Corn Commentary

Could Biofuels Benefit the World’s Hungry?

Now here’s a story that flies in the face of the whole food versus fuel flap.

Worldwatch Institute, “an independent research organization that works for an environmentally sustainable and socially just society,” has just authored a new book called Biofuels for Transport: Global Potential and Implications for Energy and Agriculture.

In it, the authors make the startling claim that the increase in world agriculture prices caused by the global boom in biofuels could benefit many of the world’s rural poor.
World Watch Institute
“Decades of declining agricultural prices have been reversed thanks to the growing use of biofuels,” says Christopher Flavin, president of the Institute. “Farmers in some of the poorest nations have been decimated by U.S. and European subsidies to crops such as corn, cotton, and sugar. Today’s higher prices may allow them to sell their crops at a decent price, but major agriculture reforms and infrastructure development will be needed to ensure that the increased benefits go to the world’s 800 million undernourished people, most of whom live in rural areas.”

The book also concludes:

Growth in biofuels production may have unexpected economic benefits, according to the experts who contributed to the report. Of the 47 poorest countries, 38 are net importers of oil and 25 import all of their oil; for these nations, the tripling in oil prices has been an economic disaster. But nations that develop domestic biofuels industries will be able to purchase fuel from their own farmers rather than spending scarce foreign exchange on imported oil.

The book does say that current biofuels production methods do place a burden on land and water resources but says “the long-term potential of biofuels is in the use of non-food feedstock, including agricultural and forestry wastes, as well as fast-growing, cellulose-rich energy crops such as perennial grasses and trees.”

“Biofuels alone will not solve the world’s transportation-related energy problems,” the authors conclude. “Development of these fuels must occur within the context of a transition to a more efficient, less polluting and more diversified global transport sector. They must be part of a portfolio of options that includes dramatc improvements in vehicle fuel economy, investment in public transportation, and better urban planning.”

Read more here.