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With case studies from Mali, Mozambique, Brazil, Haiti, Canada, Indonesia
The scandal of agrofuels in the countries of the South
By Francois Houtart
In order to meet between 25 and 30% of energy demand as a solution to the energy crisis, hundreds or thousands of tillable acres for the production of agrofuels is necessary, for the most part in the South, since the North does not have sufficient tillable area. According to certain estimations, this would necessitate the expulsion of around 60 million peasants/family farmers from their land. The price of these “externalities” not paid by capital but by the community and by individuals, is terrifying.
Agrofuels are raw materials grown in monocultures, destroying biodiversity and contaminating the soil and water. Personally, I have walked for kilometeres in the plantations of Choco, in Columbia, and I have not seen a bird, a butterfly, nor a fish in the river, because of the use of huge quantities of chemical products, like fertilizers and pesticides. Given the water crisis that is affecting the planet, the utilization of water to produce ethanol is irrational. In effect, to obtain a liter of ethanol, starting from corn, requiresbetween 1200and 3400 liters of water. Sugar cane also requires enormous amounts of water. The contamination of soil and water has risen to levels never before seen, creating the “dead sea” phenomenon in river estuaries (20 square kilometres in the estuary of the Mississippi River, in large part caused by the extension of monocultures of corn destined for ethanol). The extension of these cultures has resulted in the direct or indirect destruction (through the displacement of other agricultural and livestock activities) of the woods and forests that are deep pools of carbon with great absorption capacity.
The impact of agrofuels on the food crisis has been proven. Not only is the production of agrofuels in conflict with food production in a world where, according to the FAO, more than a billion people suffer from hunger, it has also been an important element in the speculation about the production of food in 2007 and 2008.
A report form the World Bank confirms that in these years, 85% of the increase in food prices that forced more Than 100 million people below the poverty line (an indicator of hunger) was influenced by the development of agrofuels. For this reason, Jean Ziegler, during his term as UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food classified agrofuels as a “crime against humanity” and his successor, the Belgian Olivier De Schutter has asked for a 5 year moratorium on agrofuel production.
The extension of monocultures also means the expulsion of many campesinos from their lands. In the majority of cases, this is accomplished through trickery or violence. In countries like Columbia and Indonesia, they resort to the use of armed forces and paramilitary, who without a doubt massacre those who stay to defend their lands.
Thousands of indigenous communities in Latin America, in Africa, and in Asia are dispossessed of their ancestral lands. Hundreds of millions of campesinos have been displaced, largely in the south, as a function of the development of the productivist model of agriculture and the concentration of landed property. The result of all this is a savage urbanization and migratory pressure internally as well as internationally.