Biofuels may help poor farmers, according to a book out today "Biofuels for Transport: Global Potential and Implications for Energy and Agriculture," authored by the Worldwatch Institute and published by Earthscan.
The authors say:
In addition, growth in biofuels production may have unexpected economic benefits, according to the experts who contributed to the report. Of the 47 poorest countries, 38 are net importers of oil and 25 import all of their oil; for these nations, the tripling in oil prices has been an economic disaster. But nations that develop domestic biofuels industries will be able to purchase fuel from their own farmers rather than spending scarce foreign exchange on imported oil.
As far as I can see it might be possible for a large poor country to grow non-food crops to convert into biofuels, somewhere the size of Congo, say. But that is pretty theoretical and would rely on only a relatively small motorised population, and enough excess to feed the people. Biofuels may be able to go some way to helping reduce dependence on oil for these people.
Also the report has some numbers on biofuel production.
World biofuels production rose 28%to 44 billion liters in 2006, according to the figures compiled since research on Biofuels for Transport was completed; fuel ethanol was up 22% and biodiesel rose 80%. Although biofuels comprise less than 1% of the global liquid fuel supply, the surge in production of biofuels in 2006 met 17%of the increase in supply of all liquid fuels worldwide last year.(My emphasis)
The 1% number puts the arguments that biofuels could help make the world independent of oil pretty firmly in their place.
If biofuels account for that level currently, what will be the price of corn when it reaches 2% or even 5%? That is good news for farmers, and there is a danger that some of the increased revenue they generate will trickle down to farm labourers and others who work on the land, but will that be enough to buy goods, products and services that city dwellers need to be able to sell to survive?