Thought Archive

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Food and fuel

Everyone is talking about food crisis now. At the risk of appearing boastful I claim that this was obvious to me last year that food prices should catastrophically increase worldwide. My assumptions stemmed from a simple premise that the commodities are now will be short supply – and food is most of all. One of the culprit in the current crisis are biofuels. Farming, much maligned and neglected in the West suddenly takes on an aura of importance.

As New Statesman says “the biofuels take food out of the mouths of starving people and divert them to be burned as the fuel in the car engines of the the worlds’ rich consumers”. It is scandalous that for some nebulous climate change targets petrol retailers in UK must now mix biofuels into the fuel sold to motorists. This is only set to grow, whereas it should be stopped.. Just where do the European governments and investors think these bioufuels will come from? Not from rhubarb production in Kent – that is for sure.

The threat posed by biofuels affects all of us. Demand for ethanol in Brazil destroys Amazonian rain forest by freeing more and more land for soya and sugar cane plantations. What’s more, making producing corn and soya and sugar cane was all about food. Now West’s transportation needs and desire to diminish CO2 emissions drives the world’s prices up.

Of course biofuels are not only reason to blame in the current crisis. The era of the cheap food is over, and even quality mega-farming in the West can not engineer surplus. There are just to many people in developing countries – China and India in particular – that want to eat more food and more varied food than little bowl of rice there were used to before. With the world population growing to 9 billion a year there are just too many mouths to feed as the proportion of those with higher incomes among those billions grows. Worse still, the Western insistence on biofuels and crises created by it will now bury the free trade in food forever. It is high time for subsides and these will be kept. When people riot on the streets and stand in bread queues the prices have to be kept at the level to satisfy those who might go hungry and without subsidies or credits to farmers this is not possible.

There are things to be undertaken to rectify what has been done.

  1. Immediate discontinuation of biofuel initiatives except as local solutions. CO2 emissions can and should be curbed in more sensible ways – like hybrid cars and more efficient engines.

  2. Stop resistance to GM foods and move back from organic produce except only by choice. Beyond obvious patronizing of European middle classes towards the developing world western organic produce exists because of farm subsidies. Besides, humanity genetically engineered crops for centuries without harm. I will not myself would like to eat chemically induced food, however this right should not be denied to someone who would otherwise starve.

  3. Food policy. Agriculture is a strategic industry and responsible countries have to resort to sound agricultural policies such as credits, tax breaks and protectionism. The foodstuff from poor countries should not all end up in the West which willing to pay even higher price for them, without providing basic needs of poor first. The West on the other hand has to grow its some of its own food, rather than rely on other countries for imports. Japan, which imports almost of its food, and where farming is all but dead, is the prime example of a potential loser.

Now I have been told of biofuels in algae production will be able to tip the balance when technological breakthrough is achieved. I foresee, however, that this is a partial solution and will not address the food crisis in full. The algae require plantations, sunlight and plenty of land. What we need for growing food is plenty of land for farming. The oldest of human professions – is back on the spotlight.


Riri said...

I don't trust the oil undystry when it slags off biofuels, although I know that som oil companies are trading in biofuels. Who knows why this food crisis is looming, it's probably a combination of factors - ountries are becoming more industrialised and farming is quickly receding at the expense of more buildings and urbanisation. It is a trend that has been going on ever since the industrial revolution and now it is being felt on a big scale. However, famine, poverty and hunger have always been there and saying we want to change it is nice, but am sure most people would rather let it carry on than make big changes to their lifestyle. It is sad but true, that is the real problem.

Hazar Nesimi said...

So you think I am some sort of Oil company mouthpiece? Acting out of the self interest?

Riri said...

I may well be thinking that yes. Do you have anything to say in your self-defense?

Hazar Nesimi said...

Nothing - I blatantly admit i receive my salary from a monstrous corporation that supples World with energy. I just things that growing plants for fuel instead of food is preposterous. How about using cow dong. This will be a big world stink if we do that.

Sensible is just to consume less as you rightly pointed out.but humans can not stop.
btw, whazzup...

Hazar Nesimi said...

And are you against GM food too,., then you are a real leftie i guess!

Riri said...

No am not against GM food but am not for it either. What am against is that some fortunate ones who drive about in empty cars and shop at Planet Organic should dare to raise the banner for GM foods as being the miracle solution to the world's hunger and poverty problem.

People have always starved, died in wars and genocides. The fact that their number is increasing to levels which are starting to make it impossible for us to pretend that it ain't happening is our problem more than the poor's problem.