Blog about the upcoming food shortage crisis

Everybody throws stones at the prophet, but when the crisis comes they yell: “Why nobody warned us?”

Images of the country

Hyperinflation in Zimbabwe

Hyperinflation in Zimbabwe


Kids in line



April 15, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Zimabwe and the FOOD crunch

Right now I am trying to understand what is going on in the Zimbabwe. Obviously the country is in the great trouble and the government of the country has to hold its share of the responsibility. However, it appears that there are reasons for hunger and hyperinflation beyond the government´s control. According to the official media (newspapers, BBC, The Economist) the main person to blame is Robert Mugabe, current president of Zimbabwe, who is currently losing his grip on the power. But there is no mention about the economic blockade of the country by the West and South African Republic. Obviously media is not trying to give an in depth analysis of the situation. The agenda is clear – Mugabe is Tyrant, he has to go and allow MDC – Movement for Democratic Change to come to power.

In my humble opinion democracy and capitalism have done more harm to the countries than help. If we look for example at the former Soviet Union, we can see the troubles brought by the democracy and capitalism – inflation, poverty, hunger, infant mortality, dramatically decreased life expectancy, immigration from the poor countries and emigration of the skilled work force, financial troubles of the economy. Same things happened to Zimbabwe since 1990. Life expectancy has gone down from 90 to 37, literacy is going down due to the closing schools, hunger is roaring and hyperinflation is moving at an unexpected pace.

On the other side, some people are doing really well. White farmers are in the winning position, as the government mismanaged the lands confiscated from them and failed to increase food production. It is slowly moving into the situation where it will face the choice – to give the land back and let farmers produce the food, or to hold to the land and allow further situation worsening.

Finally, there is the issue of the freedom of the press. Government is trying to control the media in the country in order to prevent pro-Western propaganda and avoid the further distabiliasation. Media is just as valuable as any kind of utility and therefore has to be accountable, as it can exercise a huge persuasion power. However, it can be argued that the time has come to take a new ways of control to avoid the image of dictator.

April 15, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 4 Comments

Food crunch

World food reserves are at their lowest in 25 years and the prices of most food crops are at a record high. Global cereal prices are expected to remain high in 2008 mainly because of drought-like conditions in major cereal exporting countries and low world stocks, warns the latest Food Outlook report of FAO.

The Food Outlook report of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) predicts that foodgrain prices will rise for another 10 years. For most cereals supplies are much tighter than in recent years, while demand is rising for food as well as feed and industrial use. Stocks, which were already low at the start of the season, are likely to remain equally low because global cereal production may only be sufficient to meet expected world utilization. Although the world cereal production in 2007-08 is estimated to have gone up by 5 per cent, most of it is attributed to a sharp increase in maize, the main foodgrain used for biofuel.

Wheat Closing stock (2007-08): 142.6 mln tonnes; slightly down from last year; Current price (Feb): US $449/tonne; 115% up In February 2008, wheat prices rose by 15 per cent due to record low stocks and poor winter-wheat crop prospects in southwest US and northern China. Between December 2005 and December 2007, wheat prices jumped from US $167 per tonne to US $381 per tonne. The current global wheat stocks are estimated the lowest since 1982-it is expected to fall to 110.4 million tones by May 31, according to the US Department of Agriculture. According to FAO ‘s latest forecast, world wheat production in 2007-08 stands at 602 million tonnes, significantly below expectations and just 1 per cent more than the previous year. For 2008-09, the US Department of Agriculture forecasts world wheat production to increase by 4 per cent to a near-record 617 million tonnes. But higher production will be partly offset by already low stocks.

The main reason for the rise in price was the drought in Australia, the second largest supplier of wheat. Australia harvests nearly 25 million tonnes of wheat in a good year but in 2006 the production was only 9.8 million tonnes. Exports from other wheat suppliers like Canada, EU, Turkey and Syria also saw a dip due to unfavourable climatic conditions. High demand for wheat for biofuel and feed further depleted the global supply.

