Biofuel production hits food security?

April 6, 2008 - 0:0

Biofuel emerged as an alternative fuel to benefit the biotech companies and the trans-national corporations (TNCs) which claim that biofuel is a unique ‘green innovation’ of the modern technology sensitive to the environment, ecology and the poor.

Refuting this TNC claim, reputed and established scientists of the world are saying that the TNC claim is contrary to the reality as biofuel production causes food scarcity and environmental degradation.
Bio-fuel, also called agro-fuel, is available in solid, liquid and gaseous forms derived from biomass. Biomass develops from the living organisms of trees and animals or their by-products such as cowdung and the residues of plants and crops. It can be used for the production of heat or energy.
Biofuel began to be used before the World War II and was regarded as an alternative to the imported fuel. After the War, oil became cheap in the Middle East causing decline in biofuel production but while the global oil market encountered recession in 1973 and 1979 this created new interest in biofuel production. The trend of production registered decline in 1986 but began to increase in 2000. The trend thus oscillated due to the rise and fall in the international oil market price.
To promote biofuel as well as to replace fossil fuel, multinational companies have been active in growing soybean, maize, sugarcane, palm oil, etc, by using genetic technology in connivance with their local interest groups. To promote this technology, the proponents have placed a number of arguments. Firstly, biofuel will increase the security of fuel as a reliable alternative to fossil fuel. Secondly, biofuel is carbon-neutral, green and friendly to ecology and environment, and, therefore, it decreases the emission of greenhouse gas. Thirdly, poverty will decrease in the 'developing countries' through generation of new employments.
The proponents' statement that biofuel is carbon-neutral, so it does not add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, has been supported with a research employing the technique of 'Life Cycle Analysis'. The analysis shows that biofuel emits less greenhouse gas than fossil fuel such as petroleum and diesel does. Refuting this research claim, the scientists have asserted that biofuel is neither carbon-neutral nor green because it requires energy to produce bio-crop as well as to transform biocrop into fuel.
Hence, the statement that biofuel is environment-friendly is absolutely false, say the environmentalists, because it hastens deforestation, and endangers the biodiversity. According to them, the proponents of genetic engineering are damaging the environment in two ways in Indonesia and Malaysia, for example. They are cultivating palm oil by destroying the rainforest on the one hand and transforming palm oil into biofuel on the other, which emits more greenhouse gas than required for petroleum refinement.
Referring to a recent research, five noted scientists of different countries have questioned the basis of the IPCC publicity that biofuel production is eco-friendly and it reduces the emission of carbon dioxide. Moreover, they have warned that massive plantation of bio-fuel crops may cause displacement, eviction and 'disforestation', which eventually will 'negate benefits for decades or centuries'.
GRAIN, an international organization working on biodiversity, reveals that the use of biofuel has increased to power transports and generate energy. To cope with the global fuel crisis, many countries of America, Asia and Europe have started to produce biofuel from plants and food crops.
In June 2007, the United Nations reported that ""soaring demand for bio-fuels is contributing to a rise in global food import costs"". Thus, food prices will be hiked due to shortage of food. It is notable that the US will have to transform its entire maize grown to produce seven percent fuel currently generated from petroleum, and if this continues to work it is feared that a serious crisis will hit the global food security.
With this reality of food crisis and hunger experienced so far, the TNCs have been active in promoting the market of biofuel in the 'developing' countries where huge biomass resources exist. According to International Energy Agency, the 'developing countries' meet 30% of their primary biofuel requirements from their existing biomass stocks, and two billion people of the world are dependent on biomass to meet their primary fuel requirements. Due to the increasing demand for biofuel, the biomass resources in the 'developing countries' have been more expensive.
The US will cut its 75% fuel import by 2025 through biofuel production. Meanwhile the US has allocated 375 million dollars for research on biofuel. India has planned to set up a National Biofuel Mission and a National Biofuel Board for biofuel development. Both India and China are implementing their bio-ethanol and bio-diesel programs while biofuel industries have been set up in many 'developing countries'.
Expressing concern at the growing expansion of biofuel market, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said in its summit that the production and use of biofuel added no improvement to the environment; it has rather created market instability. George Monbiot, an environmental campaigner, has argued that it is important to impose a 5-year freeze on biofuels and assess their impact on poor communities and the environment.
Environmental and human rights organizations in different countries have voiced protests against biofuel production affecting food security. Similar protests are being echoed also in Bangladesh. With the conscious global society we may also have to realize that biofuel production is a 'crime committed against humanity'. And with the global conscience, we may also have to stay alert and vigilant against it.
(Source: The Daily Star)