Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Insatiable European "thirst" for biofuels-The impact on food front and hunger

Global warming is an issue which is critical to the survival of this planet. It is a common knowledge that unless we control and cut down on emission of green house gases due to massive burning of fossil fuels and operations of mechanized agriculture activities in many countries, the weather is bound to be unpredictable with nonseasonal and inadequate rains and heavy flooding that can disrupt food production very significantly in future. Concerned about depleting fossil fuels many countries have started extensive programs to tap other sources of energy with renewable credentials like solar rays, wind power, geothermal energy, wave energy etc which are showing highly encouraging results. But one jarring note in this endeavor is the program that entails use of food sources for conversion to biofuels. The gasohol program in countries like Brazil uses ethyl alcohol derived from corn or sugarcane juice for blending with fossil fuels at varying proportions to save on the former. Similarly Europe had chosen Palm oil as an automobile fuel to cut down on fossil fuel consumption. However these programs come with a heavy price that should bother the conscience of these countries. The catch is that valuable food materials, especially the ones going into the dining plates of millions of hungry people in 3 poor continents, are diverted for a non-food cause depriving them of their sustenance! Here is a take on this unimaginable catastrophe Europe is causing through its reckless policy of diversion of human food to meet its insatiable thirst for auto fuels for its wealthy citizens!  

"The core of this debate is the use of biofuels. Amid the claims that biofuels provide a green fuel for the future, they have quickly become synonymous with high, volatile food prices that jeopardise the right to food, affecting land and water resources, while threatening biological diversity. For the members of the European Parliament's Environment Committee casting their ballot tomorrow (24 February), they can choose what role biofuels should play in Europe's energy consumption. What this means is that they are choosing either to continue backing a policy directly responsible for pushing more people across the globe into hunger or to adopt a firm stance against food price volatility and the removal of resources that impact impoverished communities' ability to cultivate crops. The European Union has supported biofuels for 12 years, ignoring the damaging impact this has had to food prices. Take the cost of vegetable oil: if the EU were to scrap its backing for biofuels made from food crops, the price of this daily commodity in Europe could be 50% lower by 2020, and 15% lower worldwide. But it's not just jumped up food prices. Europe's biofuels policy has a similarly detrimental effect on the ability of poor people to grow their own food. The amount of global land used for crops is estimated by scientists to expand by 5.2 million hectares by 2020 due to the European thirst for biofuels - with three-quarters of this land being outside Europe. As more land and water is syphoned towards growing biofuel crops, less is available for small-scale farmers to grow the food they rely on, or bring to market. Biofuels also encourage speculation on land values and give rise to huge land acquisitions across the planet – with almost one in four transnational, large-scale land purchases linked to biofuel production. The current most at-risk areas are Sub-Saharan Africa, which is heavily targeted for land deals, and South East Asia, providing the most common European imported source of fuel for biodiesel – palm oil. These side effects of European biofuels policy are compounded by the failure of biofuels to live up to expectations of providing a climate friendly source of fuel. And under certain conditions, we know that biofuels have more negative effects on carbon emissions and the environment than using normal fossil fuels, if indirect changes to land use are taken into account, as they should be. A stable climate and healthy environment are fundamental to produce nutritious food for all, which biofuels damage while misleadingly claiming environmental benefits. When judged against this mounting evidence, it is clear that European biofuels policy as it stands is undermining global attempts to ensure that the world's poorest families can feed themselves, as well as to fight climate change."

Whether Brazil's sugarcane cultivation or Indonesia's growing Palm oil plantations, the first casualty is natural forests in existence for thousands of years which are denuded to plant these food materials yielding crops. Denudation of forests is known to cause major diruptions in weather patterns causing further agony to the people across the Globe. In some countries small and marginal farmers are being steam rolled to sell their lands to giant MNC cartels to raise these crops. Though Europe has been following a biofuel facilitation program for the last 12 years, it appears there are hard questions being raised about the ethics and morality of diverting valuable food crops for energy production. Whether the European law makers will have the courage to defy world outrage at their unjustifiable biofuel policy remains to be seen..


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