As a result of this shortage India bought wheat for the second consecutive year. In 2007-08, India imported 0.68 million tonnes of wheat; in 2006-07 it had imported 5.8 million tonnes. Estimates suggest imports will not be required for 2008-09, says T Haque, chairperson of the Commission for Agriculture Costs and Prices. However, there are speculations that India may have to import 3 million tonnes of wheat to shore up its stocks. FAO forecast slightly higher imports of wheat for China, where government procurement under the minimum purchase programme this year is down by 30 per cent from the previous season.

Rice Closing stock: 107.6 million tonnes; slightly up; Current price: US $500 per tonne; nearly twofold The price of rice crossed the US $500-atonne mark in the beginning of March 2008, reaching the highest in the past 20 years. According to FAO, demand for during 2007-08 is likely to be 429.2 million tonnes against a production of 429.3 million tonnes. Ending stocks are projected to be 107.6 million tonnes, up 0.7 per cent over the previous season. Rice production in 2007-08 is estimated increase by a mere 0.6 million tonnes.

Heavy demand from the Philippines, the largest importer of rice and African countries has pushed the prices of rice. Supply shortage in Pakistan, where electricity crunch has hampered mills from functioning at full capacity and a ban on export by India and China have also added to it. In March 2008, India banned export of the non-basmati variety at less than US $650 per tonne. The move was to compensate for wheat shortage in procurement for the public distribution system.

However, India partially relaxed the ban for Madagascar, Mauritius, Comoros Island and cyclone-hit Bangladesh. China banned exports to ensure domestic availability.

Across the world, Vietnam sold broken rice to the Philippines at a record US $750 per tonne. In Thailand, rice and wheat prices went up by 30-40 per cent in the past three months. Exporters in the country are hoarding rice and wheat in anticipation of a further rise in prices. Pakistan saw a 60 per cent jump in price in the past few months.


Closing stock: 133 million tonnes, 14% up; Current price: US $220 per tonne, up by 24%

Between December 2005 and December 2007, the price increased from US $103 a tonne to US $180 a tonne. Despite a record 9 per cent production growth in coarse grain-the bulk of which came from maize-in 2007-08, the maize price peaked at a 10-year high of US $220 per tonne in February 2007. It has now breached the US $230 per tonne mark.

Strong demand for biofuels coupled with a steady growth in demand for animal feed, particularly in Europe, has lead to an increase in the prices of maize. The US supplies more than 60 per cent of world maize exports. But in 2007-08, a quarter of the US maize-that is 11 per cent of the global maize crop-went into biofuel production. US, the largest market for ethanol, used almost 54 million tonnes of maize for biofuel in 2006-07 and is estimated to have used 81.3 million tonnes in 2007-08, according to FAO.


The past one-and-a-half years, soya bean and palm oil rates have seen a sharp increase. In fact, the rise in the prices of edible oils was the sharpest among all food items, and is likely to continue. The price of palm oil rose from US $350 per tonne to US $1,250 per tonne in the past one year. Soya bean price has increased to US $499.43 per tonne in a year.

According to FAO, increase in oilseed production in 2007-08 is less than 2 per over the previous year. Palm, palm kernel, copra, rapeseed and groundnut oil production is likely to see a sizeable increase, while a fall is anticipated for soya bean and sunflower seed oil.

Biofuel accounted for almost half the increase in the worldwide demand for vegetable oils last year, according to Oil World, a forecasting service in Hamburg, Germany. Rising consumer demand in China and India has also pushed the demand of oil. Floods in Malaysia, one of the big producers of palm oil, led to a shortfall in production. Palm oil is being accepted as a healthier option to trans fats and hence there is an increased demand in Europe.

Across the world, there was stampede in Chongqing, China, when a store announced a cooking oil promotion in November 2007. The stampede in the store left three dead and 31 injured. Last year, China was the world’s biggest palm oil importer. In Malaysia tropical forests were cleared to make way for palm plantation to meet the demands of the European nations for biofuel.

