Biomass for Biofuels Will Promote ‘Earth Grab’

Joanna Schroeder

Experts estimate that the biofuels boom could grow to be worth more than $1 trillion and has brought agriculture back to center stage, but according to advocates with Food Secure Canada (FSC), this movement will not feed people nor mitigate climate change. On Friday, November 26, 2010, FSC is hosting Earth Grab, a community forum that will discuss the growth of biomass for biofuels, their impact on food security and climate change and offer alternatives ideas and solutions.

According to Jim Thomas of ETC Group, an international research institute located in Ottawa, Canada the fossil fuel economy is transforming rapidly into a bio-economy. “Plants, trees and forests are the new oil fields. They’re above the ground, and they’re easy to grab,” said Thomas.

Thomas, along with other leaders spearheading the global farm movement from Brazil, Mali and Haiti will be presenting during Earth Grab. The forum officially kicks off the Food Secure Canada national conference that takes place at University of Montreal from November 26-28.

Earlier this month, ETC Group released a new report, “The New Biomassters,” that detailed how global energy, forestry, agribusiness, chemical, and biotech companies are creating a bio-economy built on converting biomass into fuels and other products. According to the report, the result has been a “global grab” of plants, lands, ecosystems, and traditional cultures.

“The emerging global bio-economy is worth trillions, and it threatens to eat up our crops, forests and other plant life,” said Thomas. “However, what’s being sold as a ‘green’ switch from fossil fuels to plant-based production, is in fact a red-hot resource grab on the lands, livelihoods, knowledge and resources of the peoples of the Global South.”

Based on this scenario, Brazil is seen as one of the worst offenders, and Camila Moreno, Friends of the Earth, Brazil states Brazil becomes the number one bio-energy oilfield. “Brazil wants to become the Saudi Arabia of biofuels,” said Moreno. “Not only are our country’s land and biomass up for grabs, but Brazilian corporations are actively grabbing land in other countries.”

So what is the solution? According to Moreno, the emphasis on biomass-based energy solutions sidesteps the real issues. “We can’t really address climate change by replacing our fossil fuel addiction with a bio-energy addiction. We actually have to set real targets to reduce our emissions. And the evidence is piling up that growing crops commercially for fuels could be even more damaging to the environment, and make our carbon footprint worse,” said Moreno.

Another issue up for discussion during Earth Grab is the impact of biofuels on food prices. Susan Walsh, Executive Director of USC Canada claims increasing production of corn ethanol drove food prices up causing widespread hunger. She also says that “All signs indicate that we could be months away from another devastating global ‘food crisis’ like we witnessed in 2008.”

Needless to say, the ethanol industry disputes a solid link between corn ethanol production and the rising cost of food citing rising oil costs as the largest contributor to the problem.

Ultimately, Walsh believes that small farmers, who produce nearly 70 percent of the world’s food will be most affected by land and resource grabs and calls for a transformation from ‘industrial’ to ‘ecological’ principles.

biofuels, biomass, conferences, food and fuel