Fuelling World Hunger: How The Global Biofuel Industry Is Creating Massive
by Jean Ziegler and Siv O’Neall
> Global Research, December 31, 2011
This is an edited version of an article that first appeared on Axis of Logic
The global expansion of the biofuel industry – in which agricultural land
and crops are used to produce fuel for transport vehicles rather than food
for humans – is a major factor driving the dramatic escalation of food
In a new book, Massive Destruction , French author Jean Ziegler  shows
how the biofuel industry and wider agroindustry are threatening to inflict
hunger on the world on an unprecedented scale. This is no blind accident,
says Ziegler. It is the deliberate result of policies implemented by
governments beholden to powerful agribusiness corporations in their pursuit
of private profit. In that way, the resultant increasing levels of world
hunger can be described as a form of “calculated murder”.
Ironically, the biofuel industry is being promoted by corporations and
governments as a sustainable, “ecofriendly” alternative to fossil fuels. In
reality, it is just another form of the same reckless exploitation of
resources that results from insatiable elite private profit under capitalist
economic production. The biofuel industry stems from a marriage of
agribusiness and oil corporations who know full well that this new global
enterprise is inflicting massive environmental destruction and human
Over the past five years, the world has witnessed skyrocketing food prices,
which is putting millions more people at risk of hunger – all because they
simply can no longer afford to buy food. This is a shocking indictment of an
economic system that puts the imperative of private profit above the daily
survival of human beings. Chief among the factors causing this inflation in
food prices is the stellar rise of the global biofuel industry. So how can
such a destructive industry continue to be promoted in the face of its own
consequent human suffering? The short answer is because the public is
largely unaware of the political and economic practicalities.
The following are excerpts from Professor Ziegler’s book, translated by Siv
O’Neall , which helps to uncover the realities of the biofuel industry.
Three major factors contribute to the scarcity and the ever-increasing price
of food commodities.
Land grabbing for the cultivation of sugar cane and other plants, especially
in the US, for the production of biofuels (ethanol), is one major cause of
the scarcity of food since it deprives the small land owners of their land
and reduces the amount of food for everybody. Also the loss of arable land
for the production of biofuel has contributed to the scandalous increase in
food prices. Less land, less food – so higher prices. Added to that is also
the fact that biofuels even increase the damage to the earth that their
advocates so loudly and dishonestly claim to reduce.
The speculation in food commodities as well as in arable land must also be
forcefully denounced as a major contributing factor in the dramatic
increases in basic food prices that we have seen since mid-2007. Thus, not
only are the small farmers deprived of their land, often with no, or very
little, compensation, but also, with the skyrocketing food prices, they
cannot even afford buying the food they need for survival.
The third cause is desertification of land and soil degradation which is
only hastened by the increased replacement of biological farms by huge
monocultures for biofuel or for Genetically Modified Organism cultures that
demand enormous amounts of water. Rivers and lakes are drying out and an
ever-increasing number of people in the world are lacking access to clean
"Green gold" has for several years been considered as a magic and profitable
complement to “black gold”.
Food-production trusts that dominate the trade in biofuels, in support of
new products, make an argument that might appear irrefutable: the
substitution of fossil fuel by energy derived from plants would be the
ultimate weapon in the fight against the rapid deterioration of the climate
and the irreversible damage this does to the environment and humans.
Here are some figures: Over 100 billion liters of bioethanol and biodiesel
will be produced in 2011. The same year, 100 million hectares of
agricultural crops will be used to produce biofuels. Global production of
biofuels has doubled over the past five years, from 2006 to 2011.
Climate degradation is a reality. Globally, desertification and land
degradation now affect more than 1 billion people in over 100 countries. Dry
areas – where arid and semi-arid regions are particularly susceptible to
degradation – represent over 44% of arable land on the planet.
Destruction of ecosystems and degradation of large agricultural areas in the
world, especially in Africa, is a tragedy for small farmers and animal
breeders. In Africa, the UN estimates that there are 25 million
"environmental refugees" or "environmental migrants", that is to say human
beings who have been forced to leave their homes because of natural
disasters (floods, droughts, desertification ) and who eventually have to
fight for survival in the slums of large cities. Land degradation fuels
conflicts, especially between animal breeders and farmers.
Transcontinental companies producing biofuels have persuaded the majority of
world public opinion and substantially all of the Western states that energy
produced from plants is the miracle weapon against climate degradation.
But their argument is a lie. It ignores the methods and the environmental
costs of biofuel production, which requires both water and energy.