Savvy Soumya Mishra, Down to earth feature


April 15, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

MEDIA in Zimbabwe


All broadcasters transmitting from Zimbabwean soil, as well as the main newspapers, are state-run and toe the government line.

Newspaper vendor reads Harare's main daily

Newspapers operate under restrictive media laws

The press is dominated by two pro-government dailies, the Harare-based Herald and the Bulawayo-based Chronicle, both tightly controlled by the Information Ministry.

Private publications, which are relatively vigorous in their criticism of the government, have come under severe pressure. A leading private daily, the Daily News, was banned after a legal battle.

The remaining independent press is largely confined to two weeklies, the Standard and the Zimbabwe Independent. Another weekly, The Zimbabwean, is produced in London and distributed in Zimbabwe as an international publication.

Because of rampant inflation, cover prices have spiralled and are beyond the reach of many Zimbabweans. Publishers have been hit by escalating printing and newsprint costs.

Draconian laws

A range of draconian laws and institutions, along with prison sentences for “publishing false news”, are used to clamp down on critical comment. Journalists who fail to register with a government body risk imprisonment.

State-run Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) operates the country’s only TV and radio stations. ZBC formerly had two TV channels; its second network was leased to private station Joy TV which closed in 2002. Some of its programmes were said to have ruffled government feathers.

Surveillance, threats, imprisonment, censorship, blackmail, abuse of power and denial of justice are all brought to bear to keep firm control over the news
Reporters Without Borders, 2007

Radio is the main source of information for many Zimbabweans. Although there are no private stations, the country is targeted by overseas-based operations.

The Voice of the People, set up by former ZBC staff with funding from the Soros Foundation and a Dutch organisation, operates using a leased shortwave transmitter in Madagascar.

Another station, the UK-based SW Radio Africa, aims to give listeners in Zimbabwe “unbiased information”.

From the US, the government-funded Voice of America (VOA) operates Studio 7, a twice-daily service for listeners in Zimbabwe which aims to be a source of “objective and balanced news”.

Radio broadcasts by foreign stations deemed hostile to the government have been jammed.

The press



News agency/internet


April 14, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Zimbabwe – article from Wikipedia

Zimbabwe (pronounced /zɪmˈbɑːbweɪ/), officially the Republic of Zimbabwe, and formerly Southern Rhodesia, the Republic of Rhodesia and Zimbabwe Rhodesia, is a landlocked country in the southern part of the continent of Africa, between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers. It is bordered by South Africa to the south, Botswana to the southwest, Zambia to the northwest, and Mozambique to the east. The official language of Zimbabwe is English. However, the majority of the population speaks Shona, which is the native language of the Shona people; the other native language of Zimbabwe being Sindebele, which is spoken by the Matabele people.

From circa 1250–1629, the area that is known as Zimbabwe today was ruled under the Mutapa Empire, also known as Mwene Mutapa, Monomotapa or the Empire of Great Zimbabwe, which was renowned for its gold trade routes with Arabs. However, Portuguese settlers destroyed the trade and began a series of wars which left the empire near collapse in the early 17th century. In 1834, the Ndebele people people arrived while fleeing from the Zulu leader Shaka, making the area their new empire, Matabeleland. In the 1880s, the British arrived with Cecil RhodesBritish South Africa Company. In 1898, the name Southern Rhodesia was adopted.

As colonial rule was ending throughout the continent, and as African-majority governments assumed control in neighbouring Northern Rhodesia and in Nyasaland, the white-minority Rhodesia government led by Ian Smith made a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) from the United Kingdom on 11 November 1965. The United Kingdom deemed this an act of rebellion, but did not re-establish control by force. The white-minority regime declared itself a “republic” in 1970. It was not recognised by the UK or any other state, other than white minority-led South Africa.

A civil war ensued, with Joshua Nkomo‘s ZAPU and Robert Mugabe‘s ZANU using assistance from the governments of Zambia and Mozambique.

