ISIS Report 07/03/06
The New Biofuel Republics
Poor developing nations are to feed the voracious appetites of rich countries
for biofuels instead of their own hungry masses, and suffer the devastation
of their natural forests and biodiversity. Dr. Elizabeth Bravo and Dr.
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The next European colonisation has begun
The end of cheap oil and the impending fuel crisis have convinced the
European Union and the United States to seriously tackle their
long-standing and worsening “addiction to oil”, not by kicking the habit,
but by guzzling biofuels instead. These “carbon neutral” fuels – biodiesel
or bioethanol - make even committed environmentalists feel good about getting
into their SUVs, as they do not contribute to carbon emissions. Burning biofuels
simply sends back into the atmosphere carbon dioxide that the plants took
out when they were growing in the field. The snag is that there simply isn’t
sufficient arable land on which to grow all the biofuel crops needed to satisfy
the voracious appetites of the industrialised nations.
So, the next phase of colonisation
has begun. The industrialised countries are
looking to the Third
World to feed their addiction: the
land is there for the taking as is cheap labour, and the environmental damages
of large plantations, biofuels extraction and refining can all be outsourced,
exactly as they were in the extraction of crude oil. Brazil is already
currently the main supplier of bioethanol to the United Kingdom.
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Companies dedicated to biodiesel have set their sights
on countries in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific,
where they can also obtain raw material at competitive prices.
UK-based DI Oils predicted
in 2004 that the world market for biodiesel would grow by 14.5 percent annually
to 2.79 million tonnes by 2010. The Asia Pacific operations of the company,
based in Manila, will provide the Philippine Coconut Authority
with the opportunity to meet the surge in biodiesel demand from Japan, China,
Korea, Taiwan and Australia.
DI Oils has fastened on
jatropha, a fast-growing, high-yielding tree that can be planted in semi-tropical
areas on “wasteland and irrigated with sewerage water”. According to its CEO,
the company already has plantations totalling 267 000 Ha in Ghana,
Madagascar, South Africa, India and the Philippines, and intends to expand
to 9 million ha. The Indian government announced a national biodiesel purchase
policy in October 2005 that would enable farmers and biodiesel producers to
get a support price of Rs 25 per litre for jatropha oil, and intends to bring
one million ha of land under jatropha cultivation to supply blended diesel
within the next few years.
Biodiesel has also provided
a much-needed outlet for the glut of genetically modified (GM) crops that
consumers are rejecting worldwide.
President Lula of Brazil
has declared that GM soya is to be used for biofuels and “good soya” for human
consumption. Argentina also has plans to transform GM soya into biodiesel.
The biodiesel industry says that for processing biofuels, large refining plants
have to be constructed close to agricultural areas or forests, where the raw
material is grown. The biodiesel will then have to be transported to filling
stations in the same way as oil.
The oil industry will want
to maintain control over the distribution of fuels, and will enter into an
agreement with these new companies, as in many cases the supply chain can
be very complex.
Biodiesel is projected as a business in which everybody wins. The European
emissions of CO2 decreases, and third world countries increase
their exports and improve the quality of life of their rural populations.
The reality is something
else. It is said that during the growth of the crop, the plants absorb CO2
from the atmosphere. This is true of what was growing before the plantation
was established. As the industry has plans of expanding exponentially, it
is likely that they will begin to occupy primary or secondary forested areas,
as has already happened with the soya plantations. Soya plantations have displaced
the forests of el Chaco in Argentina and the forests in Pantanal,
Atlantic and Chaco areas in Paraguay. Even more dramatically the Amazon, Pantanal,
and Atlantic forests in Brazil have all been cut down for soya. The net CO2
balance is therefore strongly negative.
Additionally, other greenhouse gases are generated as a product of the crop
itself, the processing, refining, transport and distribution of the fuel. It
looks increasingly likely that biofuels is a net contributor of CO2
and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
As regards the benefits to the producers of the biofuel crops, these can be
First, the destruction of
forest and other original vegetation has already happened; and if these crops
were to expand as intended, they could threaten food security and food sovereignty
of the local populations, because farmers would stop producing food crops
for the population and instead concentrate on producing “clean fuels” for
The production of soya in Argentina could increase to 100 million tonnes, which
involves a huge environmental and social cost to the Argentinean people, such
as the displacement of rural populations, growing deforestation and desertification
of soils and hence greater hunger and social inequity.
such as is needed to comply with the demand for biofuels is highly dependent
on oil derivatives such as fertilisers and pesticides, which, apart from producing
CO2 emissions, are highly polluting.
The predictions for Brazil
are alarming, as this country could become the world leader in the substitution
of fossil fuels with biofuels, with all the impacts this entails. In Brazil,
biofuels have been obtained so far from sugarcane, but the expansion of soya
will make the displacement of sugarcane inevitable.
Recently, the Spanish government
of Zapatero announced that Repsol will install a biodiesel plant in León.
It is predicted that the raw material will be obtained from oily crops and
will come from regions where labour and land is cheap and where GM crops are
permitted, i.e., in the Southern Hemisphere.
words, the poor developing nations will be forced to feed the voracious appetites
of rich countries for biofuels at the expense of their own hungry masses and
suffer the devastation of their natural forests and biodiversity.