Stop biofuels to fight world hunger, food scientists say


JF-Expert Member
Feb 11, 2007
UK firm invests $20m in Tanzania biofuel farm
Special Correspondent
Tanzania has landed a Tsh25.3 billion ($20 million) biofuel processing project that will see large-scale planting of jatropha oilseed crops for the production and distribution of crude and refined products.

Sun Biofuels Tanzania Ltd, in which Britain’s Sun Biofuels Plc has an 88 per cent controlling stake, has already applied for 9,000 hectares of land in Kisarawe district in the Coast Region, some 70 kilometers from Dar es Salaam.

The process of land acquisition for the project is at an advanced stage, awaiting President Jakaya Kikwete’s assent. This will see 11 villages of one of the oldest districts in Tanzania relinquish a total of 9,000 hectares of land to the investor.

Leo Rwegasira, Land Officer for Kisarawe district, told The EastAfrican last week that Tsh800 million ($632,411.067) has been earmarked by the investor as compensation to 2,840 households.

The University College of Land and Architectural Studies (UCLAS) carried out the crop and land evaluation for purposes of compensation, Mr Rwegasira said.

According to the 2002 population census, there are a total of 11, 277 people residing in the 11 villages. The villages are Mtamba, Muhaga, Marumbo, Paraka, Kidugalo, Kului, Mtakayo, Vilabwa, Mitengwe, Mzenga ‘A’ and Chakaye.

Sun Biofuels had applied for 20,000 hectares in 2005, but authorities were able to offer just 9,000. The investment has already been registered by the Tanzania Investment Centre (TIC), which has given the firm Certificate of Incentives number 010176.

Under the certificate, the investment implementation period is expected to be between September 25, 2005 and August 2009, and the operative date is September 1, 2009.

But owing to the existing land regulations, the investors can only get a title deed — which is being processed— after the villagers have been compensated.

Apart from Sun Biofuels Plc of the UK, the company’s shareholders are a British national, Julian Ozanne (10 per cent) and Daudi Makobore and Herbert Marwa, Tanzanian nationals who own one per cent each. The TIC requires that any changes in shareholding, project activities and level of invested capital be notified to the centre.

If the investors fail to start up the project within two years, the certificate will become invalid and the investors will need to apply for a fresh one.

Omar Dibibi, Kisarawe District Council Chairman, said the jatropha biofuel project would catalyse the district’s economy and give Kisarawe residents a new cash crop. Traditionally, cashewnut and coconut have been the major cash crops in the district.

He said the arrangement between local residents and the investors is that the former will also be given expertise and seeds to grow jatropha and sell it to SBC.

The investment is expected directly or indirectly to employ about 1,000 local people for a start, a figure that could rise as the project expands.

Experts say that while jatropha curcas seeds can be used as fuel for any diesel engine without modification, they are also used in manufacturing of varnishes, illuminants, soap, pest control and medicine for skin diseases.

Dark blue dye and wax can be produced from the bark of the jatropha curcas, its stem is used as a poor quality wood while the leaves help in dressing wounds and the roots produce a yellow dye.

Experts say the annual yield per hectare is up to 8 tonnes of Jatropha seed, which contain over 30 per cent oil. At $320 per tonne, this will translate into production of jatropha crude oil worth $768 per hectare per year.

Of potentially equal or greater value is the yield from jatropha seeds of glycerin. Up to 7 per cent of jatropha seeds are made up of glycerin, which sells for up to $2,000 per tonne, translating into glycerin sales of up to $1,120 per year per hectare, or total sales of up to $1,888 per year per hectare, experts say.

It is understood that the University of Dar es Salaam through the Energy Department in the Faculty of Engineering, along with the Tanzania Industrial Research Development Organisation, Kakute Ltd Tanzania and the Seliani Agriculture Research Institute of Arusha, are involved in research and development of the crop.

But according to a recent study entitled “Prospects for Jatropha Biofuels in Developing Countries: An Analysis for Tanzania with Strategic Niche Management,” there are many obstacles in Tanzania’s energy regime that could impede the emerging transition towards jatropha.
Food crisis will take hold before climate change, warns chief scientist· Pressures from population growth and affluence

'Profoundly stupid' to cut down forests for biofuels

James Randerson, science correspondent
The Guardian,

. Food security and the rapid rise in food prices make up the "elephant in the room" that politicians must face up to quickly, according to the government's new chief scientific adviser.

In his first major speech since taking over, Professor John Beddington said the global rush to grow biofuels was compounding the problem, and cutting down rainforest to produce biofuel crops was "profoundly stupid".

He told the Govnet Sustainable Development UK Conference in Westminster: "There is progress on climate change. But out there is another major problem. It is very hard to imagine how we can see a world growing enough crops to produce renewable energy and at the same time meet the enormous increase in the demand for food which is quite properly going to happen as we alleviate poverty."

