Thursday, April 7, 2011

Rush to Use Crops as Fuel Raises Food Prices and Hunger Fears

With the abundance of fossil fuels in the world and no proof that there is any effect on global warming or climate change or global cooling or other "cause du jour", it is a travesty that food crops are being used as fuel and people living in poverty are dying because of it.

Not only is a high percentage of the stated crops being used for fuel, the potion being used for food is being priced out of the market. Congress should suspend the requirement for ethanol use and drill, baby, drill.

The starchy cassava root has long been an important ingredient in everything from tapioca pudding and ice cream to paper and animal feed.

Thailand's cassava goes mainly to China, which has sought new energy sources to power growth.
But last year, 98 percent of cassava chips exported from Thailand, the world’s largest cassava exporter, went to just one place and almost all for one purpose: to China to make biofuel. Driven by new demand, Thai exports of cassava chips have increased nearly fourfold since 2008, and the price of cassava has roughly doubled.

Each year, an ever larger portion of the world’s crops — cassava and corn, sugar and palm oil — is being diverted for biofuels as developed countries pass laws mandating greater use of nonfossil fuels and as emerging powerhouses like China seek new sources of energy to keep their cars and industries running. Cassava is a relatively new entrant in the biofuel stream.

But with food prices rising sharply in recent months, many experts are calling on countries to scale back their headlong rush into green fuel development, arguing that the combination of ambitious biofuel targets and mediocre harvests of some crucial crops is contributing to high prices, hunger and political instability.

Biofuels development in wealthier nations has already proved to have a powerful effect on the prices and the cultivation of crops. Encouraged by national biofuel subsidies, nearly 40 percent of the corn grown in the United States now goes to make fuel, with prices of corn on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange rising 73 percent from June to December 2010.

Such price rises also have distant ripple effects, food security experts say. “How much does the price of corn in Chicago influence the price of corn in Rwanda? It turns out there is a correlation,” said Marie Brill, senior policy analyst at ActionAid, an international development group. The price of corn in Rwanda rose 19 percent last year.

“For Americans it may mean a few extra cents for a box of cereal,” she said. “But that kind of increase puts corn out of the range of impoverished people.”

Higher prices also mean that groups like the World Food Program can buy less food to feed the world’s hungry.

Read full NYT article here.

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