The ongoing debate about biofuels is very diverse. What first seemed a good option to fight climate change has now caused concern in different fields.
Especially since the EU decided last March that until 2020 10% of biofuels should substitute conventional energies, many criticize not only the unclear ecological contribution of biofuels but also increasing prices of staple food and disadvantages for small farmers.
Brazil’s president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and president of Senegal Abdoulaye Wade dream of a “biofuels revolution” that could help developing countries fight poverty through job creation, become less dependent on oil imports and at the same time stick to Kyoto Protocol. But the already intensified biofuels production in developed countries leads together with other factors to higher food prices that affect mostly the poor population of developing countries. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) states that Africa’s cereal import would rise for estimated 49% this year.
A “crime against humanity” is what Jean Ziegler, UN Special Rapporteur on The Right to Food calls the biofuels production. It becomes a competition between food and fuel. “The grain required to fill the petrol tank of a Range Rover with ethanol is sufficient to feed one person per year” states World Conservation Union’s chief scientist Jeffrey A McNeely. One “hungry African village” could be fed for one year with the amount of grain used for the same time to refill the tank every two weeks.
It sounds absurd but it seems to become more and more reality if the EU sticks to its goal: Poor Africans die of starvation while the rich use the necessary food to drive cars without even fighting climate change.
One could start thinking positive if at least the small farmers would profit. But Oxfam expects the small farmers not being able to afford to produce quality oil for alternative fuel and that they will instead work for big farmers who set up huge plantations. Oxfam highlights risks emerging in this regard, e.g. exploitation of workers as in countries like Indonesia, Brazil and Tanzania.
Especially without governmental regulation biofuel production becomes a threat for the poor population in developing countries. It probably is a chance for the economy to grow but it is uncertain that this helps the increasing poor population which will be sitting in front of empty plates.