Saturday, June 28, 2008

Non-food Crops should be used for bio-fuel production


The following is my response to OXFAM's Press Release entitled Another Inconvenient Truth. This article response applies to biofuel case in Indonesia.

In the picture on the upper right, you can see trucks loaded with bunches of sawit fruits heading to Crude Palm Oil (CPO) factory in Manokwari, West Papua province of Indonesia.

Oxfam has just released a report which says that Biofuels are not the answer to climate or fuel crisis. You can read the news about it and the link to download it in pdf form below this article. In my opinion Biofuel IS the answer for fuel crisis, especially for the transportation. The way we make biofuel is what really matters. In many countries, biofuel is obtained from the conversion of food materials especially soya beans, corn, cassava, and sugarcane. Such practice will significantly reduce the amount of food supply both in the national and international market. Massive palm and sugarcane plantations in Malaysia, Indonesia and Brazil destroy bio-diversity of the local environment. Malaysia and Indonesia open millions of hectares of Sawit plantation for palm oil production.

In addition, the introduction of bio-fuel plant foreign to certain area will definitely damage the balance of food chain. For instance, I read in a book entitled Bahan Bakar Nabati (meaning literally bio-fuel) which says that Papua and West Papua province of Indonesia have the potency of 5,137,186 hectares of Sawit plantations (elais guineensis) for the production of palm oil and bio-diesel. I consider it as unwise project. Sawit is not native plant of Papua. It comes from Africa. The introduction of sawit in Papua in the form of huge plantations will be harmful to the local environment. Actually there are a number of plants that are ready to be used for making bio-fuel. On the map, Papua island is located above Australia, it has tens of millions of Aren palm trees (arenga pinnata) which are native plants. Traditionally, villagers tap the sap from very very small number of these plants to make alcoholic drinks whereas the rest majority are left untapped in the jungle. Local government have banned alcoholic drinks made of these plants since drunkards often committed criminal acts in the community. Less than one percent of the trees are used for making palm sugar.
The tapping of sap from Aren tree will not harm the environment because the worker does not have to cut any single Aren tree for 50 years which is its average life-time. Industrialized countries in Europe, The United States, Japan and South Korea must set special standard of biofuel imports. Biodiesel and bioethanol which are imported from third world countries must come from plantations that are not directed for food production.
In fact, countries in Africa and Asia have a number of plants for bio-fuel raw material which are not food crops. Some of them are elephant grass, jatropha curcas; and to some extend Aren (arenga pinnata) and Nypa (nypa fruticans). Both plants can produce 2 - 3 times more ethanol than sugacane per hectare.
I hope that this opinion will give a balance perspective on this bio-fuel matter.

The news below is Oxfam press release:
Another Inconvenient Truth: Biofuels are not the answer to climate or fuel crisis says Oxfam
Today's biofuel policies are not solving the climate or fuel crises but are instead contributing to food insecurity and inflation, hitting poor people hardest, according to a new report by international agency Oxfam.

In today's report "Another Inconvenient Truth ", Oxfam calculates that rich country biofuel policies have dragged more than 30 million people into poverty, according to evidence that biofuels have already contributed up to 30% to the global rise in food prices.

"Biofuel policies are actually helping to accelerate climate change and deepen poverty and hunger. Rich countries' demands for more biofuels in their transport fuels are causing spiralling production and food inflation," said report author, Oxfam's biofuel policy adviser Rob Bailey .

"If the fuel value for a crop exceeds its food value, then it will be used for fuel instead. Thanks to generous subsidies and tax breaks, that is exactly what is happening. Grain reserves are now at an all-time low."

Rich countries must stop and revise their policies now. "The evidence about their damage is overwhelming," Bailey said. Even in poor countries where biofuels may offer some reward, the potential costs are severe and they should proceed with caution.

Rich countries are supporting their own biofuel production through targets, subsidies, tax breaks and tariffs. This has been described as a new "tax on food".

"Rich countries spent up to $15 billion last year supporting biofuels. That's the same amount of money that Oxfam says is needed to help poor people cope with the food crisis," said Bailey.

"This is a regressive tax that hits poor people the hardest because their food bills represent a greater share of their income," he said.

The biofuels being grown today are not an effective answer to climate change, Oxfam says. Instead, biofuels are taking over agricultural land and forcing farming to expand into lands that are important carbon sinks, like forests and wetlands. This triggers the release of carbon from soil and vegetation that will take decades to repay.

Oxfam estimates that by 2020, as a result of the EU's 10% biofuel target, carbon emissions from changing the use of land to produce palm oil could be almost 70 times greater than the annual savings the EU hopes to achieve from biofuels by then.

Bailey says that biofuels will not address rich countries' need for fuel security. "Even if the entire world's supply of grains and sugars were converted into ethanol tomorrow - in the process giving us all even less to eat - we would only be able to replace 40% of our petrol and diesel consumption," Bailey said. "Rich country governments should not use biofuels as an excuse to avoid urgent decisions about how to reduce their unfettered demand for petrol and diesel," he said.

In developing countries, Oxfam says that biofuels could provide a sustainable energy alternative for poor people in marginalized areas - but that the potential economic, social and environmental costs can be severe, and countries should proceed with caution. In Mali for example, bioenergy projects provide clean renewable energy sources to poor women and men in rural areas. But, as the main plank of a policy to substitute transport fuel by rich nations, biofuels are failing.

"Biofuels were meant to be an alternative to oil - a secure source of new transport energy. But rich countries have designed their policies too much for the benefit of domestic interest groups. They are making climate change worse, not better, they are stealing crops and land away from food production, and they are destroying millions of livelihoods in the process." said Bailey.

Oxfam Ireland is asking the Irish government to support the dropping of the proposed EU target to meet 10% of transport energy needs from 'renewable sources' - in practice biofuels - by 2020*.

'To support a huge increase in biofuels use when we're already seeing the damaging impacts of increased demand would be hugely irresponsible. It may have once looked like a good idea but clearly now is the time to rethink and drop the target' says Colin Roche, Oxfam Ireland 's Policy and Advocacy Co Ordinator

* Renewable Energy Sources Directive

"Another Inconvenient Truth"
makes the following key recommendations:

Rich countries should:

  • Introduce a freeze on implementing new biofuel mandates

  • Urgently revise existing biofuel mandates that deepen poverty and accelerate climate change

  • Dismantle subsidies and tax exemptions for biofuels

  • Reduce import tariffs on biofuels

Developing countries should:

  • Proceed with extreme caution, planning for the long-term, avoiding ambitious targets and analysing the economic, environmental and social impacts of biofuels

Companies and investors should:

  • Ensure no biofuel project takes place without the free, prior and informed consent of local communities
  • Promote access to energy in remote areas

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