Start A Petition

In a World Hungry for Biofuels, Food Security Must Come First

Health & Wellness  (tags: protection, risks, safety, science, warning, women, society, prevention, nutrition, illness, humans, food, disease, children, ethics, environment, government, health, research, study, diet, death )

- 2010 days ago -
Growing crops for food and fuel together can work but farmers and policymakers must prioritise hungry people and think local

Select names from your address book   |   Help

We hate spam. We do not sell or share the email addresses you provide.


JL A (281)
Friday October 19, 2012, 4:05 pm
In a world hungry for biofuels, food security must come first

Growing crops for food and fuel together can work but farmers and policymakers must prioritise hungry people and think local

MDG A worker shows Jatropha seeds
A worker shows Jatropha seeds in Manica province, Mozambique. Photograph: Carlos Litulo/AFP/Getty Images

Does a U-turn in Brussels spell the end for biofuels? There is no doubting that plans to revise EU biofuel targets downwards mark a major turning point. While failing to go far enough, the EU executive has nonetheless realised it is imprudent to support, let alone mandate, extra biofuel production. Food prices are volatile and pressures on land are increasing in all regions of the world, causing local communities to fear evictions and many small food producers to be priced out of land markets.

The EU has joined a growing consensus, and similar moves from the US would now be welcome: the latest calculations show that US ethanol policies have increased the food bills of poor food-importing countries by more than $9bn (£5.6bn) since 2006.

But where to next? Should we disavow biofuels altogether? The new starting point should be to put food security first. Globally, 25% of land is already degraded, and the remaining productive areas are subject to ever-greater competition from industrial and urban uses. This is exacerbated by the growth of international trade and investment – and the emergence of a truly global market in land rights.

Governments should therefore manage scant resources in a way that puts food production first – both domestically and where imported fuels are concerned. But if we are to measure biofuel developments against new sustainability criteria with a "food security first" logic, what exactly would this entail?

States would need to take into account not only the pressures biofuels can exert on food prices and food-producing land, but also on the structure of agriculture. A subsidy for biofuels is, more often than not, a subsidy for agricultural production models with the biggest economies of scale. About 35% of the 389 large-scale investment acquisitions covered in a 2010 World Bank inventory concerned agrofuels.

But this is not the way things have to be. What if smallholders organised themselves into co-operatives and intercropped biofuel feedstocks with staple crops that were earmarked for local food markets? And what if these smallholders, rather than selling the raw feedstock to refineries at unpredictable market rates, and for little profit, were to rise up the value chain and do the refining themselves?

Models of this type, where biofuel production strengthens local food producers and food systems, rather than uprooting them, are few and far between. But in developing countries there are some encouraging signs that the interests of local farmers and food systems are finally being taken into account.

Indeed, if biofuels are to have a future, they must think small-scale and local. Small-scale farming delivers the inherent win-win of putting income in the hands of farmers who are themselves among the poorest and most food insecure, while supporting those who have a long-term interest in maintaining – and not merely exploiting – the natural resource base. Family farms require positive discrimination, as was noted by the outcome documents of the 2008 International Conference on Biofuels in São Paulo. The revamped mission statement of EU development aid for food security also pledges to support smallholders at every opportunity. This is the context in which all agricultural development – for food or fuel – must be conceived.

The best practice cases of small-scale sustainable biofuel production may not be geared for exports. This is more than a coincidence: once the primary interest of agricultural systems becomes the cheap, bulk production of export commodities, the positive outcomes of smallholder engagement and intercropping of local staples are always likely to be lost.

The Institute for European Environmental Policy (pdf) estimated that, to reach its initial 10% target for renewables in transport fuels, the EU would have had to import 41% of its biodiesel and 50% of its ethanol needs by 2020. So even with lower targets, dependence on imports – and therefore pressure on the structure of farming systems in the global south – are always the likely outcome of EU biofuel mandates.

Lowering the targets is therefore an insufficient guarantee of sustainability. A new logic must be applied domestically and for imported fuel that actively seeks out win-wins for smallholders and local energy uses, while avoiding any radical reshaping of local agricultural structures. This means robust case-by-case impact assessments that are sensitive to food security.

With or without biofuels, many regions are, and will remain, highly reliant on imports to feed their citizens. But if scant productive resources are to be diverted to bioenergy, it should first be asked to what extent local communities are food insecure, whether local resources could not be better used to service local food needs (thus reducing import dependence), what modes of agriculture will be favoured, and whether the current users of this "marginal" land, rather than being evicted, could be helped to become less economically marginal through the development of local markets.

Politicians should not be shy about asking these questions. Only by doing so will they ensure that a "food security first" logic is hardwired into the crucial decisions over how a region should manage its resources.

