VARIOUS TEXTS: Ethanol and Bio-diesel: Fuels or Threats to Food Security?

The world is going through the strongest surge in energy prices as crude oil prices have soared to more than $100 per barrel. The high price of fossil fuels, environmental concerns, and geopolitical instability in some major oil producing nations have spurred intense global interest in alternative fuels, especially from renewable energy sources.

Developments in solar panels and wind farms favored by eco-activist groups have been severely hampered in developing countries by their high initial costs. Nuclear power for developing countries is still viewed with suspicion; crop-based fuel production has been the main focus of interest in developing as well as developed countries. In US and European countries ethanol and biodiesel are made from food or inedible crops, including corn, sugarcane, maize, cassava, rapeseed (canola oil), soybeans, and palm oil.

Large scale production of biofuel has put tremendous pressure on global grain prices. In the short- and medium-term, ethanol can do little to affect oil consumption, but the diversion of grain from food to fuel has already exerted a widespread and profound ripple effect on various food commodities.

The United States produced 3.9 billion gallons of ethanol in 2006 and expanded its output to 6.5 billion in 2007. This took millions of hectares of land out of food production. In 2007, 54 percent of the world's corn was grown in the USA, and 38 percent of US corn crop ended up in gas tanks instead of stomachs. The amount of corn required to produce a gallon ethanol is enough to feed a human being for two weeks. Corn is mainly used to feed chickens and cattle, so the price of poultry, eggs, beef, and dairy products will continue to rise.

In December 2007, President George W. Bush signed into law the "Energy Independence and Security Act," which mandates that 36 billion gallons of biofuels to be produced in America every year by 2022, a nearly fivefold increase over current production levels. The European Union has also announced it will replace 10 percent of its oil consumption with biofuels by 2020.

Developed countries' commitment to biofuels has already raised food costs and hunger risks for the world's poor. The soaring price of staple food is not an isolated phenomenon. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), global food prices rose an incredible 40 percent in 2007 alone. FAO has announced that 36 countries are in crisis as a result of higher food prices. Record world prices for most staple foods have led to an 18 percent food price inflation in China, 13 percent in Indonesia and Pakistan, and 10 percent or more in Latin America, Russia and India, Wheat has doubled in price, maize is nearly 50 percent higher than a year ago and rice is 20 percent more expensive, says the UN.

The traditional human priorities on use of good cropland start with food. Famine, after all, is society's ultimate failure. Tightening the world's food supply by diverting major quantities of its grain stocks into fuels will drive up the prices of all food. This will inevitably hit hardest at the poorest people in the world's food-shortage regions. This would not be ethical even if there were no other sources of energy.

Society is already farming about 37 percent of the global land area, and already using almost all of the good quality land. Additional farmland will have to come at the expense of forests and wild species, and is likely to incur heavy penalties in terms of soil erosion, drought risks, and endangered wild species.

The future economic growth of Pakistan crucially depends on the long-term availability of sustainable energy resources and improved performance of the agriculture sector. Given high oil prices in early 2008 and the heavy dependence of many countries on imported oil, the potential for producing or importing biomass-derived liquid transportation fuels has awakened interest in many developing and industrialized countries.

The supply of feedstocks is crucial to the success of the biofuel strategy. Converting rice and wheat straw to ethanol has the potential for addressing long term availability of energy resources and improves performance of agriculture sector. The production of biofuels from rice-wheat straw could generate economic and environmental benefits, create additional employment, reduce energy import bills and open up potential export markets.
712 words

By Abdul Waheed Bhutto
Apr 14, 2008
Source:Online Journal

surge - Anstieg
crude oil - Rohöl
to soar - ansteigen
to spur - anregen, beleben
to hamper - behindern
cassava - Maniok
canola oil - Rapsöl
grain - Getreide
ripple effect - ausbreitende Wirkung
commodity - Produkt, Bedarfsartikel
poultry - Geflügel
staple food - Grundnahrungsmittel
to incur - erleiden
feedstock - Rohmaterial, Rohstoff

1. Why has the price of crude oil dramatically increased lately?
2. What are the effects of producing ethanol on a large scale? 3. Write a letter to the Minister of the Environment and explain why you want the use of ethanol produced from crops to be stopped OR continued.

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