This week I read a book about the ongoing discussions regarding the causes of the food crisis. It should come as no surprise that several of the main reasons the globe is in the midst of a food crisis, according to a The Food Wars author Walden Bello, are commodity speculation, biofuels, increased demand for food in Asia brought on by prosperity, and most influential, the massive ag policy reorientation known as structural adjustment.
In this case, I’m going to focus on Bello’s explanation of how biofuels contributed to rising food costs. Bello states that biofuels have been blamed for the food price increases over the past few years, but continues by saying while they were a contributing factor, they were not the cause of the volatility of food prices.
He writes, “More central as root causes have been structural adjustment, free trade, and policies extracting surplus from agriculture for industrialization, all of which have destroyed or eroded the agricultural sector of many countries. No one factor can be pinpointed as the cause of the global food crisis. It is the confluence of these conditions that has made the contemporary food price crisis so threatening and difficult to solve.”
But despite this concession, he is still not a supporter of biofuels, at least in the context of environmental benefits, and he says, “Indeed agrofuels contribute to global warming and certainly do not provide a solution to climate change.”
So, Bello takes us through a very brief discussion U.S. and EU agrofuels policy (such as the Renewable Fuels Standard created under President Bush) and then claims, “The triad of strict mandates and standards, import tariffs, and subsidies make for a strong agrofuels policy that is skewing the marketplace in a negative direction, driving up the price of food, and harming the environment.”
One report that he uses in support of biofuels driving up food prices is The World Bank report that came out last year. Needless to say, the ethanol industry attacked the report and then this year, The World Bank actually came out with a new report that contradicted its own claims and said that biofuels did not heavily contribute to food price increases.
The irony with reports, including those cited by Bello, are that they can be presented to match your personal views on an issue. In this case, Bello makes no point to hide his distaste for biofuels and the worldwide policies that have been passed to develop them.
Despite my obvious disagreement on how he presented that chapter, Bello does a good overall job of trying to address all the factors that contribute to the rise and fall of food prices. In his conclusion, he offers some ways to help people take control of their food security and points to small farmers or peasant-based farming as a good model to develop local or regional sustainable alternative economies.