not depend so much on food products. The consequences of such a rapid increase in food prices would be grave. IFPRI projects that the number of people suffering from undernourishment would increase by 16 million people for each percentage point increase in the real price of staple food. This could mean that 1.2 billion people would be suffering from hunger by 2025.
A former member
Post #: 98
There are already reports that the global maize price has doubled over the past year. Vast swathes of edible maize varieties have been replaced by industrial maize. There are serious concerns that, as the United States produces more than two thirds of the world?s grain imports, the diversion of maize to ethanol distilleries will have a huge impact on global prices and availability, including for food aid. Mexico faced food riots in February 2007 after the price of maize tortillas rose by over 400 per cent in January 2007, severely affecting the poorest for whom the basic staple tortilla makes up 45 per cent of family expenses. Although Mexico was traditionally a net exporter of maize, it has become a net importer because of so-called ?free-trade? agreements, which have opened up Mexican markets to unfair competition with the dumping of subsidized maize exports from the United States and have displaced Mexican production. There are therefore serious risks for all developing countries that are net importers of basic staple foods.

Although increasing food prices should theoretically benefit millions of people working as peasant farmers in developing countries, this is not always the case. Many farming families are net buyers of staple foods, as they do not have enough land to be self-sufficient, and will therefore be affected by rising consumer prices. In addition, prices received by farmers at the farm gate are often exploitatively low, particularly for remote farmers with little choice of whom to sell their crops to, and often do not reflect global prices because of the greed of intermediaries. If increased agricultural production is to benefit poor peasant farmers, it will be essential to build mechanisms, such as cooperatives and non-exploitative out-grower schemes, that would ensure a trickle-down to the poorest.

Increasing competition over land and forests, and forced evictions

A rapid increase in the prices of food crops will intensify competition over land and other natural resources, including forest reserves. This will pit peasant farmers and indigenous communities of forest dwellers against massive agribusiness corporations and large investors who are already buying up large swathes of land or forcing peasants off their land. The Belgian human rights organization Human Rights Everywhere (HREV) has already documented forced evictions, the appropriation of land and other violations of human rights in the palm oil plantations in Colombia, documenting responsibilities of all the actors along the production chain. Forced evictions constitute clear violations of the obligations to respect and protect people?s existing access to food, and all corporations involved in the production of biofuels should avoid complicity in these violations.

Lessons must be learned from the more recent expansion of soya production across Latin America, which has contributed to the deforestation of vast swathes of the Amazonian basin and has resulted in the forcible eviction of many peasants and indigenous peoples from their lands. The non-governmental organization FIAN International has documented the complicity of agroindustrial corporations, large landowners and security forces in forced evictions in Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Paraguay and Indonesia. In some cases, agribusiness companies urge peasants to sell their land, in others the companies occupy land without informing the communities who have been living there for decades. In Paraguay, where the area planted with soya has more than doubled since the 1990s (mainly in the regions of Itapúa, Alto Paraná and Canindeyú), many indigenous communities do not possess land titles and have been forcibly evicted. Houses, crops and animals were burned in the community of the Tetaguá Guarani, in the Primero de Marzo peasant camp and in the community of María Antonia. It is estimated that 350 similar cases occurred in Paraguay between 1990 and 2004. In Argentina, peasants and indigenous families have been evicted from their land in the provinces of Córdoba, Santiago del Estero, Salta, Mendoza, Misiones and Jujuy. Villagers in the province of Santiago del Estero have been systematically threatened by soya agribusiness, by the paramilitaries paid to protect it, and by the state police. In the Colombian region of Chocó, communities of indigenous people and people of African descent have been evicted from their land after oil palm growing companies occupied the land. Similar cases have been recorded in Indonesia and Cameroon.
A former member
Post #: 99
Increasing competition over land and forests, and forced evictions

Although the increase in agrofuel production could offer better employment, MST in Brazil has already protested the ?slavery? conditions faced by workers on the country?s sugar-cane plantations. Alexandre Conceicao, a member of the MST national leadership in the northern state of Pernambuco, has warned that ?the social cost of this policy is the overexploitation of labour with an army of seasonal workers who cut one ton of sugar cane for 2.50 reals (1.28 dollars) in precarious conditions which have already caused the deaths of hundreds of workers?. And Camila Moreno, an expert in agrarian development at the Rural University of Rio de Janeiro, has warned that the growth of the ethanol industry is breathing life into ?a modern-day version of the sugar plantation slave-labour past?.

