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How biofuels contribute to the food crisis

March 24, 2011 • Farming Practices, Daily Email Recap

Many thanks to Fred Stanback for this column.  See http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/10/AR2011021006323.html

How biofuels contribute to the food crisis

The Washington Post

By Tim Searchinger

Friday, February 11, 2011

Each year, the world demands more grain, and this year the world’s farms will not produce it. World food prices have surged above the food crisis levels of 2008. Millions more people will be malnourished, and hundreds of millions who are already hungry will eat less or give up other necessities. Food riots have started again.

Nearly all assessments of the 2008 food crisis assigned biofuels a meaningful role, but much of academia and the media ultimately agreed that the scale of the crisis resulted from a “perfect storm” of causes. Yet this “perfect storm” has re-formed not three years later. We should recognize the ways in which biofuels are driving it.

Demand for biofuels is almost doubling the challenge of producing more food. Since 2004, for every additional ton of grain needed to feed a growing world population, rising government requirements for ethanol from grain have demanded a matching ton. Brazil’s reliance on sugar ethanol and Europe’s on biodiesel have comparably increased growth rates in the demand for sugar and driven up demand for vegetable oil.

Agricultural production is keeping up in general with the growing demand for food – but it keeps up with the added demand for biofuels only if growing weather is good. A good growing year in 2008 helped end that year’s crisis, but average-to-poor weather since then has stressed inventories and confidence. Higher fuel costs for farmers and a weaker dollar contribute to higher prices, but prices soar only when large consumers, fearing that production will continue to fall short, bid up prices to secure their supplies.

To read the full article, click here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/global/2011/mar/22/guardian-weekly-letters-25-march


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