Wednesday, January 9, 2008

[PBN] Swaziland: Biofuels causing starvation


Western appetite for biofuels causing starvation in poor world

IT doesn't get madder than this.

Swaziland is in the grip of a famine and receiving emergency food aid.
Forty percent of its people are facing acute food shortages. So what has
the government decided to export?

Biofuel made from one of its staple crops, cassava. The government has
allocated several thousand hectares of farmland to ethanol production in
the lowveld, which happens to be the place worst hit by drought. It
would surely be quicker and more humane to refine the Swazi people and
put them in our tanks. Doubtless a team of development consultants is
already doing the sums.

This is one of many examples of a trade that was described last month by
Jean Ziegler, the UN's special rapporteur, as "a crime against
humanity". Ziegler took up the call first made by this column for a
five-year moratorium on all government targets and incentives for
biofuel: the trade should be frozen until second-generation fuels - made
from wood or straw or waste - become commercially available. Otherwise,
the superior purchasing power of drivers in the rich world means that
they will snatch food from people's mouths. Run your car on virgin
biofuel, and other people will starve.

Even the International Monetary Fund, (IMF) always ready to immolate the
poor on the altar of business, now warns that using food to produce
biofuels "might further strain already tight supplies of arable land and
water all over the world, thereby pushing food prices up even further".

This week, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation will announce the
lowest global food reserves in 25 years, threatening what it calls "a
very serious crisis". Even when the price of food was low, 850 million
people went hungry because they could not afford to buy it. With every
increment in the price of flour or grain, several million more are
pushed below the breadline.

The cost of rice has risen by 20 percent over the past year, maize by 50
percent, wheat by 100 percent. Biofuels aren't entirely to blame - by
taking land out of food production they exacerbate the effects of bad
harvests and rising demand but almost all the major agencies are now
warning against expansion. And almost all the major governments are
ignoring them. They turn away because biofuels offer a means of avoiding
hard political choices. (Source:

Check for earlier Pacific Biofuel posts:

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