He predicted that price rises in staples such as rice, maize and wheat would continue because of increased demand caused by population growth and increasing wealth in developing nations. He also said that climate change would lead to pressure on food supplies because of decreased rainfall in many areas and crop failures related to climate. "The agriculture industry needs to double its food production, using less water than today," he said. The food crisis would bite more quickly than climate change, he added.

But he reserved some of his most scathing comments for the biofuel industry, which he said had delivered a "major shock" to world food prices. "In terms of biofuels there has been, quite properly, a reaction against it," he said. "There are real problems with unsustainability."

Biofuel production is due to increase hugely in the next 15 years. The US plans to produce 30bn gallons of biofuels by 2022 - which will mean trebling maize production. The EU has a target for biofuels to make up 5.75% of transport fuels by 2010.

But Beddington said it was vital that biofuels were grown sustainably. "Some of the biofuels are hopeless. The idea that you cut down rainforest to actually grow biofuels seems profoundly stupid."

Before taking over the chief scientist post from Sir David King nine weeks ago, Beddington was professor of applied population biology at Imperial College London. He is an expert on the sustainable use of renewable resources.

Hilary Benn, the environment secretary, said at the conference that the world's population was expected to grow from 6.2bn today to 9.5bn in less than 50 years' time. "How are we going to feed everybody?" he asked.

Beddington said that in the short term, development and increasing wealth would add to the food crisis. "Once you move to [an income of] between £1 a day and £5 a day you get an increase in demand for meat and dairy products ... and that generates a demand for additional grain." Above £5 a day, people begin to demand processed and packaged food, which entails greater energy use. About 2.7bn people in the world live on less than £1 a day.

There would also be increases at the higher end of the wage scale, he said. At present there are 350m households on £8,000 a year. That is projected to increase to 2.1bn by 2030. "It's tremendous good news. You are seeing a genuine prediction from the World Bank that poverty alleviation is actually working."

But he cautioned that the increased purchasing power would lead to greater pressure on food supplies. Global grain stores are currently at the lowest levels ever, just 40 days from running out. "I am only nine weeks into the job, so don't yet have all the answers, but it is clear that science and research to increase the efficiency of agricultural production per unit of land is critical."
Food riots fear after rice price hits a high
Shortages of the staple crop of half the world's people could bring unrest across Asia and Africa,

reports foreign affairs editor Peter Beaumont
The Observer,
Sunday April 6 2008 Article

A global rice shortage that has seen prices of one of the world's most important staple foods increase by 50 per cent in the past two weeks alone is triggering an international crisis, with countries banning export and threatening serious punishment for hoarders.

With rice stocks at their lowest for 30 years, prices of the grain rose more than 10 per cent on Friday to record highs and are expected to soar further in the coming months. Already China, India, Egypt, Vietnam and Cambodia have imposed tariffs or export bans, as it has become clear that world production of rice this year will decline in real terms by 3.5 per cent. The impact will be felt most keenly by the world's poorest populations, who have become increasingly dependent on the crop as the prices of other grains have become too costly.

Rice is the staple food for more than half the world's population. This is the second year running in which production - which increased in real terms last year - has failed to keep pace with population growth. The harvest has also been hit by drought, particularly in China and Australia, forcing producers to hoard their crops to satisfy local markets.

The increase in rice prices - which some believe could increase by a further 40 per cent in coming months - has matched sharp inflation in other key food products. But with rice relied on by some eight billion people, the impact of a prolonged rice crisis for the world's poor - a large part of whose available income is spent on food - threatens to be devastating.

The consequences are visible across the globe. In Bangladesh, government-run outlets that sell subsidised rice have been besieged by queues comprised largely of the country's middle classes, who will queue for hours to purchase five kilograms of rice sold at 30 per cent cheaper than on the open market.

In Thailand yesterday - where the price for lower-quality rice alone has risen by between $70 and $100 per tonne in the past week alone - Deputy Prime Minister Mingkwan Sangsuwan convened a meeting of key officials and traders yesterday to discuss imposing minimum export prices to control export volumes and measures to punish hoarders. The meeting follows moves by some larger supermarkets in Thailand to limit purchases of rice by customers.

In the Philippines, where the National Bureau of Investigation has been called in to raid traders suspected of hoarding rice to push up the prices, activists have warned of the risk of food riots.

Fear is so deep that the country's agricultural secretary, Arthur Yap, this month asked fast-food restaurants including McDonald's and KFC - which generally supply a cup of rice with their meals in Asian branches - to halve the amount of rice supplied, so that none would be wasted. In addition, traders who try to stockpile rice have been warned that they face a charge of 'economic sabotage', which in the Philippines carries a life sentence.

The shortage has afflicted India, too: on Monday, the government banned the export of non-basmati rice and also raised the price of basmati rice that can be exported.

And although China has said it is secure in its supplies of rice, the fact that the government has offered to pay farmers more to produce more rice and wheat suggests otherwise.

The sharp rise in rice prices has been driven by many factors, not least by a race between African and South-east Asian countries to secure sufficient stocks to head off the risk of food riots and social unrest.