• Q and A with Olivier De Schutter: Agrofuels and the right to food (pdf)
Olivier De Schutter, UN special rapporteur on the right to food Posted by
Olivier De Schutter
Wednesday 17 October 2012 07.22 EDT


Terry V (30)
Friday October 19, 2012, 4:26 pm

JL A (281)
Friday October 19, 2012, 4:53 pm
You cannot currently send a star to Terry because you have done so within the last week.

Angelika R (143)
Friday October 19, 2012, 5:27 pm
Good post, thx J:L: Infact, the EU cut their target in half from 10% to 5%. But we all know this is insufficiant.
I recently circulated a petition to the EU to STOP BIOFUELS, hope it reached you.

Angelika R (143)
Friday October 19, 2012, 5:37 pm --if you get a page with my data pre filled in, just overwrite or go to just

JL A (281)
Friday October 19, 2012, 5:38 pm
Thanks Angelika. I signed a EU petition, but don't remember enough to know whether or not it was the one you circulated.

Irma Paulme (94)
Friday October 19, 2012, 10:43 pm
In our bid to rehabilitate the environment, the Philippines assists upland communities by employing them in various forestry activities including seedling production all the way to maintenance and protection of established plantations. Our reforestation program targets poverty reduction, food security, biodiversity conservation, climate change mitigation and adaptation as well as economity development.

Past Member (0)
Sunday October 21, 2012, 4:39 am
Thank you.

JL A (281)
Sunday October 21, 2012, 8:10 am
You are welcome Jennifer. Irma, your efforts sound marvelous! I wish you and the program success beyond your wildest expectations!

Becky B (0)
Sunday October 21, 2012, 12:47 pm
I have not seen a world hungry for biofuel, I have only seen a hungry world. Most biofuel is GMO. We don't need it. We need to support small, organic and self sustaining farms. We need to support mass transit and move away from the auto/ highway system. Unless people start to think outside the box we as a country are doomed. We have to make lifestyle changes. Walk, carpool, eat local and seasonal, buy organic. Stop the mass plantings of GMO mono crops and we might have a chance.

Past Member (0)
Sunday October 21, 2012, 2:08 pm
Another solution is just don't use food stock for bio-fuels! Besides, cattails, switch grass, and hemp all are much more efficient bio-fuels than any food stocks.

JL A (281)
Sunday October 21, 2012, 2:11 pm
You are so right Robert!

Mary Donnelly (47)
Sunday October 21, 2012, 2:32 pm
Thanks J.L. A.; couldn't agree more.

JL A (281)
Sunday October 21, 2012, 2:34 pm
You are welcome Mary.

Lois Jordan (63)
Sunday October 21, 2012, 4:02 pm
Noted. Thanks, J.L. It only makes sense that if people are hungry, and food is available, it should not be used as fuel for anything other than humans.

JL A (281)
Sunday October 21, 2012, 4:03 pm
You cannot currently send a star to Lois because you have done so within the last week.

. (0)
Sunday October 21, 2012, 5:07 pm
Noted & Twittered

JL A (281)
Sunday October 21, 2012, 5:27 pm
You cannot currently send a star to Michael because you have done so within the last week.

Frans Badenhorst (582)
Monday October 22, 2012, 5:57 am
noted........ catch 22 situation.......

JL A (281)
Monday October 22, 2012, 6:25 am
You cannot currently send a star to Frans because you have done so within the last week.

Carol Taylor (26)
Monday October 22, 2012, 12:23 pm

JL A (281)
Monday October 22, 2012, 12:36 pm
You are welcome Carol!

JL A (281)
Tuesday October 23, 2012, 3:53 pm
You are welcome a y.

Patricia H. (440)
Wednesday October 24, 2012, 1:20 am

Stella Gamboni (17)
Thursday October 25, 2012, 11:13 am
I have a friend who runs his diesel Volvo on used cooking oil he collects from local restaurants. He may not be doing anything to reduce CO2 emissions but he's driving around for free, he's not using petroleum (imported or otherwise) and his exhaust smells like fried chicken!

JL A (281)
Thursday October 25, 2012, 12:34 pm
You cannot currently send a star to Stella because you have done so within the last week.

Angela Hunter (3)
Friday January 11, 2013, 5:26 am
The trouble is that investing in biofuels is a viable and valuable science if we're to reduce carbon emissions and make a safe place for everyone. Yes, people are hungry, but the world has enough growing land for food, biofuels can exist too and calling for it to stop is utterly ridiculous and childish.
Or, log in with your
Facebook account:
Please add your comment: (plain text only please. Allowable HTML: <a>)

Track Comments: Notify me with a personal message when other people comment on this story

Loading Noted By...Please Wait


butterfly credits on the news network

  • credits for vetting a newly submitted story
  • credits for vetting any other story
  • credits for leaving a comment
learn more

Most Active Today in Health & Wellness

Content and comments expressed here are the opinions of Care2 users and not necessarily that of or its affiliates.

New to Care2? Start Here.