Friday, November 02, 2007

Crops for Food - Or Food for Fuel

Jean Ziegler, the UN Special Rapporteur on The Right to Food, said in a press briefing in New York on 26 October, "It is a crime against humanity to convert agriculturally productive soil into soil which produces foodstuffs that will be burned into biofuel."

He called for a five-year moratorium on biofuel production because the conversion of maize, wheat and sugar into fuels was driving up the prices of food, land and water.

Speaking from Cuba on 1 November, Ziegler told IRIN, "I stand by what I said: biofuel production is a violation of the right to food."

He has argued that biofuels will only lead to more hunger in a world where an estimated 854 million people - 1 out of 6 - already have too little to eat.
Citing FAO figures showing that the world already produced enough food to feed everyone, and could feed 12 billion people - double the current world population - Ziegler told journalists that the 232kg of maize needed to produce 50 litres of ethanol could feed a child in Mexico or Zambia for a year.

In another report the government of Swaziland announced this week that it would be allocating thousands of hectares to a private company to cultivate cassava for biofuel. About 40 percent of the country's one million people are facing acute food and water shortages.

"The quick answer is, 'to grow food for the people', but government's stance is that we need to develop industry and new markets so people can collect wages and buy food..." said Sipho Mthetfwa, an agriculture extension officer in Shiselweni Region

Florence Dube, a food aid worker in Manzini, the main commercial town, said, "There is a need for food today. Food prices are so high that this is an investment as worthy as ethanol. If the fields of Lavumisa can be irrigated to grow cassava, they can be irrigated to grow food for people."

The proponents of prioritising food security over revenue from biofuel cite government's efforts in the 1990s to encourage small-scale farmers to form cooperatives to grow the "cash crop", sugar cane, rather than food. When sugar prices started falling three years ago the cooperatives went bankrupt.


The rush for biofuels could harm the world's poorest people, Oxfam has said. In a new report, the UK aid charity appears to be joining a growing chorus of concern about the side-effects of Europe's drive to get fuel from plants.

Oxfam warns poor farmers risk being forced off their land as industrial farmers cash in on the biofuel bonanza. The rush by big companies and governments in countries such as Tanzania to win a slice of the "EU biofuel pie" threatens to force poor people from their land . This could destroy their livelihoods, lead to the exploitation of workers and hit food availability and prices .

More on biofuels and Africa here

and also here

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