On 18 April 1980, the country attained independence and along with it a new name, Zimbabwe, new flag, and government led by Robert Mugabe of ZANU. Canaan Banana served as the first president with Mugabe as Prime Minister. In 1987, the government amended the Constitution to provide for an Executive President and abolished the office of Prime Minister. The constitutional changes went into effect on 1 January 1988, establishing Robert Mugabe as President.

Under the leadership of Mugabe, land issues, which the liberation movement promised to solve, reemerged as the vital issue in the 1990s. Beginning in 2000, Mugabe began an effort to redistribute land from white holders (predominantly large farms) to 250,000 Africans.

Zimbabwe is currently experiencing a hard currency shortage, which has led to hyperinflation and chronic shortages in imported fuel and consumer goods. Mugabe’s critics blame his programme of land reform. However, Mugabe claims that massive financial isolation through American, British and EU legislation such as the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery act of 2001 is the actual cause of hyperinflation. Under ZDERA, the IMF and other financial institutions are prohibited from extending loans, credit or cancelling debt to the government of Zimbabwe. As Zimbabwe needs to import all its energy, and oil is paid for in US dollars, this made the country vulnerable to financial sanctions like ZDERA.

Zimbabwe’s current economic and food crisis, described by some observers as the country’s worst humanitarian crisis since independence, has been attributed, in varying degrees, to a drought affecting the entire region, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and the government’s price controls and land reforms.[1]


April 14, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Grocery shopping, electricity and a new vision

Yesterday I went out to do some grocery shopping. I live in Willesden Green – nice district in the North West London. There is a Polish shop called Red Pig. (12B High Rd Brent, London NW10) They sell continental food from Poland. I bought some youghurts – Danio, 50 p each and 5 Snikers 25p each. This is what amazing. When I bought these yogurts and Snikers I paid for shipping, tax and markup. How is it possible that I can buy products produced in Poland and brought here to Britain so cheaply? It is not like I am buying something not available here. It is easy to find Danio youghurts for 1 pound or Snikers for 50 p.

I am trying to shop where it is cheaper, but at the same time energy prices go up. I used to do well with spending 2 pounds on electricity every day during the winter (electricity key, EDF company, winter and autumn time, heating on for the most of the day). Now I only have heating for the night time. Bill went up to 2 pounds 50 p. April is strangely cold – 0, -1 C at night, but I still need way less energy than in winter or autumn.

Some people say it is not right to complain. However, the majority seems to be heading to the other extreme – accepting the life difficulties without trying to do anything to make the life easier. May be it is the time to take a broader look at the life and events taking place around us.

April 10, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Food Shortages An Emergency –

