Saturday, April 12, 2008

The other global crisis: rush to biofuels is driving up price of food

I read this news article immediately after watching an episode of Doctor Who, and it seemed a story that would fit right in. 'A dramatic rise in the worldwide cost of food is provoking riots throughout the Third World where millions more of the world's most vulnerable people are facing starvation as food shortages grow and cereal prices soar.' The article says food riots are occurring in many countries, that the riots are due to rising food prices, and the rising food prices are due to food being diverted to biofuel production.

The new market for biofuels has raised grain prices. Corn is being used to produce energy and the market is anticipating hugely increased production in the coming decade. George Bush wants 15 per cent of American cars to run on biofuels by 2017, which will mean trebling maize production. Europe has a set a transport fuels target of 5.75 per cent from biofuels by 2010. As a result, the price of corn has begun to track that of oil quite closely.

In order to preserve our way of life U.S. policies are causing fuel to be produced from the most inefficient fuel source possible which just happens to be food.

Food-riot watch: Port-au-Prince under siege: Food riots seem to be happening around the world on a near-daily basis lately. U.N. peacekeepers fired rubber bullets and tear gas at an angry mob that tried to storm the National Palace in the Hatian capital, Port-au-Prince today. Riots began in Haiti last Wednesday and five people have already been killed in the violence. According to Reuters, the price of rice has doubled over the last six months and Haiti's poor are growing desperate:

If the government cannot lower the cost of living it simply has to leave. That's our decision," said protester Renand Alexandre. "If the police and U.N. troops want to shoot at us, that's OK, because in the end if we are not killed by bullets we'll die of hunger."

Unsurprisingly, Haiti's government is stumped about how to deal with what is, in fact, a growing global crisis.

Haitian leader's answer to food crisis doesn't satisfy critics

...the nationwide protest over rising food prices..."Our children are hungry and we can't feed them," he says. "We know we have a president in this country. So we're forced to get out on the street and cry for help to the people who have the capacity to do something for us. That's why we put up the barricades to block the cars. The president must do something about this."...After demonstrations turned violent and street clashes erupted between United Nations peacekeepers and protesters..."The proposals of the president, as good as they may be for the future of the country, do not solve the immediate problems of the population,"...Food prices are rising around the world, but perhaps nowhere have they had such a devastating impact than in Haiti...Since US troops whisked away former Frmer President Jean-Bertrand Aristide into exile during an armed rebellion in February 2004, the prices of rice and beans have nearly doubled, and in the past six months...

Why costs are climbing
...Unlike past food crises, solved largely by throwing aid at hungry stomachs and boosting agricultural productivity, this one won't go away quickly, experts say. Prices are soaring and stand every chance of staying high because this crisis is different.

A swelling global population, soaring energy prices, the clamouring for meat from the rising Asian middle class, competition from biofuels and hot money pouring into the commodity markets are all factors that make this crisis unique and potentially calamitous. Even with concerted global action, such as rushing more land into cultivation, it will take years to fix the problem....

...Other UN officials have been equally blunt. Sir John Holmes, the UN's top humanitarian official and emergency relief co-ordinator, said this week that soaring food prices threaten political stability. The UN and national governments are especially worried about potentially violent situations in Africa's increasingly crowded urban areas. Rioting triggered by absent or unaffordable food could cripple cities. "The security implications should not be underestimated as food riots are being reported across the globe," Mr. Holmes said....

...Throughout history, the world has seen food shortages and famines triggered by drought, war, pestilence, crop failures and regional overpopulation. In the Chinese famine between 1958 and 1961, an estimated 30 million people died from malnutrition. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, severe food shortages hit India and parts of southeast Asia. Only the emergency shipment of hundreds of thousands of tonnes of grain from the U.S. prevented a humanitarian disaster. Drought, violent conflict, economic incompetence, misfortune and corruption created deadly famines in Ethiopia and Sudan in the first half of the 1980s....

...Starting next week, Britain will require gasoline and diesel sold at the pumps be mixed with 2.5-per-cent biofuel, rising to 5.75 per cent by 2010 and 10 per cent by 2020, in line with European Union directives. Ontario's ethanol-content mandate is 5 per cent. As the content requirements rise, more and more land is devoted to growing crops for fuel, such as corn-based ethanol. In the EU alone, 15 per cent of the arable land is expected to be devoured by biofuel production by 2020....

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