The production of cassava-based ethanol may pose an especially grave threat
to the food security of the world's poor.
Cassava is the primary staple for over 200 million
of Africa's poorest people.
FOOD AS FUEL STARVES HUNGRY
Large increases in the prices of staple foods will mean malnutrition and hunger.
Some of them will tumble over the edge of subsistence into outright starvation,
and many more will die from a multitude of hunger-related diseases.
How biofuels could starve the poor,
by Ford Runge & Benjamin Senauer, Foreign Affairs, May/Jun 2007
...Biofuels may have even more devastating effects in the rest of the world, especially on the prices of basic foods. If oil prices remain high -- which is likely -- the people most vulnerable to the price hikes brought on by the biofuel boom will be those in countries that both suffer food deficits and import petroleum. The risk extends to a large part of the developing world: in 2005, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, most of the 82 low-income countries with food deficits were also net oil importers.
Even major oil exporters that use their petrodollars to purchase food imports, such as Mexico, cannot escape the consequences of the hikes in food prices. In late 2006, the price of tortilla flour in Mexico, which gets 80 percent of its corn imports from the United States, doubled thanks partly to a rise in U.S. corn prices from $2.80 to $4.20 a bushel over the previous several months. (Prices rose even though tortillas are made mainly from Mexican-grown white corn because industrial users of the imported yellow corn, which is used for animal feed and processed foods, started buying the cheaper white variety.) The price surge was exacerbated by speculation and hoarding. With about half of Mexico's 107 million people living in poverty and relying on tortillas as a main source of calories, the public outcry was fierce. In January 2007, Mexico's new president, Felipe Calderón, was forced to cap the prices of corn products.
The International Food Policy Research Institute, in Washington, D.C., has produced sobering estimates of the potential global impact of the rising demand for biofuels. Mark Rosegrant, an IFPRI division director, and his colleagues project that given continued high oil prices, the rapid increase in global biofuel production will push global corn prices up by 20 percent by 2010 and 41 percent by 2020. The prices of oilseeds, including soybeans, rapeseeds, and sunflower seeds, are projected to rise by 26 percent by 2010 and 76 percent by 2020, and wheat prices by 11 percent by 2010 and 30 percent by 2020. In the poorest parts of sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America, where cassava is a staple, its price is expected to increase by 33 percent by 2010 and 135 percent by 2020. The projected price increases may be mitigated if crop yields increase substantially or ethanol production based on other raw materials (such as trees and grasses) becomes commercially viable. But unless biofuel policies change significantly, neither development is likely.
The production of cassava-based ethanol may pose an especially grave threat to the food security of the world's poor. Cassava, a tropical potato-like tuber also known as manioc, provides one-third of the caloric needs of the population in sub-Saharan Africa and is the primary staple for over 200 million of Africa's poorest people. In many tropical countries, it is the food people turn to when they cannot afford anything else. It also serves as an important reserve when other crops fail because it can grow in poor soils and dry conditions and can be left in the ground to be harvested as needed.
Thanks to its high-starch content, cassava is also an excellent source of ethanol. As the technology for converting it to fuel improves, many countries -- including China, Nigeria, and Thailand -- are considering using more of the crop to that end. If peasant farmers in developing countries could become suppliers for the emerging industry, they would benefit from the increased income. But the history of industrial demand for agricultural crops in these countries suggests that large producers will be the main beneficiaries. The likely result of a boom in cassava-based ethanol production is that an increasing number of poor people will struggle even more to feed themselves.
Participants in the 1996 World Food Summit set out to cut the number of chronically hungry people in the world -- people who do not eat enough calories regularly to be healthy and active -- from 823 million in 1990 to about 400 million by 2015. The Millennium Development Goals established by the United Nations in 2000 vowed to halve the proportion of the world's chronically underfed population from 16 percent in 1990 to eight percent in 2015. Realistically, however, resorting to biofuels is likely to exacerbate world hunger. Several studies by economists at the World Bank and elsewhere suggest that caloric consumption among the world's poor declines by about half of one percent whenever the average prices of all major food staples increase by one percent. When one staple becomes more expensive, people try to replace it with a cheaper one, but if the prices of nearly all staples go up, they are left with no alternative.
In a study of global food security we conducted in 2003, we projected that given the rates of economic and population growth, the number of hungry people throughout the world would decline by 23 percent, to about 625 million, by 2025, so long as agricultural productivity improved enough to keep the relative price of food constant. But if, all other things being equal, the prices of staple foods increased because of demand for biofuels, as the IFPRI projections suggest they will, the number of food-insecure people in the world would rise by over 16 million for every percentage increase in the real prices of staple foods. That means that 1.2 billion people could be chronically hungry by 2025 -- 600 million more than previously predicted.
The world's poorest people already spend 50 to 80 percent of their total household income on food. For the many among them who are landless laborers or rural subsistence farmers, large increases in the prices of staple foods will mean malnutrition and hunger. Some of them will tumble over the edge of subsistence into outright starvation, and many more will die from a multitude of hunger-related diseases...
BIO-FUEL CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY
BIO-FUEL WAR ON FOOD
Forget oil: crisis is food (more crippling than world's seen) & Biofuelling world's hunger
(corn-wheat-cassava-soy-sorghum) & Haitians eat dirt as flour (elite grow food for fuel). FinancePost/HinuBus/Yahoo, Jan 31, 2008
Coconut oil powers island's cars (instead of island's people). BBC, May 8, 2007
How Bio-fuels Could Starve the Poor. Foreign Affairs, May/June 2007
WORLD FOOD BANK
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