Fears over the potential impact of the rice crisis has been heightened by estimates by both the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation - which has predicted the 3.5 per cent shortfall - and comments from the World Bank president, Robert Zoellick, on the organisation's website, estimating that '33 countries around the world face potential social unrest because of the acute hike in food and energy prices'.

According to the World Bank's figures, the real price of rice rose to a 19-year high last month, while the real price of wheat has hit a 28-year high.

Analysts have cited many factors for the rises, including rising fuel and fertiliser expenses, as well as climate change. But while drought is one factor, another is the switch from food to biofuel production in large areas of the world, in particular to fulfil the US energy demands. A continuing change in the global diet is also putting a further squeeze on rice. In China, for example, 100 million rural migrants to the country's big cities have switched from a staple of wheat to rice as they have become wealthier.

Rapid recent price increases are also likely to have a dangerous secondary effect of stoking further inflation in emerging countries, which are already suffering from record oil prices and surging agricultural commodity prices.

The depth of the crisis for the poorest was underlined in stark terms by the World Bank's managing director at a meeting of finance ministers from the Asian block. Juan José Daboub said governments needed to take steps to protect the poor and also ensure that long-term solutions were found to relieve shortages. 'In virtually every East Asian country, high food prices are raising headline inflation and contributing to a significant decline in the real income of the poor, most of whom spend a big chunk of their income on food,' he said last week.
Stop biofuels to fight world hunger, food scientists say

Last Updated: Wednesday, April 30, 2008 |
Associated Press

Some top international food scientists Tuesday recommended halting the use of food-based biofuels, such as ethanol, saying it would cut corn prices by 20 per cent during a looming world food crisis.

But even as the scientists were calling for a moratorium, U.S. President George W. Bush urged the opposite. He declared the United States should increase ethanol use because of national energy security and high gas prices.

The conflicting messages Tuesday highlighted the ongoing debate over food and fuel needs.

The three senior scientists with an international research consortium pushing a biofuel moratorium said nations need to rethink programs that divert food such as corn and soybeans into fuel, given the burgeoning worldwide food crisis. The group, CGIAR, is a global network that uses science to fight hunger. It is funded by dozens of countries and private foundations.

If leading nations stopped biofuel use this year, it would lead to a price decline in corn of about 20 per cent and wheat of about 10 per cent by 2009-10, said Joachim von Braun, who heads the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, D.C., the policy arm of CGIAR.

Von Braun and the other scientists said work should be stepped up on the use of non-grain crops, such as switchgrass, for biofuel.

Food vs. fuel
Another scientist, not associated with the group, agreed with their call for a halt on the use of grain for fuel.

"We need to feed the stomach before we need to feed our cars," said Rattan Lal, an Ohio State University soil sciences professor who in the past has been a critic of some of CGIAR's priorities.

"We have one billion people who are food insecure. We can't afford the luxury of not taking care of them and taking care of gasoline."

In an interview after the CGIAR teleconference, von Braun said the United States and other countries have to make a hard choice between fighting high fuel prices and fighting world hunger.

"If you place a high value of food security for poor people, then the conclusion is clear that we step on the brake awhile," von Braun said. "If you place a high value on national energy security, other considerations come into play."

Energy security is what Bush emphasized in his news conference. When asked about the conflict with world hunger and the rising cost of food at home, he said the high price of gasoline would "spur more investment in ethanol as an alternative to gasoline."

"And the truth of the matter is, it's in our national interest that our farmers grow energy, as opposed to us purchasing energy from parts of the world that are unstable or may not like us," Bush said.

Still, Bush said the international food crisis "is of concern to us" and said the U.S. government earlier this month added another $200 million in food aid.

Ethanol production spurs corn prices: World Bank
A World Bank study has estimated that corn prices "rose by over 60 per cent from 2005-07, largely because of the U.S. ethanol program" combined with market forces.

Other nations, such as South Africa, have stopped or slowed the push to ethanol. But because the United States is the world's biggest producer, if it does nothing, other nations' efforts will not amount to much, von Braun said.

Von Braun said many issues are causing the food crisis, especially market forces and speculation, but that biofuel use also ranks high among the causes.

Scientists say the diversion of corn and soybeans for fuel helps force prices higher, and removes farm land from food production. Ethanol supporters say the corn used for fuels is the type only fed to livestock. However, other experts say it leads to higher livestock feed prices, thus higher food prices.

Because of this issue, legislators in Missouri are considering lifting a requirement that fuel in that state contain 10 per cent ethanol.

Just how big biofuel's effect is on food prices depends on who is talking. Bush said it's responsible for about 15 per cent of the rise in costs. U.S. Department of Agriculture spokesman Keith Williams put it closer to 20 per cent.

A soon to be released International Food Policy Research Institute analysis blames 30 per cent of the overall food price rise from 2000-2007 on biofuels. An industry-funded study put the food cost rise from biofuels at four per cent.

Matt Hartwig, a spokesman for the Renewable Fuels Association, said: "World agriculture can both feed and fuel the globe."
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