FAO Chief
By Ranjit Devraj
10 April, 2008
Inter Press Service
NEW DELHI, Apr 9 (IPS) – Jacques Diouf, director general of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), on Wednesday described spiralling food prices as an “emergency” that demanded concerted global attention.
“In the face of food riots around the world like in Africa and Haiti, we really have an emergency,” Diouf said at a news conference in New Delhi that was also addressed by Lennart Bage, president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and Kandeh K. Yumkella, director general of the U.N. Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO).
The three U.N. agency heads, who are in the Indian capital to attend a global conference on the development of agro-industries as a means to fight poverty and create jobs, called for increased agricultural investment in water and infrastructure to help small farmers increase productivity.
Diouf, who blamed the crisis primarily on the steady migration of rural populations to the cities, in turn affecting food production, said he was looking to a summit in Rome in the first week of June to address this as well as factors that had to do with the developed world, such as the diversion of farmland to produce biofuels and speculation in the futures markets.
Yet other factors that contributed to the spike in prices, Diouf said, were adverse weather conditions, such as an unexpectedly severe cold spell in China, droughts in Australia and Kazakhstan and floods in India and Bangladesh.
According to Diouf, the world was now down to 405 million tonnes of cereal stocks, or 8-12 weeks worth of supplies for the world’s populations. “The rise in prices of food commodities all over the world is not going to ease in the short term in view of supply-demand situation,” he said.
“We have seen riots in Egypt, Cameroon, Haiti and Burkina Faso,” Diouf said. “There is a risk that this unrest will spread in countries where 50 to 60 percent of income goes to food.” Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Mozambique and Senegal have also seen unrest over the last few weeks that was attributed to food and fuel prices.
Global food prices have been rising steadily since 2002 and since January have risen 65 percent. In 2007 alone, according to the FAO’s world food index, grain prices have soared 42 percent.
Diouf refused to comment directly on India restricting rice exports, which was said to have caused rice prices in Thailand, the world’s biggest exporter of the Asian staple, to shoot up. But he said it was natural for countries to protect their national interests.
According to Diouf, rising income levels of people in rapidly developing economies like China and India was driving a “demand for more milk and more meat” that translated into higher demand for cereals. “I welcome economic growth in India and China, but I also hope they will invest in agriculture because these two countries account for 2.2 billion people out of six billion,” Diouf said.
UNIDO’s Yumkella saw solutions to the shortage in food processing technology. “We need to pass that technology to developing countries and understand the processes to increase shelf life of basic foods,” he said.
According to Yumkella, agro-industry helped preserve foodstuff, add value and reduce post-harvest losses while enabling products to be transported across long distances, including to the rapidly expanding cities. “Agro-industry generates demand for agricultural products and holds vast potential for off-farm rural employment,” he said.
Urbanisation, rising incomes and more women joining the labour market in many countries have boosted demand for convenience food. Worldwide, processed food and beverages now account for 80 percent of all food and drink sales.
One visible response to this trend was the rapid expansion of supermarkets in many developing countries, especially in South-east Asia and in Latin America. Yet, said Yumkella, there were impediments standing in the way of small farmers trying to benefit from this trend such as customs tariffs, non-tariff barriers, standards and certification requirements.
Yumkella also brought up the issue of climate change which, he said, will impose “great stresses on the world’s ability to feed ever-growing populations. This challenge brings new threats to arable land areas, livestock rearing and fisheries through droughts, water shortages and pollution of land, sea and air.”
Looking at the brighter side, IFAD chief Bage said the current food and climate crises offered opportunities for increased investment in agriculture and rural development. “Our experience has shown that even the poorest farmers readily seize opportunities to build better and more secure lives for their families,” he said.
Copyright © 2008 IPS-Inter Press Service


April 10, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Food prices soar in North Rift as farmers blame State

Publication Date: 4/7/2008
Food prices have shot up in most parts of the North Rift region, due to a decline in supply, sparking protests among consumers.

A maize crop: Many farmers have drastically reduced their acreage under maize and beans because productivity costs are out of their reach.

The rising cost of basic commodities including grains, cereals and vegetables has forced them to double their budgets, as traders express fears that the prices are likely to soar unless supply stabilises.

The shortage has been attributed to the recent drought that hit most parts of the region and the effects of violence.

“We’re receiving a limited supply of almost all basic commodities, which has been occasioned by drought and displacement, following the post-election chaos,” Mrs Susan Chepkoech, a trader at the Eldoret retail market, said.

Traders have been forced to import commodities like finger millet, sorghum and bananas from Uganda.

Traders said some of the farmers within the region were unwilling to sell their maize produce due fears of declined production of the crop this season, following increasing fuel and fertiliser prices.

“The increased food prices are straining our financial expenditure as we can no longer afford some of the commodities,” Mr Jackson Kimutai said.

The price of dry maize has increased from Sh1,100 to Sh1,250 per 90 kilogramme bag, while the same quantity of beans has gone up from Sh3,500 to Sh4,000 in the past few weeks.

Not been spared

A bag of potatoes has also increased from Sh1,200 to Sh1,300 while that of carrots is selling at Sh1,500 up from Sh1,400. The cost of fruits and vegetables have not been spared either with a bag of Sukuma wiki (Kales) going at Sh800 up from Sh700 while that of that of cabbages increased from Sh600 to Sh700.