Although promises are being made that the production of biofuels will provide more jobs, there are risks that, given competition over land with peasant farmers, biofuel production may result in greater unemployment. In Brazil, it is estimated that 100 hectares dedicated to family farming generate at least 35 jobs, while 100 hectares dedicated to industrial farming of sugar cane and oil palm plantations provide only 10 jobs, and of soybeans half a job. If industrial farming takes over land formerly dedicated to family farming, the net effect will be fewer jobs. The possibilities for agrarian reform to increase access to land for landless families may also be halted. Biofuels can, however, be produced by non-industrial family farming that provides more employment: in Brazil, 30 per cent of sugar cane production is in the hands of 60,000 small producers.

The production of biofuels will require substantial amounts of water, diverting water away from the production of food crops. So far, few substantive studies have been undertaken to examine the impact of biofuel production on water resources and reflect the true environmental and social costs, although this was a central concern of the World Water Week international meeting held in Stockholm in August 2006. Rising prices of water would limit access to water for the poorest communities, in ways that would negatively affect the right to food.

The moratorium

Rather than persuading us to use less energy, the false promise of agrofuels suggests that we can help the climate by simply changing fuels. Yet many studies have shown that agrofuels may not even be ?carbon-neutral? or make much contribution to setting off carbon dioxide emissions, once account is taken of the fossil fuels that are still needed to plant, harvest and process food crops for biofuels under highly mechanized industrial models of production. Agrofuel production is unacceptable if it brings greater hunger and water scarcity to the poor in developing countries.

I therefore call for a five-year moratorium on biofuels production using current methods, to allow time for technologies to be devised and regulatory structures to be put in place to protect against negative environmental, social and human rights impacts. Many measures can be put in place during such a moratorium to ensure that biofuel production can have positive impacts and respect the right to adequate food. These measures include promoting the need to reduce overall energy consumption and maintaining focus on all other methods of improving energy efficiency.

A second measure is moving immediately to ?second generation? technologies for producing biofuels, which would reduce the competition between food and fuel. Agricultural wastes and crop residues could be used. As IFPRI has pointed out: ?the efficient exploitation of agricultural wastes presents significant potential for developing bioenergy without unduly disrupting existing agricultural practices and food production or requiring new land to come into production?. Common crop residues that can be used include maize cobs, sugar cane bagasse, rice husks and banana leaves. In this way, biofuel production could be complementary to existing agriculture, rather than competing with it, and would not require massive diversion of food, land and water resources away from food production. Food prices would therefore remain stable, but farmers would have profitable ways of disposing of agricultural waste products, benefiting both consumers and producers.

Another measure is adopting technologies that use non-food crops, particularly crops that can be grown in semi-arid and arid regions. The cultivation of Jatropha Curcas, a shrub that produces large oil-bearing seeds, appears to offer a good solution as it can be grown in arid lands that are not normally suitable for food crops. Over half of Africa?s arid lands are considered suitable for Jatropha cultivation and cultivating this plant would not only produce biofuel but could simultaneously provide livelihoods for African farmers, increase the productivity of the soil and reverse land degradation and desertification.

A further measure is ensuring that biofuel production is based on family agriculture, rather than industrial models of agriculture, in order to ensure more employment and rural development that provides opportunities, rather than competition, to poor peasant farmers. Organizing cooperatives of small farmers to grow crops for larger processing firms would provide much more employment than the concentration of land into heavily mechanized expanses and plantations. As ActionAid has pointed out ?Biofuel could even be an important tool to fight hunger and poverty if it come together with a set of appropriate policies involving smallholder farmers.?

In conclusion, the international community, specifically the United Nations, must take action. The problem of biofuel production cannot be left to the uncontrolled forces of the free market. In a world where every day over 100,000 people are dying from hunger or its immediately related causes, the uncontrolled production of biofuel is a crime against the hungry.

Jean Ziegler is the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, and author of the book ?L?Imperio della vergogna? (Milano
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