Biofuels are not a “crime against humanity”: FAO

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation has come out against the statement yesterday by UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Jean Ziegler, that biofuels are a crime against humanity, and is quoted by Biopact as saying:

We regret the report of the Special Rapporteur has taken a very complex issue, with many positive dimensions as well as negative ones, and characterised it as a ‘crime against humanity’.

FAO strongly feels that food security and environmental considerations must be fully addressed before making investments or policy decisions, and we are actively working to ensure this happens.

However, a moratorium that ignores the potential of biofuels to support rural development and assist the economies of developing countries would not, in our view, be a constructive approach to this topic.

Distributing food fairly is of vital importance, as is using non-food crops where possible for biofuels and, fundamentally, greater fuel efficiency . Zeigler’s comments are certainly eye- catching and it is surprising that they did not generate bigger headlines than they did. It is disappointing that he seems not to have discussed the ability of biofuel producers to sell those crops for cash enabling them to buy food, rather than growing it themselves. But I guess, in fairness, it can be difficult to stay detached when you see people starving.

There is considerable scope for producing biofuels from non-food crops in the developing world, but there are hurdles. Aside from tariff barriers and entrenched political positions in the developed world, there is also the danger of corruption in the developed and developing world.

This could see funds for improving infrastructure such as food distribution or biofuel production ending up in the pockets of people who should know better.

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2 Responses to Biofuels are not a “crime against humanity”: FAO

  1. Andrew Boswell 3 November, 2007 at 3:23 pm #

    Re the UN FAO comments on Jean Zeigler from FAO’s Jeff Tschirley –

    One has to ask – has FAO’s Jeff Tschirley read Zeigler’s document and moratorium call properly??

    The moratorium call DOES NOT ignore the potential of biofuels to support rural development and assist the economies of developing countries. I append here the full text of Zeigler’s moratorium call:

    Jeff Tschirley, head of the FAO’s Environment Assessment and Management Unit, is reported as saying: “However, a moratorium that ignores the potential of biofuels to support rural development and assist the economies of developing countries would not, in our view, be a constructive approach to this topic.”

    However, Zeigler does address this. First Zeigler says:

    33. Increasing the production of biofuels could bring positive benefits for climate change and for farmers in developing countries, including by improving food security, if the benefits trickle down.

    Then in his moratorium call clause, Zeigler says :

    .(d) Ensuring that biofuel production is based on family agriculture, rather than industrial models of agriculture, in order to ensure more employment and rural development that provides opportunities, rather than competition, to poor peasant farmers. Organizing cooperatives of small farmers to grow crops for larger processing firms would provide much more employment than the concentration of land into heavily mechanized expanses and plantations. As ActionAid has pointed out “Biofuel could even be an important tool to fight hunger and poverty if it comes together with a set of appropriate policies involving smallholder farmers.”38

    I suggest that Mr Jeff Tschirley should do his homework before criticising Zeigler on this point!

    Dr Andrew Boswell, biofuelwatch

    FULL DETAILS BELOW :

    C. Protecting the right to food in biofuel production

    44. The Special Rapporteur therefore calls for a five-year moratorium on biofuel production using current methods, to allow time for technologies to be devised and regulatory structures to be put in place to protect against negative environmental, social and human rights impacts. Many measures can be put in place during such a moratorium to ensure that biofuel production can have positive impacts and respect the right to adequate food. Such measures include:

    .(a) Promoting the need to reduce overall energy consumption and maintaining focus on all other methods of improving energy efficiency;

    .(b) Moving immediately to “second generation” technologies for producing biofuels, which would reduce the competition between food and fuel. Agricultural wastes and crop residues could be used. As IFPRI has pointed out: “the efficient exploitation of agricultural wastes presents significant potential for developing bio-energy without unduly disrupting existing agricultural practices and food production or requiring new land to come into production”.32 Common crop residues that can be used include maize cobs, sugar cane bagasse, rice husks and banana leaves. In this way, biofuel production could be complementary to existing agriculture, rather than competing with it, and would not require massive diversion of food, land and water resources away from food production. Food prices would therefore remain stable, but farmers would have profitable ways of disposing of agricultural waste products, benefiting both consumers and producers;

    .(c) Adopting technologies that use non-food crops, particularly crops that can be grown in semi-arid and arid regions. The cultivation of Jatropha Curcas, a shrub that produces large oil-bearing seeds, appears to offer a good solution as it can be grown in arid lands that are not normally suitable for food crops. Over half of Africa’s arid lands are considered suitable for Jatropha cultivation and cultivating this plant would not only produce biofuel but could simultaneously provide livelihoods for African farmers, increase the productivity of the soil and reverse land degradation and desertification;

    .(d) Ensuring that biofuel production is based on family agriculture, rather than industrial models of agriculture, in order to ensure more employment and rural development that provides opportunities, rather than competition, to poor peasant farmers. Organizing cooperatives of small farmers to grow crops for larger processing firms would provide much more employment than the concentration of land into heavily mechanized expanses and plantations. As ActionAid has pointed out “Biofuel could even be an important tool to fight hunger and poverty if it comes together with a set of appropriate policies involving smallholder farmers.”38

    From: biofuelwatch@yahoogroups.com [mailto:biofuelwatch@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of Jim Roland
    Sent: 02 November 2007 04:19
    To: biofuelwatch@yahoogroups.com
    Subject: [biofuelwatch] Ziegler: responses from FAO and National Corn Growers Association

    1. http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=75104

    Friday 02 November 2007

    GLOBAL: UN food agency regrets “crime against humanity” label on biofuels

    Photo: IRIN

    Conversion of cereals such as maize into fuel is driving up food prices

    JOHANNESBURG, 1 November 2007 (IRIN) – The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said an independent UN human rights expert’s description of biofuel production as a “crime against humanity” was regrettable.

    Jean Ziegler, the UN Special Rapporteur on The Right to Food, said in a press briefing in New York on 26 October, “It is a crime against humanity to convert agriculturally productive soil into soil which produces foodstuffs that will be burned into [as] biofuel.” He called for a five-year moratorium on biofuel production because the conversion of maize, wheat and sugar into fuels was driving up the prices of food, land and water.

    The FAO, which has issued at least one report this year on how biofuel production has been causing food prices to rise, said, “We regret the report of the Speci al Rapporteur has taken a very complex issue, with many positive dimensions as well as negative ones, and characterised it as a ‘crime against humanity’.”

    Speaking from Cuba on 1 November, Ziegler told IRIN, “I stand by what I said: biofuel production is a violation of the right to food.” He has argued that biofuels will only lead to more hunger in a world where an estimated 854 million people – 1 out of 6 – already have too little to eat.

    Citing FAO figures showing that the world already produced enough food to feed everyone, and could feed 12 billion people – double the current world population – Ziegler told journalists that the 232kg of maize needed to produce 50 litres of ethanol could feed a child in Mexico or Zambia for a year.

    Jeff Tschirley, head of the FAO’s Environment Assessment and Management Unit, said, “FAO strongly feels that food security and environmental considerations must be fully addressed before making investments or policy deci sions, and we are actively working to ensure this happens.

    “However, a moratorium that ignores the potential of biofuels to support rural development and assist the economies of developing countries would not, in our view, be a constructive approach to this topic.”

    The FAO recently launched a project to help policy-makers assess the potential effects of bioenergy production on food security in developing countries.

  2. biofuelsimon 5 November, 2007 at 9:56 am #

    The telling point of IRN’s report on Jean Ziegler, the UN Special Rapporteur, is this:

    232kg of maize needed to produce 50 litres of ethanol could feed a child in Mexico or Zambia for a year…

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