Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Bio-ethanol, and mass starvation

The US, at long last has finally decided that it has to produce renewable energy. And it has also realised that the huge grain surplus it produces is a good source of bio-ethanol. President Bush in his State of the Union address set a production goal for 2017 of 35 billion gallons of alternative fuels. That will need one hell of a lot of grain -- and it has been pointed out that the impact of this one the world's poorest countries will be devastating. This is because the world's food aid programmes generally have fixed budgets, consequently if the US grain surplus dwindles, the market price of what's left will go through the roof, and the funds available to supple the grain to the world's poorest countries will not be sufficient.

And the knock-on does not stop there. If the US finds a ready market for its grain surpluses, and the UK starts growing more and more rapeseed, this will mean that the developed world will import more cheap food from developing countries. Overall this will undoubtedly push world food prices up. The increase will have very little impact on the wealthy nations of the world, where the cost of food is a negligible proportion of the day to day living costs. But in the poorest countries it will be devastating -- forcing millions into starvation.

And this is all without even considering the ecological consequences, of converting more marginal lands in the tropics for intensive agriculture, its use of pesticides, water for irrigations, etc etc etc.
As ever, politicians and economists look at short-term fixes, with little regard for long-term solutions.

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