The horse that you see is not the horse that you think it is … it is nothing but an engine with pulling power that is powered by biofuel, says Willy De Greef, international expert consultant on agricultural biotechnology and secretary general of the European Biotech Industry Association (EuropaBio).
“There are many examples of such engines, especially in developing countries – donkey carts in Africa, camel carts in arid countries, water buffalo ploughing rice paddies and bullocks pulling carts in India – biofuel in action,” says De Greef.
This statement supports criticism by EuropaBio on a recently leaked and unofficial World Bank internal note in which it was claimed that 75% of recent food price increases are the result of the increasing demand for biofuel.
“Biofuels are part of bio-based economies, which is nothing new – it has been so for most of recorded history. The farming community uses significant acreage for non-food crops.
- Rubber trees – more than 8 million ha;
- Coffee – more than 10 million ha;
- Cotton – more than 35 million ha;
- Tobacco – more than 3.8 million ha;
- Many others: tea, cocoa, sisal, hemp, and medicinal and ornamental plants.
“More than 90% of these crops are grown in developing countries and are essential labour intensive contributors to rural economies. The world uses approximately 1250 million ha for crop production; 100 million for non-food/feed, including all current production of biofuel feedstock crops of which some 20 million ha are grown for fuel. Seen in context, about 675 million ha is grown with cereals.”
Regarding food crops for animal feed, De Greef says this comprises more than 50% of maize and 90% of soybean produced. But not all animals are grown for food – silkworms produce silk thread and sheep produce wool fibre … both are bio-fermenters producing fibre.
“This holds important lessons,” De Greef says. “Using land for non-food economy has been part of agricultural economy through the ages. Crops – food or non-food – matter much less than the added value for the farmer. Building the bio-based economy of the 21st century requires productivity increase to avoid expanding farmland. There is enormous scope for this by speeding up science and technology and technology transfer,” De Greef says.
In its release, EuropaBio says the World Bank document downplays poor 2007 harvests, pays no attention to increased wheat consumption in Asia, discounts US figures showing that wheat plantings increased in 2007, disregards the impact of increased energy costs on food prices, and overlooks short term export bans and speculation.
EuropaBio refers to the poor 2007 rice harvest in South East Asia and catastrophic Australian wheat harvest, where over 60% of its bread wheat was lost.
“Cereals are not interchangeable. Wheat for bread cannot be replaced by other cereals – they cannot make bread. The Australian harvest loss was a major blow to the international bread wheat trade and led to vast price increases. Then the cost of producing more than two billion tons of cereals per year is heavily affected by energy costs, much more than the 15% suggested by the World Bank.
“The short term export bans on rice in some major producer countries to safeguard domestic markets, and also some speculation, may have worsened price spikes, while also sending a strong market signal to farmers.
“For the first time in more than a decade Third World farmers can sell produce at prices that encourage them to plant more and invest in higher quality seed and other technology inputs that will increase yield and production and also cut input costs,” the release says.
“The World Bank ignores these positive developments for hundreds of millions of Third World farmers and, therefore, fails to point to effective policy responses for political decision makers – to invest in making yield-increasing technology available to farmers and thereby closing the supply gap.
“Blaming biofuels will not resolve demand challenges. Farmers in the developing world should be supported and their access to modern farming technology promoted. Biofuels can contribute to the ever-increasing global energy need and enhance the world’s energy supply. Unverified reports should not undermine these efforts,” EuropaBio says.
Enquiries Willy De Greef, Brussels.