The EU Biofuels policy: Fuelling food insecurity in Africa
The increased demand for biofuels is one of the main factors contributing to the current food price volatility and is diverting farmland away from food production in food insecure regions.
In recent years EU and US biofuels mandates have contributed to food price volatility, which harms particularly the poorest consumers on the planet. Next to this biofuels mandates have motivated large-scale land acquisitions by EU-companies diverting cropland away from family farmers in Africa. Both these factors add to food insecurity of poor consumers and poor family farmers
As from the 2008 food crisis we have entered an era of high food prices with increased volatility, since current food prices have never recovered to their pre-2008 levels. Moreover, staple foods, such as maize and wheat (for wheat there was a 24% price increase from the October 2011 to October 2012), which are of great importance to poor consumers, have registered price increases between 2011 and 2012. These price shocks are mainly harming poor family farmers and poor consumers in Africa, since they spend a significant part of their income on food products, which puts food intake and spending on education and health under pressure. Even for small-scale family farmers higher food prices do not necessarily increase their income, since many of the family farmers are often net-food buyers. Often their harvest does not compensate for the increased spending on food, because of difficulties in channelling their harvest to markets and obstacles to increased productivity such as affordable access to inputs.
The FAO has recognized that the increased demand for biofuels in recent years is one of the main factors contributing to the current food price volatility. This increased demand for biofuels is the consequence of the determined policy choice of several countries and which is the most evident in the USA and the EU. The EU 2020 Strategy foresees a reduction of Greenhouse Gas Emissions of 20%, this is being implemented by the Renewable Energy Directive and the Fuels Quality Directive. In this respect, biofuels were promoted as a green solution to reduce both greenhouse gas emissions and dependency on fossil fuels. However, the land grabs by the EU biofuel industry incentivized by public support schemes pose a serious burden on the environment in Africa. When one takes into consideration, the fact that many forests are being cleared in countries of the South for the cultivation of agrofuels, the intensive use of fertilizers, the contribution to soil erosion, biodiversity, the depletion of local water resources and the transport costs to export to the EU, the agrofuels from deforested areas leave a higher carbon footprint on our planet than fossil fuels.
Next to this agrofuel production competes with food production, diverting farmland and food crops away from food production in food insecure regions. Furthermore the physical installation of agrofuel plantations in Africa on land grabbed from local communities increases food insecurity. Especially, forests, humid and fallow lands are being targeted for land grabs, while these areas provide farmers and the rural population with valuable alternative food supplies during periods of famine or lower harvest levels. Moreover, several land investments have displaced people from their farmland and river side plots, increasing their food insecurity and reducing their access to water. Mostly, large-scale investments are centred around major water basins or rivers to secure access to water resources for cultivation. This diminishes water availability and access to water for family farmers, thus reducing their harvest yields and depriving them from fishing zones.
Recently the EU has recognized partly the negative consequences of their biofuels policy; however the proposed policy changes seem insufficient to deal adequately with the negative impacts of biofuels production. The EU Commission’s draft of amending the Renewable Energy Directive states that of the 10% transport fuel coming from renewable sources, 5% can be sourced from food-crops based biofuels. However, this will perpetrate the current competition for crops and land between family farmers and the agribusiness driving up food prices. For the same reason the EU should strive for eliminating member state support schemes for first generation agrofuels. Furthermore, it remains to be seen whether EU member states will accept the 5% target as proposed by the Commission.
Policy officer AEFJN –Africa Europe Faith and Justice Network