All over the planet, clean water is becoming increasingly scarce. One out of
three persons is reduced to drinking polluted water. Some 9,000 children
under ten are dying every day from drinking water that is unfit for
According to the WHO, one-third of the world population still lacks access
to safe water at an affordable price, and half of the world population has
no access to clean water. Approximately 285 million people live in
sub-Saharan Africa without regular access to clean water .
And, of course, it is the poor who suffer most severely from the lack of
However, when you consider the water reserves that exist in the world, the
production every year of tens of billions of gallons of biofuel is a real
disaster. Some 4,000 liters of water are required to produce 1 liter of
Barack Obama’s obsession
Biofuel producers, some the world's most powerful multinational
corporations, have their headquarters in the US. Each year they receive
billions of dollars of government aid. In the words of President Barack
Obama in his State of the Union Address in 2011: for the United States, the
bioethanol and biodiesel program is "a national cause," a cause of national
In 2011, subsidized by $6 billion of public funds, US trusts will burn 38.3
% of the national corn harvest, against 30.7 % in 2008. And since 2008, corn
prices on the world market have increased by 48%.
The United States is by far the most dynamic industrial power and also the
top producer in the world. Despite a relatively low number of inhabitants –
300 million, compared with 1.3 billion and more in China and India – the
United States produces just over 25% of all industrial goods manufactured in
one year on the planet.
The raw material of this impressive machine is oil. The US on a daily
average burns 20 million barrels, or about a quarter of the world
production. Some 61% of this volume – slightly more than 12 million barrels
per day – is imported .
For the US president, this dependence from abroad is obviously a concern.
And most worrying is the fact that most of this imported oil comes from
regions where political instability is endemic or Americans are not well
regarded – in short, where production and export to the United States are
George W Bush was the initiator of the biofuel program. In January 2007, he
set the goal to be reached: in the next ten years, the US had to reduce by
20% its consumption of fossil fuels and multiply by seven the production of
Burning millions of tons of food crops on a planet where every five seconds
a child under ten dies of hunger is obviously scandalous.
The tank of a midsize car holds 50 liters. To make 50 liters of bioethanol,
358 kg of corn have to be destroyed.
In Mexico and in Zambia, corn is the staple food. With 358 kg of corn, a
Zambian or a Mexican child can get enough to eat for one year.
The curse of sugar cane
Not only do biofuels each year consume hundreds of millions of tons of corn,
wheat and other foods, and not only does their production release into the
atmosphere millions of tons of carbon dioxide, but, in addition to this,
they cause social disasters in the countries where the transcontinental
companies that manufacture the biofuel become dominant.
Take the example of Brazil.
The struggle of the workers in the engenho  Trapiche is a suitable
example. The vast lands that are barely visible in the evening mist were
once state lands. They were, just a few years ago, agricultural plots of
land, 1 to 2 hectares in size cultivated by small subsistence farmers. The
families lived in poverty, but they were secure, enjoyed a certain degree of
wellbeing and relative freedom.
Through influential relations with the federal government in Brasilia and
their significant capital, the financiers have obtained the
"decommissioning", that is to say the privatization of these lands. The
small bean and cereal farmers who lived here were deported to the slums of
Recife. The few exceptions were those farmers who agreed, for a pittance, to
become sugar cane cutters. And today, those laborers are overexploited.
In Brazil, the biofuel production program is considered a priority. And
sugar cane is one of the most profitable commodities for the production of
The Brazilian program for a rapid increase in the production of bioethanol
has a curious name: the Pro-alcohol plan. It is the pride of the government.
In 2009, Brazil consumed 14 billion liters of bioethanol (and biodiesel) and
exported 4 billion.
The aim of the government is to export over 200 billion liters. The Brasilia
government wants to increase to 26 million hectares the cultivation of sugar
cane. In the struggle against the bioethanol giants, the powerless cane
cutters on the Trapiche plantation do not have a chance.
The Brazilian Pro-alcohol implementation plan has led to the rapid
concentration of land in the hands of a few indigenous barons and of
This monopolization increases inequalities and exacerbates rural poverty (as
well as urban poverty, as a result of migration from rural areas). In
addition, the exclusion of smallholders threatens the country's food
security, since they are the ones who can guarantee sustenance agriculture.
As for rural households headed by women, they have less access to land and
suffer greater discrimination.
In short, the development of the production of the “green gold” on the
agro-export model tremendously enriches the sugar barons but impoverishes
the small farmers, the sharecroppers and “the boiafrio”  even further. It
has actually signed the death warrant for small and medium family farms –
and thus the country's food sovereignty.
