Biofuels and World Hunger
Damning report confirms critic’s charge that industrial biofuels are responsible
for world’s food and hunger crisis Dr. Mae-Wan Ho
Biofuels are conservatively estimated to have been responsible for at least 30
percent of the global food price spike in 2008 that pushed 100 million people
into poverty and drove some 30 million more into hunger, according to the
report, Meals per gallon, released by the UK charity ActionAid in February 2010
. The number of chronically hungry people now exceeds one billion.
The report blames the biofuels targets set by the European Union (EU), and
concomitantly, the huge financial incentives given to the biofuels industry,
which together, provide a powerful driver for industrial biofuels. In 2006, the
EU biofuel industry was already supported by tax exemptions and agricultural
subsidies to the sum of €4.4 billion. In 2008, EU member states committed
themselves to a target of 10 percent of transport fuels from renewable sources
(i.e., biofuels) by 2020. If the same level of subsidies continues, the industry
would receive €13.7 billion per year.
If all global biofuels targets are to be met, food prices could rise by up to an
additional 76 percent by 2020 and starve an extra 600 million people.
Fuel vs food
The main agricultural crops used for industrial biofuels are vegetable and seed
oils such as palm, soy, sunflower, rapeseed, and jatropha for biodiesel, maize,
wheat and sugars for ethanol. Except for jatropha (see later), the feedstock are
all food crops. The most immediate effect of the push for industrial biofuels is
to compete with food for feedstock, thereby inflating food prices. The Food and
Agricultural Organisation estimates that in 2008/9, 125 million tonnes of
cereals were diverted into biofuel production. In 2010, more cereal (1 107
million tonnes) were diverted into animal feed and industrial uses than for
feeding people (1 013 million tonnes). Overall, world food prices increased by
75 percent from 2006 to the middle of 2008, but the price for staple food grains
(such as wheat, rice and maize) went up by 126 percent. For the 82 low income
food deficient countries, import bills shot up. Each 10 percent increase in the
price of cereals adds nearly US$4.5 billion to the total cereals import cost of
developing countries that are net importers. Independent analysts have concluded
that industrial biofuels have been responsible for 30 to 75 percent of the
global food price increase in 2008.
To make matters much worse, huge tracts of land have been taken out of food
production, exacerbating landlessness everywhere (see  ‘Land Rush’ as Threats
to Food Security Intensify, SiS 46). ActionAid reports that  in just five
African countries 1.1 million hectares have been given over to industrial
biofuels for export; while 1.4 million ha were taken over simultaneously to
produce food for export. As biofuels displace food from agricultural land in
developed countries, and as rich countries run out of water for agriculture,
food production is increasingly outsourced to cheap land available in poor
Food and fuel are competing everywhere for land. EU companies have already
acquired or requested at least five million hectares of land for industrial
biofuels in developing countries . Just to meet the EU’s ten percent target
would require 17.5 million hectares for growing biofuels in developing
Landlessness and hunger
While driving up food prices can create hunger, driving people off the land that
they have traditionally cultivated deprives them of the last resort of growing
their own food. This is happening all over the developing world.
In , farms are destroyed for industrial biofuels. Elisa Alimone
Mongue, mother and farmer said: “I don’t have a farm, I don’t have a garden, ..
the only land I have has been destroyed. We are just suffering with hunger, ..
even if I go to look for another farm, they will just destroy it again.”
“They actually took the land when it was already tilled…They haven’t paid us
anything… What we want is to get our farms back because that is what our
livelihood is dependent on… we are dying of hunger and there is nothing we have
that is actually our own.” Matilde Ngoene, another mother and farmer said.
Read the rest of this article here
Or read other articles about energy generation
This article can be found on the I-SIS website at