Meanwhile, farmers in the region have accused the Government of being insensitive to their needs.

They say the government is not committed to addressing possible food insecurity in the country by subsidising on farm inputs.

The farmers, led by Mr Joel Kigen and Ezekiel Kosgei, said the planting season was on and yet fertilisers were still being sold exorbitantly. Most farmers, they noted, had drastically reduced their acreage under maize and beans because productivity costs are out of their reach.

“I used to plant nine acres of maize but now I will only have four acres of the crop, just to take care of my family throughout the year,” said Mr Kigen.

The farmers said the Government should offer subsidies to lure farmers from the area to practice extensive agriculture. “It doesn’t help when a 50kg bag of fertiliser goes for Sh3,900 up from Sh1,600 last year and a litre of diesel at Sh90 up from Sh75 last year,” Mr Kosgei said.

He observed that some farmers had not cultivated their land hoping that production costs would come down before the end of the planting season.

“So long as production costs are higher than the returns at the end of the day, we have no reason engaging in commercial agriculture. We better leave the land to graze our dairy cattle,” said Mr Kosgei.


April 7, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Rich nations seek action on rising food prices

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TOKYO: Development ministers from wealthy nations called Sunday for action to confront soaring food prices, which they said hurt developing nations as well as efforts by donors to help them.

Ministers from the Group of 8 industrialized nations said that development assistance needed to be strengthened, and partnership increased between traditional donors and new donors, like emerging Asian countries.

But rising food prices, which were not on the official agenda for the meeting, and partly for that reason were not included in the summary statement, became a hot topic on the final day of the two-day meeting in Tokyo.

“Spikes in food prices cause serious problems for development as a whole, especially for Africa, and we shared the view that this is something the international community needs to tackle,” Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura of Japan, chairman of the meeting, said during a news conference.

“We reached a common determination that there is the need to take necessary steps,” he added, without specifying details.

This month, the president of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, called for a new coordinated global response to spiraling food prices, which are exacerbating food shortages around the globe.

Severe weather in producing countries and a spike in demand from fast-developing countries have pushed up prices of staple foods by 80 percent since 2005. Last month, rice prices hit a 19-year high; wheat prices rose to a 28-year high and almost twice the average price of the past 25 years, Zoellick added.

Alain Joyandet, the French secretary of state for cooperation and French-speaking countries, said that France was concerned about the rising cost of food, which he said could affect the aid programs of donors.

Some Asian countries that attended “outreach meetings” on the sidelines of the conference with the ministers from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States and Russia said problems of rising food prices should be taken up at a G-8 summit meeting in July in Japan, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official said. But the official said there had not been enough time at the weekend to discuss any concrete steps to tackle food prices.

The weekend meeting, to set the groundwork for development issues at the G-8 summit meeting, took place halfway into the calendar for the UN Millennium Development Goals, a set of eight globally agreed targets to be reached by 2015.

The goals, set in 2000, range from halving the number of people living on less than $1 a day, to providing universal primary education and halting the spread of HIV/AIDS. Experts say most countries could fail to meet the UN goals.

Europe to seek bank dataEurope will press the G-7 group of industrialized economies this week to demand more disclosure from banks on their securitization activities and the exotic securities behind the global credit crunch, Reuters reported from Brdo, Slovenia on Saturday.

Finance ministers and central bankers from the 15 countries that have adopted the euro also agreed during two days of talks to express concern over excessive exchange-rate volatility during the meeting in Washington on Friday by envoys from the United States, Japan, Canada, Britain , Germany, France and Italy.

The European Union also issued a statement expressing its approval of a recent agreement that gives countries like China and India more voting rights within the International Monetary Fund.

“To increase transparency and restore confidence, ministers and governors call on financial institutions to make full and immediate disclosure of on- and off-balance-sheet risk exposures and losses,” the statement said.

