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Biofuels - March 30

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Castro warns poor will starve for greener fuel

Guardian
The Cuban leader, Fidel Castro, today attacked George Bush's new-found fondness for biofuels, warning that food stocks for millions of people could be threatened.

In his first foray into international politics following months of recuperation from intestinal surgery, Mr Castro claimed that valuable agricultural land in poorer countries could be taken over for biofuel crops destined for wealthier nations.

Mr Castro made his attack in an article for the communist party daily, Granma, which was headlined: "Condemned to premature death by hunger and thirst - more than 3 billion people of the world."

"This isn't an exaggerated number; it is actually cautious," said the article by Mr Castro.

"Apply this recipe to the countries of the third world and you will see how many people among the hungry masses of our planet will no longer consume corn.

"Or even worse: by offering financing to poor countries to produce ethanol from corn or any other kind of food no tree will be left to defend humanity from climate change."

The octogenarian leader wrote that during a meeting earlier this week between the US president and American car manufacturers, "the sinister idea of converting food into combustibles was definitively established as the economic line of the foreign policy of the United States".

The implications of the article for Mr Castro's return to power were unclear
(29 March 2007)
Related:
Castro's original text (in Spanish)
Castro text in English
BBC


The Ethanol Mandate Should Not Be Expanded

Ben Lieberman, The Heritage Foundation
The new ethanol mandate is perhaps the most dis­appointing program in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Since taking effect in 2006, this measure has increased energy and food prices while doing little to reduce oil imports or improve the environment.

Based on this track record, the Administration and Congress should now be debating the repeal of this ill-advised and anti-consumer measure. Instead, in his State of the Union address, President George W. Bush proposed greatly expanding the mandate.[1] Regretta­bly, this may be one of the few energy policy ideas upon which he and Congress can agree.

Any effort to increase the ethanol mandate is mis­guided because it would exacerbate the problems cre­ated by the current requirements without appreciably reducing oil imports or protecting the environment.
(28 March 2007)
One of the few times, I've ever seen the conservative Heritage Foundation agree with Fidel Castro (see previous story). -BA


Via Campesina’s Position on Agro-Fuels

Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST)
The MST recently returned from the African country of Mali. We went as part of a delegation of 12 representatives from Brazilian rural movements and environmentalist groups, joining more than 600 leaders from every continent on Earth. There we met with scientists, environmentalists, women’s movement activists, and members from a spectrum of other organizations, discussing the many questions raised by the goal of establishing food sufficiency for every country.

This World Forum for Food Sovereignty allowed us to deepen the ongoing conversation about an important topic-- the need for social movements around the world to prioritize the struggle to defend food production and food sovereignty for every nation. The struggle means a broad fight against the offensive that the forces of international capital have launched in rural areas, especially with regard to the control of agro-fuels.

Why? An alliance has unified the interests of three great international capital sectors: a) oil companies; b) the transnational firms that control agricultural commerce and genetically-modified seeds; and c) automobile firms. The only goal is to maintain current patterns of consumption in the First World and high rates of profit for multinational corporations.

1. The Goals of the Transnational Corporations, and President Bush:

The objective: to convince governments in the Southern Hemisphere to use their territory for the production of energy, in the form of agricultural goods, in order to maintain the pattern of consumption associated with the “American way of life” in the First World.

The plant-based energy found in grains (in the form of oils), as well as in trees, is ultimately solar energy captured through an agri-chemical transformation. Through conversion into vegetable oil or alcohol, it is turned into fuel. Transnational agribusinesses need the world’s “southern” countries because of this. Many of these countries receive a greater-than-average annual incidence of sunlight, and still have large areas of fertile land available for growing oil-rich plants such as sunflowers, corn, soy, peanuts, sweet-beans, and African palms/ dendê-or for producing alcohol through sugar cane, corn, or trees.

At the same time these businesses hope to impose monocrop production. In the case of soy and corn, such production would be accomplished through genetically-modified seeds. This guarantees a market for the seeds and the (toxic) fertilizers sold by transnational corporations in question. It also opens the door for them to charge intellectual-property fees based on patents and royalty agreements. ...

2. The Position of Rural Movements from Around the World:

We can’t call this a “bio-fuels program.” We certainly can’t call it a “bio-diesel program.” Such phrases use the prefix “bio-“ to subtly imply that the energy in question comes from “life,” in general. This is illegitimate and manipulative. We need to find a term in every language that describes the situation more accurately, a term like agro-fuel. This term refers specifically to energy created from plant products grown through agriculture. We do realize, however, that the prefix “agro-“ itself remains too general. Our scientists are considering a more exact phrase.

We certainly agree that agro-fuel use is better for the environment than petroleum-fuel use. But this doesn’t get to the heart of the human problem in question: the current energy and transportation system, which continues to be based on individual vehicles. To address this problem, we support a radical substitution. The current model of individual transportation, marked by consumerism and pollution, should be replaced with collective transportation-trains, subways, bicycles, et cetera.

We do not accept an energy plan that takes agricultural products currently used to feed human beings - such as corn, soy, sunflowers, etc. - and turns them into energy for cars.

When it comes to producing the agro-fuels that we do need, we must produce them in a sustainable way. In other words, we are opposed to the current neoliberal system, which produces these goods through monoculture on large plantations. Monoculture on a grand scale endangers the environment and forces rural workers out of the countryside.

Monoculture also has an impact on global warming. It destroys biodiversity, disturbs the water cycle, and disrupts the rains, making it difficult for farmers to stay in equilibrium with the Earth. Moreover, it makes intensive use of agro-toxic fertilizers and machines.

We can produce energy. We can make fuel from agricultural products - as long as they are grown sustainably, on small and medium-sized farms, without disturbing the environment. These products can even allow rural workers to have greater autonomy over their energy as they supply the cities.
(6 March 2007)
Via Campesina is "an international movement which coordinates peasant organizations of small and middle-scale producers, agricultural workers, rural women, and indigenous communities from Asia, Africa, America, and Europe". They are a coalition of over 100 organizations, advocating family-farm-based sustainable agriculture.

Other statements from small farmers on agro-fuels:
The Myth of Biofuels (La Via Campesina)
Full Tanks at the Cost of Empty Stomachs: The Expansion of the Sugarcane Industry in Latin America (La Via Campesina)
Energy, climate, agriculture ("The industrial agro-fuels will contribute to solve neither the agricultural nor the climatic crisis.") from CPE, the European Farmers Coordination.

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