Biofuels and Food Security A Balancing Act

January 27, 2011 12:48 AM
Biofuels and Food Security A Balancing Act
The needs of a hungry world may be met by keeping food security, energy production and natural resource use in balance, Daniel Gustafson, of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), shared with Top Producer Seminar attendees.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization poverty and hunger are linked both ways. Malnourished people don’t get ahead because they don’t do as well at work or in school because they are weak and famished.
Gustafson says, "They are hungry because they are poor, but they are also poor because they are hungry."
Food production is a key player in relieving world hunger although many areas with malnourished and poor people are areas of high agriculture production. In fact according to the FAO 72% of starving people live in middle income countries like Brazil and India.
"Countries that are success stories in agriculture production still have a very high number of malnourished and poverty level people," Gustafson says.
Most poor people don’t live in cities or towns as might be assumed.
"Most of them are rural and some are farmers," says Gustafson. "So you have hundreds of millions of small farmers with households who don’t have enough to eat, and that is really a challenge."
Food production is not the only factor that determines the percentage of hunger globally. During the food crisis of 2008, the number of hungry people peaked devastating millions even though it was the highest year in food production ever. The 2008 food crisis struck up a conversation that is still under debate today. Is ethanol production a contributing factor to world hunger?
Gustafson explained that there were many factors attributing to the spike of hungry people during 2007 and 2008. While these factors included an extremely high amount of corn produced for use in ethanol; other factors like the weak U.S. dollar and the high price of oil also contributed to the problem.
In July of 2010, the world food bank conducted a study that found, "The effect of biofuels on food prices has not been as large as originally thought." Gustafson was quick to note that they did not say that it had no effect, but that it just wasn’t as large as originally thought.
So what’s going to happen to world hunger on the global front? Gustafson suggested that investments in biofuels could help rural development and energy supply in poor countries. He also suggested that employment and rural incomes as a result of biofuel production in these countries would aid relieving hunger. Small farmers in poorer countries who currently produce grains for food, could use biofuels to regenerate a stagnant agriculture sector. What happens in 2011 on the world hunger stage is unknown for certain according to Gustafson.
"There really aren’t simple answers to energy and food prices or how they are linked," Gustafson said. "The world can produce enough food. It is a serious challenge but it can be achieved."

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