But aside from the Brazilian sugar barons, the Pro-Alcohol program naturally
creates profits for the transnational companies, such as Louis Dreyfus,
Bunge, Noble Group, Archer Daniels Midland, and for the financial groups
belonging to Bill Gates and George Soros, as well as the sovereign wealth
funds of China.
In a country like Brazil, where millions of people are demanding the right
to own a piece of land, where food security is threatened, land grabbing by
transnational corporations and sovereign wealth funds  is one additional
To gain new grazing land, large landowners and managers of transcontinental
companies burn Brazil’s forests. Tens of thousands of hectares each year.
The destruction is final. The soils of the Amazon basin and of Mato Grosso
, covered with primary forests, have only a thin layer of humus. Even in
the unlikely event that the leaders of Brasilia would be seized by a sudden
fit of lucidity, they could not recreate the Amazon rainforest, "the lungs
of the planet". According to a scenario accepted by the World Bank, at the
current rate of burning, 40% of the Amazon rainforest will be gone by 2050.
To the extent that Brazil has gradually replaced the culture of food crops
by sugar cane, it has entered the vicious circle of the international food
market: forced to import food that it does not produce itself, the global
demand has thus amplified... which in turn causes an increase in prices.
The food insecurity, of which a large part of the Brazilian population are
the victims, is thus directly related to the Pro-alcohol program. This
particularly affects the areas where sugar cane is cultivated, since the
staple foods based almost exclusively on imported commodities are subject to
significant price fluctuations. Many small farmers and agricultural workers
are net buyers of food because they do not have enough land to produce a
sufficient amount of food for their families. Thus, in 2008, the peasants
could not buy enough food due to the sudden explosion in prices.
In addition, in order to reduce costs, producers of biofuel exploit migrant
workers by the millions, according to a model of ultra-liberal capitalist
agriculture. They are not only paid pittance wages, but they work inhuman
schedules, offered minimal support infrastructure, and the working
conditions are bordering on slavery.
If the world is to be saved from the grip of neoliberalism, and from the
immense greed and total callousness of the “new masters of the world” ,
we must act now. We have to see clearly with eyes and minds wide open how
these predators are rapidly taking the people and the world hostage in their
absurd attempt to increase their own wealth and dominate the planet. We must
come together and work tirelessly, not losing hope, not losing sight of the
goal of saving the earth. We must not be deluded by the deafening propaganda
machines. We must stand firm and together. There may yet be a way out of the
 Editing, with permission from the authors, by Finian Cunningham for
Global Research. The original translated article and footnotes were first
posted on Axis of Logic:
 Destruction Massive – Géopolitique de la Faim, by Jean Ziegler, Editions
du Seuil, published 13 October 2011.
 Jean Ziegler, a former professor of sociology at the University of
Geneva and the Sorbonne, Paris, is member of the UN Human Rights Council’s
Advisory Committee, with an expertise on economic, social and cultural
rights. For the period 2000-2008, Ziegler was the UN Special Rapporteur on
the Right to Food. In March 2008, he was elected Member of the UN Human
Rights Council’s Advisory Committee. One year later, the Human Rights
Council decided, by acclamation, to re-elect Jean Ziegler as a member of the
Advisory Committee, a post he will now hold until 2012. In August 2009, the
members of the Advisory Committee elected him as Vice-President of the
 Siv O’Neall is a writer and activist based in Lyon, France, who is a
regular columnist for Axis of Logic on many international topics. She
translated excerpts from Jean Ziegler’s latest book for the present article,
with the author’s permission. She can be contacted at siv_at_axisoflogic.com.
 248 million in South Asia are in the same situation, 398 million in East
Asia, 180 million in South Asia and the East Pacific, 92 million in Latin
America and the Caribbean, and 67 million in Arab countries.
 Only 8 million barrels are produced from Texas, the Gulf of Mexico
(offshore) and Alaska.
 Engenho is a colonial-era Portuguese term for a sugar mill and the
associated facilities. The word engenho usually only referred to the mill,
but it could also describe the area as a whole including land, a mill, the
people who farmed it.
 Landless workers (boia = ox ; frio = cold). He’ll be working like an ox
and he’ll be eating cold food.
 A sovereign wealth fund (SWF) is a state-owned investment fund composed
of financial assets such as stocks, bonds, property, precious metals or
other financial instruments. Sovereign wealth funds invest globally.
 Mato Grosso is a state in the center-west of Brazil, bordering on
Bolivia and Paraguay.
 See Les Nouveaux Maîtres du Monde et Ceux qui leur Résistent de Jean
Ziegler (Editions Fayards), 2005.
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Received on Sun Jan 01 2012 - 17:32:45 EST