Biofuels, although largely produced and consumed by Western countries like the United States and Brazil, are not a Western problem. The impacts of rising food prices and land grabs are affecting farmers and people at risk for hunger all over the world. In this blog post, I want to focus on the impacts of biofuels in Asian countries, because as the market for biofuels is increasing thanks to quotas created by the US and the EU, farmers in Asia are jumping on the bandwagon to try to make some money.
One country that has been negatively affected by biofuels is India. This booming economic country decided to start producing jatropha, a plant that is not edible and does not need fertile soil to thrive. This plant oil started out as a brilliant new market that could take advantage of poor farm land and have no impact on global food prices, but there were a few problems with this solution. The first was that the estimated number of crops that could be produced on a hectare of land was far too high. Two different Indian research institutes did studies that indicated a hectare of land could produce 7.5tons of jatropha, when in reality, this number turned out to be less than 1 ton per hectare of land. This drastic mistake meant that more farmers wanted to switch to more profitable crops, despite the fact that the government was encouraging the people to continue to grow this plant. India also suffered from government subsidies and quotas around biofuels. Statements like saying that 20% of all oil has to come from biofuels by 2017 puts more pressure on farmers to produce more of the crop. These kinds of quotas have forced farmers to start using fertile soil, soil that could be used for food crops, to produce Jatropha.
Other countries in Asia are not necessarily growing biofuel crops, but they are still being adversely affected by the rise in food prices. Currently in Vietnam, 9% of all rural families and 29% of ethnic minority households are suffering from food insecurity, but these numbers have risen since then. The price of food has just about doubled in the last few months, and many poor families cannot keep up with these prices. When we the world realize the huge impacts these biofuel quotas are having on people who are already struggling to meet their basic needs. We should be trying to end poverty, not increase it. Why, when there is so much information out there refuting biofuels, are more people not aware of all the harm this fuel has caused?