1309 Agrofuels: Fuel for Hunger and Deforestation

© Image Campaign "No food for fuel"

Especially, in times of economic crisis and austerity measures, taxpayers would like to see their money well spent. Now consider this: the EU will continue to support the production of agrofuels which will drive up consumer food bills worldwide, stimulate land grabbing, worsen air quality around the globe and increase hunger and poverty in Africa and other developing nations. For this policy EU member states have granted on average 6.2 billion Euro[1] per year to the agrofuel industry. Yet there is no sign of the necessary reforms in the near future…



So far, a reform of this policy seems far away: the vote in the European Parliament (EP) on the EU’s agrofuel policy produced a text that will actually increase the consumption of agrofuels for road transport. The EP has proposed to limit the use agrofuels, based on food and energy crops, in the EU transport sector to 6%[2], which is higher than the current level of consumption of 4.7%. This means that the agrofuel industry will need an extra 2 million hectares of farmland to achieve this “limit”. This will clearly increase pressure on land which will exacerbate the phenomenon of land grabbing in Africa.



Currently, the EU agrofuel policy is being discussed at the level of the Council of Ministers. However, most member states are opposed to putting any sort of limit on the consumption of agrofuels, which would give the agro-industry a clear path to divert even more farmland towards the production of agrofuels.[3] Already in March 2013, a majority of member states was against capping agrofuel consumption, ignoring the mounting evidence about the harmful effects of agrofuels on food prices, access to land and biodiversity.[4] A decision is not expected before the May 2014 EP elections[5] which will probably delay a final decision more than a year. This means that the agro-industry can continue “business as usual” for at least another year and, from the current perspective, a final decision might be more attuned to the interest of industry, at least in the short term. The delay is a bad sign for the African people suffering the consequences of agrofuel production.



Why is this policy not useful for European and African citizens? As well as the increased pressure on African land, another harmful impact of agrofuel policy is that it pushes up global food prices. Demand for agrofuel feedstock[6] increases the overall demand for food and reduces the supply of subsistence food: both these effects increase food prices significantly. The effects of agrofuels on food prices have also been widely recognized by several international organisations[7] who have asked governments to scrap agrofuel mandates. The industry has ignored this basic law of supply and demand and has been hiding behind the fact that there was no exact data on the price increases caused by agrofuel demand. However, it is safe to say that food prices have not gone down since 2008 and that biofuels contribute to higher food prices.So this policy is hurting consumers worldwide and in particular the poorest, who spend the largest share of their budgets on food. This is particularly troubling for food insecure nations in Africa.



Another negative impact of agrofuel production is the so-called “indirect land use change (ILUC)”: when agricultural land that was previously used for the cultivation of food crops is being converted to the production of food and energy crops for agrofuels, farmers need to clear new lands to produce their food. For this purpose, areas rich in biodiversity like tropical forests and wetlands have been cleared and this increases the CO2 emissions and at the same time reduces the biodiversity of our planet. As well as this, biofuels are produced on large scale monoculture plantations that make intensive use of chemicals. Consequently, several agrofuels have a large carbon footprint and in some cases larger than fossil fuels. This contradicts the main purpose of the EU agrofuel policy: to reduce emissions.



When a policy is surrounded by so many doubts about the realization of its objectives, politicians should act with caution instead of blindly financing a failing policy. What is more, given the mounting evidence on the harmful impact of this policy especially on developing countries, reform is necessary. Reforming this policy will require more robust and regressive limits on land based agrofuels with a view to phasing out these agrofuels. At the same time policy makers should start thinking about reducing energy consumption everywhere to tackle climate change effectively. Less polluting forms of transport, like public transport, biking, walking, carpooling, car-sharing and electric cars should be increasingly promoted by policymakers. Equally, consumers and producers should be brought closer together by promoting the consumption of local products, which would reduce significantly the fuel burned for importing food. It is time to stop burning food in European cars while millions of people go hungry in the world!



Gino Brunswijck

Policy Officer

[1] http://www.iisd.org/gsi/news/addendum-biofuels
[2] This is not a definitive agreement. The policy-making process is still ongoing. However, the expectations are that the Council will propose even higher limits.
[3] http://www.euractiv.com/sustainability/food-price-fears-push-eu-lawmake-news-530400
[4] http://www.euractiv.com/climate-environment/ministers-block-eu-proposal-limi-news-518698
[5] The EP failed to give their rapporteur a mandate for negotiations with the Council of Ministers, which reduces the chances of an agreement in first reading given the positions of several member states an agreement. So many observers expect the file to go into second reading and that a final decision on this thorny file would be postponed until after the EP elections of 2014.   
[6] Feedstock: “Any bulk raw material constituting the principal input or an industrial process.” (Wiktionary 2013)
[7] Price Volatility in Food and Agricultural Markets: Policy Responses Policy Report including contributions by FAO, IFAD, IMF,OECD, UNCTAD, WFP, the World Bank, the WTO, IFPRI and the UN HLTF 2 June 2011, http://www.oecd.org/agriculture/pricevolatilityinfoodandagriculturalmarketspolicyresponses.htm

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