Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Will EU demand for biofuel mean starvation for world's poorest?
April 29, 2009
The controversy surrounding the use of biofuel in road fuel has heightened as one African publication accuses the biofuel industry of taking food directly out of the mouths of the hungry. Business Daily Africa’s article entitled ‘Africa to feed EU’s appetite for biofuels as its people starve’ explores the relationship between the European Union’s introduction of a biofuel directive in 2008 and rises in food prices.
In addition to concerns about the true carbon footprint and environmental cost of biofuel, a coalition of international charities accuses the EU Biofuel Directive (which requires all road fuel used by member states to consist of 10 per cent biofuel by 2020) of making biofuels much more profitable than feeding the hungry, the publication reports.
The French chapters of Friends of the Earth, Oxfam, Catholic Committee against Hunger and for Development (CCFD) report that the figures speak for themselves; 232 kilos of maize are needed to produce 50 litres of ethanol — roughly enough to fill an average car tank, or enough to provide the amount of calories a child needs in a year.
Ambroise Mazal, who heads CCFD’s side of the campaign against biofuels told Business Daily Africa: ‘‘The problem remains that, as of today, the EU can produce a mere two per cent of the required total [to meet the Biofuel Directive]. European agriculture could potentially account for half of the required 10 per cent, but the rest will have to be imported from outside the EU.”
According to the publication, many African countries have expanded single-crop farming surfaces as a response to European hunger for biofuel, leading to land, water and other limited resources being diverted from scarce food-producing crops.
Several international institutions including the International Monetary Fund have acknowledged the social, economic and nutritional impacts on developing countries and their already tense food resources. Despite this, several African states have drafted policies in favour of biofuel crops.
Here in the UK, the Renewable Fuels Agency which was set up by the Government to implement the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO), a response to the EU Biofuel Directive, commissioned the Gallagher Review last year to investigate the link between biofuels, rising carbon emissions and spiralling food prices.
The report concluded that the use of biofuels in road fuel had lead to some unintended environmental and social problems. An amendment was subsequently made to the first target set out RTFO, to 5 per cent biofuel by 2013-14 instead of the initial target of 5 per cent by 2010-11, but it failed to halt the demand for biofuel.
The UK exceeded its biofuel obligations last year, making around 2.7 per cent of the total UK road transport fuel supply. Research last year by Friends of the Earth found that some fuel suppliers were adding twice as much biofuel as required by law, bulking out their fuel with cheap biofuel and defying the RFO’s call to slow demand for the controversial ‘green’ fuel.
In Senegal, a country affected by food riots a year ago, up to 200,000 hectares (10 per cent of the country’s arable land) might be set aside for jatropha crops for biofuels.
Second and third generation biofuels are supposed to limit environmental and social impacts because of either the use of non food-producing crops or biomass such as algae and fungus.
‘‘That’s a sham,’’ insists Mazal, ‘‘because second generation fuels made from non-edible crops still take up arable lands and the research is far from developing sustainable biomass in laboratories.’’
To read the full article, visit Business Daily Africa.
What do you think? Should the EU and the UK halt obligations for biofuels until such time as we can be sure of the environmental and social impacts? Should fossil fuel suppliers be stopped from exceeding legal obligations on biofuel? Are biofuels green?