It noted varying practices on disclosure and said it was time to consider extra guidelines by mid-2008.

During meetings in Slovenia, which eventually included all 27 countries of the European Union, the basic message was that Europe was doing its part to address market turmoil and had a sounder financial supervisory system than the United States.

In another document, the Europeans made it clear that bailouts were the last of last resorts. “The use of public money to resolve a crisis can never be taken for granted and will only be considered to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy and when overall social benefits are assessed to exceed the cost of recapitalization at public expense,” said the document, which was described as a memorandum of understanding on financial security principles.

Backing the IMF voting overhaul, the EU said that the voting rights changes “will achieve a significant shift in the representation of dynamic economies, many of which are emerging market countries, and give poorer countries a greater say in running the multilateral institution.”

The plan would increase the voting shares of China, India and Brazil. At the same time, it would reduce that of countries like Russia and Argentina, and slightly lower those of the Germany, Britain, France and others.


April 7, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

UN chief calls for review of biofuels policy

· Ban Ki-moon speaks out amid global food shortage
· 33 countries facing unrest as families go hungry

* Julian Borger, diplomatic editor
* The Guardian,
* Saturday April 5 2008
* Article history

About this article
This article appeared in the Guardian on Saturday April 05 2008 on p16 of the International section. It was last updated at 00:05 on April 05 2008.

The UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, has called for a comprehensive review of the policy on biofuels as a crisis in global food prices – partly caused by the increasing use of crops for energy generation – threatens to trigger global instability.

“We need to be concerned about the possibility of taking land or replacing arable land because of these biofuels,” Ban told the Guardian in Bucharest while attending this week’s Nato summit. But he added: “While I am very much conscious and aware of these problems, at the same time you need to constantly look at having creative sources of energy, including biofuels. Therefore, at this time, just criticising biofuel may not be a good solution. I would urge we need to address these issues in a comprehensive manner.”

Climate change has been a priority for Ban since he took over from Kofi Annan, and he has embraced the potential of biofuels, derived from plants, as a long-term substitute for fossil fuels. But as food prices have soared – driven by rising demand, high fuel costs, and climate change – the cultivation of biofuels has come under fire for diverting fertile land from food production.

Some of the loudest criticism has come from within UN food agencies, which are struggling to keep up with commodity prices. Last month the World Food Programme issued an emergency $500m appeal to donors to help it meet its existing commitments to the world’s hungry.

WFP officials say 33 countries in Asia and Africa face political instability as the urban poor struggle to feed their families.

There are also mounting concerns over the benefits of biofuels to the environment. They generally burn cleaner than fossil fuels, but fuels such as grain-based ethanol are energy-intensive to produce, and tropical rainforests have been cleared to produce palm oil for use as a fuel.

The role of biofuels is under review in Britain pending an inquiry into the indirect impact of their cultivation by the Renewable Fuels Agency.

Against this backdrop some senior UN officials are pushing for a change of policy, and attack Ban in private. “Ban is just out of touch,” one said. “He doesn’t know what is really going on in our agencies.”

The UN’s own special rapporteur on the right to food, Jean Ziegler, called biofuels “a crime against humanity”, and called for a five-year moratorium.

Ban rejected that proposal. “At this time I wouldn’t make any definitive judgment or definitive plans, in particular vis-à-vis these biofuels,” he said. “I know there are some concerns raised by certain quarters about biofuels. But biofuels are a renewable source of energy when we are experiencing extreme difficulties [with] resources.”

But Ban conceded that there was a food supply problem and said the primary Millenium Development Goal of halving global hunger by 2015 looked harder to reach than ever. “This steeply rising food price is a new phenomenon,” he said. “We have only seven years left to meet the target of 2015. This is very serious.”

He said he was overseeing a multi-agency investigation of the issue involving the UN Energy Programme, the UN Development Programme, the Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the World Food Programme. “They are all working on this issue,” the secretary-general said.


April 5, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment