I note a great deal of speculation in this weeks press regarding the impact of growing or intensively farming biodiesel fuel crops on food production. This is a worthy concern however what I read is a lot of ill informed knee-jerk reaction rather than reasoned debate, so it’s worthy of further comment.
Granted, intensive farming of crops for bio-ethanol is at present a growing problem – especially in the third world although the impact on corn prices in the USA has led to a strong reaction in the press. Oil crops for biodiesel however have had very little impact as these crops are already grown for oil. We are only diverting some of this oil from being processed into cooking oil to being processed into biodiesel.
However the big problem is (was and always shall be) politics – or rather the politics of global economics. To put it simply the USA and western European governments have for years systematically undermined the economies of the third world while paying lip service to charitable aid works. Before you get hysterical you might want to do your own research on the debts levied and interest charged to third world countries compared to the amount of aid pumped in – and yes I agree that local corruption doesn’t help this situation, however stealing 50% of next to nothing is irrelevant when your country is being milked for 50% of its GDP.
There are vast areas of land throughout Africa alone which while unsuitable for food production will grow oil bearing crops suitable for biodiesel production. Rather than diverting food crops to make ethanol the USA & Europe could (read “should”) work to help African nations establish these crops. So why don’t they?
The demand for biofuels is growing so dramatically that this approach would quickly lead to Africa (and the far east) quickly becoming the major provider of vegetable oils for fuel. Neither America nor Europe can compete with the sheer quantity of land that is available in these nations which currently is not and cannot be used for food production.
Within a few short years these same nations currently financially shackled to the richer nations would be able to “buy their freedom” paying off their debts and establishing economies based on biofuel production. These nations would then no longer need to produce western food crops for export – which they currently do only in order to service their debts - and switch back to growing indigenous food crops, reducing starvation and the need for aid.
First world countries would then lose major sources of cheap food production which they cannot easily replace, especially in Europe where many countries including the UK no longer have enough arable land to produce enough food to feed their populations. Third world countries able to produce oil crops could choose when and if to grow western food crops and set their own prices without fear of financial pressure from creditors.
However by giving over domestic agricultural land to make crops for ethanol production we are creating the same pressure on food prices. We need to get past this traditional economic power struggle and start acting with a global view only then can all parties prosper.