RSN Fundraising Banner
FB Share
Email This Page
add comment

Spross writes: "A new report in The New York Times highlights how biofuel policy in the United States and Europe has produced a rolling food catastrophe in Guatemala."

There is no shortage of corn in Guatemala, problem is the maize is being consumed by gas tanks in America instead of by people in Guatemala. (photo: Reuters)
There is no shortage of corn in Guatemala, problem is the maize is being consumed by gas tanks in America instead of by people in Guatemala. (photo: Reuters)

How US Biofuel Policy Is Destroying Guatemala's Food Supply

By Jeff Spross, ThinkProgress

10 January 13


new report in The New York Times highlights how biofuel policy in the United States and Europe has produced a rolling food catastrophe in Guatemala.

The country once enjoyed a nearly self-sufficient level of corn production, but domestic producers were undercut by American corn exports subsidized by U.S. agricultural policy. Guatemala's domestic corn supplies dropped nearly 30 percent per capita between 1995 and 2005.

In 2007, the United States established its expanded biofuel standards, and began relying on corn to meet them. That drove up demand, and the flow of cheap corn into Guatemala dried up. Meanwhile, larger farms and industrial producers took up much of Guatemala's available cropland and water supplies to produce sugar cane, vegetable oil, and other crops to meet increased global demand for biofuel, due to European as well as U.S. policies.

The result left subsistence farmers with less and less land to work, and the average Guatemalan - whose diet is heavily corn-based - with no where else to turn for affordable food:

In a country where most families must spend about two thirds of their income on food, "the average Guatemalan is now hungrier because of biofuel development," said Katja Winkler, a researcher at Idear, a Guatemalan nonprofit organization that studies rural issues. Roughly 50 percent of the nation's children are chronically malnourished, the fourth-highest rate in the world, according to the United Nations. […]

But many worry that Guatemala's poor are already suffering from the diversion of food to fuel. "There are pros and cons to biofuel, but not here," said Misael Gonzáles of C.U.C., a labor union for Guatemala's farmers. "These people don't have enough to eat. They need food. They need land. They can't eat biofuel, and they don't drive cars."

In 2011, corn prices would have been 17 percent lower if the United States did not subsidize and give incentives for biofuel production with its renewable fuel policies, according to an analysis by Bruce A. Babcock, an agricultural economist at Iowa State University. The World Bank has suggested that biofuel mandates in the developed world should be adjusted when food is short or prices are inordinately high. […]

In part because [the United Nations World Food Program in Guatemala's] primary food supplement is a mix of corn and soy, it cannot afford to help all of the Guatemalan children in need, Mr. Gauvreau said; it is agency policy to buy corn locally, but there is no extra corn grown here anymore. And Guatemalans cannot go back to the land because so much of it is being devoted to growing crops for biofuel. (Almost no biofuel is used domestically.)

In short, Guatemala is a microcosm for the damage Western food-based biofuels are doing to food supplies for the global poor. The United States is currently on track to devote nearly 40 percent of its own corn crop, and 15 percent of the world's corn supplies, to biofuels. By 2020, European standards will mandate that transportation fuels contain 10 percent biofuels. (Although the European Commission "recently proposed amending its policy so that only half of its 2020 target could be met by using biofuels made from food crops or those grown on land previously devoted to food crops," according to the New York Times.)

Most assessments of the 2008 food crisis found that biofuels played a role. Agricultural production is able to keep up with the world's growing demand for food; however, the growing demand for biofuels make it more difficult to match that demand in years when weather is poor. As global warming continues to raise the odds of extreme weather, less reliable rain, and less reliable growing seasons, the potential to meet that demand diminishes.

At the same time, most studies have determined that because of the carbon emissions involved in biofuels' agricultural production, their net effect on greenhouse gases is either negligible or negative. More advanced biofuels, such as the ones based on microalgae, could provide a solution, but they have not been fully commercialized. For the moment, we're causing severe damage to the world's food supply with no real benefit to the global warming problem. your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+8 # Activista 2013-01-11 00:36
Well researched/fact ual article. People are starving to fuel cars in "civilized World".
Car is the Numero Uno tool of the environmental destruction - but like a military - it keeps our sick Money "consumer" culture on the way over the cliff.
+6 # sandyclaws 2013-01-11 06:55
Any time you burn anything you produce CO2. Producing some of the biofuels produce more CO2 than gasoline! We are destroying our atmosphere and our climate which will destroy our ability to grow food. Another item more important than fuel is water. Water is even more critical than oil. It takes a lot of water to produce biofuels. That is water that should be producing food. People should be the priority on this planet. What the hell is the matter with us. Why does pursuit of profit trump peoples welfare? It was said that one solar concentrating collector 100 miles on a side would produce all the power necessary to power the entire USA. That's only 200 square miles per state. 14 miles on a side. No CO2 production, no air pollution, no radioactivity, no petroleum spills, no water poisoning. Corporations could still be selling this clean power with no fuel to purchase. So with so much on the pro side and nothing on the con side why aren't we doing this? History will show that the United States of America contained the highest number of stupid and greedy people the world has ever known. Even Germany with their low amount of sunshine is making solar work for them and they are gaining on it every year. Of course we watched them produce the first jet and the first rocket too. Even Russia launched the first satelite. Why are we always second best? We maintain our addiction to oil and this country will go down in ruin and probably take the rest of the planet with it.
+1 # MidwestTom 2013-01-11 07:52
This same story can be told about dozens of countries. We have a glut of crude oil but we are increasing the use of ethanol form 10% to 15% to cut down on automotive emissions, which are already at a decades low level; thereby causing near starvation in many poor import dependent countries. Stop the ethanol foolishness.
+2 # Activista 2013-01-11 13:09
Saudis are buying US Midwest Farms to control/profit from "bio-fuels".
Americans are using money to pay the medical bills ... what a system ...

THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.