Biofuels In Africa: Investment Boon Or Food Threat?

Biofuels in Africa: Investment Boon Or Food Threat?

Biofuels in Africa: Investment Boon or Food Threat?
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SOUTH AFRICA: April 4, 2007


JOHANNESBURG - Africa's vast arable lands have the potential to rival top agricultural nations like the United States in supplying biofuels to a world seeking cleaner energy sources.

But using land reserved for food production to supply biofuel demand could squeeze food supplies in a region vulnerable to shortages. It could also hurt poor consumers if the biofuel boom continues to push food prices higher. As alternative energy takes off, Africans hope to cash in on the high prices of the commodities used to produce these fuels.

Already, investors have pledged billions of dollars for plants to produce bioethanol and biodiesel from crops like sugar, maize and soy in Africa.

Ernst Janovsky, head of agriculture at First National Bank in Johannesburg, said the high rainfall belt between Angola, Zambia and Mozambique alone had the potential to rival the United States as a producer of maize used in bioethanol.

"It's almost as big as the size of the midwest of America. It has the same of type of potential and could actually outperform America," he told Reuters.

As is so often the case in Africa, however, there is one major obstacle to this kind of investment -- infrastructure. In Angola, for one, the land in question is covered by dense forest. Roads and manufacturing capacity have been wrecked by two decades of civil war.

Nevertheless, as the energy movement spreads and major agricultural powers find limits to their output, they may be forced to turn to Africa and be willing to spend money on setting up infrastructure, analysts say.

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I posted this for an obvious reason. Anything that is a food threat to Africa is also a water threat as most of the water used is for agriculture with much of it being wasted due to outdated methods, and ethanol production is known to use great amounts of water as well. And while I am a proponent of cellulosic ethanol I am not for designating fields just for production of crops to be used for it if it will in any way cause the poor to have a greater burden placed upon their food and water supplies than they already have. However, I fear that the allure of profit will blind companies to the other part of this equation, and we will not see prosperity come to these countries but only more exploitation.

I surely hope I am wrong as African nations and their people deserve a chance to for once be free to steer their own markets and to be able to trickle the profits down to the people who will benefit from them. However, again, water scarcity in Africa and drought is predicted to become much worse in the coming years. The IPCC is having its conference in Brussels this week, and on Friday April 6 will release their report regarding the impacts of climate change for the future by region.

This is what they predict for Africa:

IPCC

Impacts of Climate Change
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------INTERNATIONAL: April 2, 2007

Following are impacts of global warming outlined in a draft UN climate report due to be released in Brussels on April 6. The draft, to be discussed by scientists and government experts in the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is looking at the regional effects of warming:

AFRICA --

Reductions in the area suitable for agriculture, and in length of growing seasons and yield potential, are likely to lead to increased risk of hunger. --

An increase of 5-8 percent (60-90 million hectares) of arid and semi-arid land in Africa is projected by the 2080s under various climate change scenarios. --

Current stress on water in many areas of Africa is likely to increase, with floods and droughts. --

Any changes in the productivity of large lakes are likely to affect local food supplies. --

Ecosystems in Africa are likely to experience dramatic changes with some species facing possible extinctions. --

Major delta regions with large populations, such as the Nile and Niger rivers, are threatened by sea level rises.
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Therefore, it is going to take more than planting crops to make biofuel to stop the runaway train that is already coming down the tracks. Climate change is already happening. Glaciers that millions around the world depend on for freshwater are already melting. Severe and prolonged droughts that are affecting food and water sustainability are already occuring in Africa and other parts of the world. We then need human intervention to reverse our own behavior that is contributing to this crisis and investment in other forms of renewable energy like solar to save land for the growing of crops to be used as food to feed the hungry as well as to provide affordable and accessible energy. If we do not conserve water as well as hold governments and corporations accountable for their mismanagement and greed to provide a proper balance, our solutions may just wind up becoming bigger problems.

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