Food vs. Fuel
Biofuel production from crops has sparked fierce debate globally over whether biofuels will cause food shortages, by using crops that would otherwise have been used for food production. However, there is in fact enough land globally to produce both food and fuel. The “food vs. fuel” or “food or fuel” debate is international in scope, with good and valid arguments on all sides of this issue. There is disagreement about how significant the issue is, what is causing it, and what can or should be done about it.
The demand for ethanol fuel produced from field corn was spurred in the U.S. by the discovery that methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) was contaminating groundwater. MTBE use as a oxygenate additive was widespread due to mandates of the Clean Air Act amendments of 1992 to reduce carbon monoxide emissions. As a result, by 2006 MTBE use in gasoline was banned in almost 20 states in the US. There was also concern that widespread and costly litigation might be taken against the US gasoline suppliers, and a 2005 decision refusing legal protection for MTBE, opened a new market for ethanol fuel, the primary substitute for MTBE.
That food prices went up at the same time fuel prices went up is not surprising and should not be entirely blamed on biofuels. Energy costs are a significant cost for fertilizer, farming, and food distribution. Also, China and other countries have had significant increases in their imports as their economies have grown and westernization has brought with it a change in daily diet. Part of the food price increase for international food commodities measured in US dollars is due to the dollar being devalued. Protectionism is also an important contributor to price increases (Protectionism is the economic policy of restraining trade between states through methods such as tariffs on imported goods, restrictive quotas, and a variety of other government regulations designed to allow “fair competition” between imports and goods and services produced domestically).
Over long time period’s population growth, changes in people’s dietary demands as fast food and sugars become an increased factor and the effects of climate change, could cause food prices to go up. Mabele Fuels is taking a responsible and effective approach to this sensitive aspect of the value chain and will bring in surplus grain sorghum for conversion to biofuel at its Bothaville plant. Mabele will import in grain sorghum if local surpluses are insufficient while concurrently focusing on the development and growth of emerging farmer’s production levels in South Africa. Due to the development of their local maize industries and hence decreased demand over recent years from Sub Saharan Africa for maize import, local maize farmers will be encouraged to plant grain sorghum rather than sit with large surplus maize harvests. This will not affect the food supply as surpluses will be the focus and hence the balance will be struck ensuring effective use across all applicable crops.
Report on the food security impact due to the SA biofuels industry rollout