The Hunger Grains

Oxfam urges us to tell everybody that there is enough food to feed the world. But people go hungry. Why?

It’s partly because food crops are used to make biofuels. European Union (EU) governments committed themselves, four years ago, to sourcing 10% of transport energy from renewable sources by 2020. Ruth Kelly at Oxfam says that they are set to meet this target almost exclusively using biofuels made from food crops. So vehicles get fed while people go hungry.

Another voice from Oxfam is Jeremy Hobbs: Oxfam’s Executive Director. Mr Hobbs says, ‘The world is facing an unbridled land rush that is exposing poor people to hunger, violence and the threat of a life-time in poverty. The World Bank is in a unique position to stop this from becoming one of the great scandals of the 21st century.’ The World Bank should freeze its ‘land grabs’, says Mr Hobbs. Its ‘investments in agriculture have increased by 200% in the last 10 years’ without sufficient caution about poor people’s need to grow food. Poor people’s legal entitlement to land is getting ignored and guess what that means? People go hungry.

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About argylesock

I wrote a PhD about veterinary parasitology so that's the starting point for this blog. But I'm now branching out into other areas of biology and into popular science writing. I'll write here about science that happens in landscapes, particularly farmland, and about science involving interspecific interactions. Datasets and statistics get my attention. Exactly where this blog will lead? That's a journey that I'm on and I hope you'll come with me.
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17 Responses to The Hunger Grains

  1. Thank you for posting this. This is a huge issue here in corn country in the States.

  2. One of the other problems is the amount of crops which are used for animal feed.
    The majority of soya which is grown is used for poultry, pork feed, as well as for canned pet food and fish pellets..a large amount of the corn which is grown is also used for animal feed.

    The Soybean problem is especially big in Brazil, where the land is gained by deforestation.
    I am not by any means advocating vegetarianism, but, I do think we need to look at how much land is being used to provide feedstuff for livestock, as well as the newer issue biofuel land use.
    When you get this, combined with the landgrab in developing countries by developed ones, to me, it looks like a system we need to stand back from and take a long hard look at.

  3. Daniel Digby says:

    In America, our Congress has determined that it’s much better to subsidize growing corn (maize) to be converted into ethanol than to take what is treated as a weed (sawgrass) to make ethanol at one third the cost. Not only does this starve the rest of the world, it jacks up food prices intolerable right here in the US of A, and we get to have a hideous chunk of out taxes used in this worthy endeavor. Congress has refused to spend our hard-earned money to fund research on the sawgrass conversion process. http://ecomodder.com/forum/showthread.php/ethanol-corn-vs-sawgrass-5344.html

    • argylesock says:

      What an interesting link. Do you know much about ecomodder? Call me cynical but the .com suffix makes me wary. If what they say is correct, then yes, why not sawgrass? Is that plant v familiar over there? I’d never heard of it until you mentioned it here.

      • Daniel Digby says:

        Sawgrass is a sedge with deep rhizomes that can grow in phosphate-poor soil to produce a dense ground coverage. Without sufficient planning it may become an invasive species, but in the U.S. it doesn’t seem to spread beyond its native regions. There is also talk of a “giant reed” (unnamed in the article) that has a much higher potential for invasion (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/21/science/earth/21biofuels.html?scp=1&sq=elisabeth+rosenthal&st=nyt).

        The big problem with cellulose-based (sawgrass) ethanol is the conversion process, which is considerably more difficult than using starch or sugars. Several processes have been patented, but as I mentioned earlier, our Congress isn’t interested in any program that doesn’t feed their campaign funds. Current estimates are that you can get roughly 500 gallons of ethanol per acre or 2000 liters per hectare from sawgrass. The cost of sawgrass is negligible, but manufacture is a matter of best guesses. The figure in the blog probably is in the ballpark, but I wouldn’t bet any money on it. The unstated drawbacks to ethanol production is that it isn’t cheap, and energy costs alone (for both corn and sawgrass) are probably greater than can be recouped from the sale of ethanol. The only plus side is that they are cheaper than the carcinogen (methyl tert-butyl ether) additive they replace. (I’m not a petroleum engineer, but I don’t think I’m too far off base with this.)

  4. Pingback: Microalgae | Science on the Land

  5. Finn Holding says:

    Is it just me that thinks it’s absolutely bonkers that the price of many foods is skyrocketing so wealthy folks can afford to drive a car but less wealthy folk can’t afford to eat?

  6. eideard says:

    When you have time to look about, you’ll find the contradiction in complaints here in the States. Most biofuel – almost exclusively ethanol – here is made from fodder corn. Maize hybridized and grown for animal feed. It’s more productive for ethanol than maize designed for human consumption. Among other characteristics, less water.

    The fun comes in when activists who tailor their complaints about potential food shortages – also often turn out to be vegetarians or vegans. All that worry over production of pigs and cows being shorted. 🙂

    • argylesock says:

      You have a point here. I prefer not to tell people what they should or shouldn’t eat, but as you may have noticed, I’m proud to be connected to the meat industry.

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