The rush to make agriculture fuel the global economy

'The fossil fuel economy is transforming rapidly into a ‘bio-economy'. - Jim Thomas of ETC Group.

Download Biofools? Is It Smart To Put So Much Faith in Biofuels?Ottawa (24 Nov. 2010) - Whether talking about global energy, climate change, food security or commodity trade, agriculture has quickly taken centre stage in the new global economy.

It’s an economy worth trillions and it all starts with plants.

The world’s biggest corporations are rushing to convert living plant matter – 'biomass' – into fuel, chemicals and other profitable products. Corn and sugarcane are already being converted to biofuels on a large scale. Trees, grasslands and algae could be next.

Jim Thomas of ETC Group – and farm movement leaders from Brazil, Mali and Haiti – are speaking this week at Earth Grab, a public forum scheduled Friday in Montreal.

The new bio-economy: 'A red-hot resource grab’

A recent ETC Group report, The New Biomassters, shows how global energy, forestry, agribusiness, chemical and biotech companies are busy constructing a bio-economy built on converting biomass into fuels and other products.

“The emerging global bio-economy is worth trillions and it threatens to eat up our crops, forests and other plant life,” says Thomas. “However, what’s being sold as a ‘green’ switch from fossil fuels to plant-based production is in fact a red-hot resource grab on the lands, livelihoods, knowledge and resources of the peoples of the global south.”

That would make Brazil the number one bio-energy oilfield, according to Camila Moreno of Friends of the Earth in Brazil.

“Brazil wants to become the Saudi Arabia of biofuels," says Moreno. “Not only are our country’s land and biomass up for grabs, but Brazilian corporations are actively grabbing land in other countries."

Sub-Saharan Africa is seen as a second major region for grabbing resources for fuel.

Biomass and biofuels: false solutions to climate change?

On the eve of upcoming Cancun climate talks, Moreno says the emphasis on biomass energy solutions sidesteps the real issues.

“We can’t really address climate change by replacing our fossil fuel addiction with a bio-energy addiction," she says.

“We actually have to set real targets to reduce our emissions – and the evidence is piling up that growing crops commercially for fuels could be even more damaging to the environment and make our carbon footprint worse."

Biomass and food security: choosing fuel over hunger?

Just as the demand for corn ethanol led to higher food prices and hunger, says Susan Walsh, executive director of USC Canada, the massive biomass grab will have devastating consequences for people and the environment, both in Canada and in developing countries.

All signs indicate that the world could be mere months away from another devastating global ‘food crisis’ similar to the one that occurred in 2008, notes Walsh.

Skyrocketing prices of basic agricultural commodities such as corn and wheat, combined with low reserves for some grains, make the situation highly precarious, she adds.

“With additional pressures from climate change, diverting any grain production for biofuels puts food security in direct conflict with energy security. Will our appetite for fuel crush our ability to produce enough food for an ever-hungry world?”

What’s more, Walsh argues, the people who produce 70% of the world’s food – small farmers – will be most affected by land and resource grabs.

As an alternative, she suggests turning to these same small farmers to find solutions to feed people and respond to climate change. This will require a transformation from ‘industrial’ to ‘ecological’ principles, says Walsh.

“Ecological farming is proven to be far more resilient, socially just and innovative than the high-input, monoculture model that comes with so many risks and has a huge ecological footprint,” she says.

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Biofools? Is it smart to put so much faith in biofuels? - PDF

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