Right to food – biofuels & land grabs

Biofuels are economically illiterate, environmentally destructive, politically short-sighted and ideologically unsound.
– Ian Goldin, former vice president of the World Bank

It is a crime against humanity to convert agricultural productive soil into soil which produces food stuff that will be burned into biofuel.
— Jean Ziegler, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food

Burning biofuels is driving global hunger, as land that could be used to grow crops to feed people are now being used to grow crops to feed cars and power stations and as food is being turned into biodiesel and ethanol. According to ActionAid, the food that is being burned in cars in the UK could feed 10 million people each year. Yet, one in eight people in the world are going hungry because they cannot afford to eat. In 2011, the World Bank, World Trade Organisation and the UN called on G20 countries to stop subsidising biofuels due to the impacts that they were having on food prices.

People argue that a solution therefore to use biofuels crops which would not otherwise be used as food – but the crux of the issue is that the land which is being used to grow biofuels could otherwise be used to grow food, and in a world of increasing population growth, land is becoming scarcer – we should not be using millions of hectares of land to grow biofuels.  People have even been pushed off their land at gunpoint.   There are no genuine mechanisms in place to ensure that biofuels and biomass entering our power stations and cars in the UK are not implicated in such land grabs. The Europe’s and North America’s  greed for biofuels is having the greatest impact on the world’s poorest and most marginalised, and undermining the fundamental principle that all peoples have the right to self-determination and to sovereignty over their land and way of life. There is now increasing concern that a similar story will unfold with respect to growing demand for biomass.

International land investors and biofuel producers have acquired land around the world that could feed nearly 1 billion people. Analysis by Oxfam of several thousand land deals completed in the last decade shows that an area eight times the size of the UK has been left idle by speculators or is being used largely to grow biofuels for US or European vehicles.

Oxfam argue that the global land rush is out of control and urges the World Bank to freeze its investments in large-scale land acquisitions to send a strong signal to global investors to stop land grabs.

In a recent report Oxfam argue that ‘more than 60% of investments in agricultural land by foreign investors between 2000 and 2010 were in developing countries with serious hunger problems. But two-thirds of those investors plan to export everything they produce on the land. Nearly 60% of the deals have been to grow crops that can be used for biofuels’. Very few, if any, of these land investments benefit local people or help to fight hunger. ‘Instead, the land is either being left idle, as speculators wait for its value to increase … or it is predominantly used to grow crops for export, often for use as biofuels.’

Find out more:

Actionaid’s research into Biofuels, particularly the recent report ‘Biofuelling the global food crisis: why the EU must act at the G20‘.
Oxfam International (October 2012), ‘Land sold off in last decade could grow enough food to feed a billion people’