Sunday, June 8, 2008

Bioenergy: Fuelling the food crisis?

There's a 'UN food price crisis summit in Rome' at which a debate is occurring about biofuels. On the one hand they are seen as the ultimate in green fuels, but on the other hand the rise of biofuels is impacting the availability of food. To grow biofuels means to divert farmland and food production equipment or people into production of biofuel material.

Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Director General Jacques Diouf agrees. He says it is incomprehensible that "$11bn-$12bn (£5.6bn-£6.1bn) a year in subsidies and protective tariff policies have the effect of diverting 100 million tonnes of cereals from human consumption, mostly to satisfy a thirst for vehicles".

It might be this diversion of food to making fuel is not affecting prices much, because the amount being diverted is very small. And at the same time there are weather related issues in grain producing countries, and generally increased consumption. The story is not simple.

"The most direct effect is the diversion of land from corn, sugarcane and other crops to biofuels instead of food and seed that also shifts land out of other crops, sometimes out of rice and wheat. Once the price of corn starts going up, there was some shift from poor consumers in Africa to alternatives like rice."

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