State of the forests; biofuels, food insecurity, poverty, environmental devastation.

Source: Map: Original forest: All yellow and green areas. Current forest: Dark green and light green areas.

Food insecurity and poverty.

Oxfam has released their report today entitled Biofuelling Poverty .

In January of this year, the European Commission published its Renewable Energy Roadmap, proposing a mandatory target that biofuels must provide ten per cent of member states’ transport fuels by 2020. This target is creating a scramble to supply in the South, posing a serious threat to vulnerable people at risk from land-grabbing, exploitation, and deteriorating food security.

As Oxfam says, ‘It is unacceptable that poor people in developing countries bear the costs of emissions reductions in the EU.’ They suggest, ‘the Commission must include social standards in its sustainability framework, and develop mechanisms by which the ten per cent target can be revised if it is found to be contributing to the destruction of vulnerable people’s livelihoods.’

Oxfam mentions that ‘the rush by big companies and governments in countries such as Indonesia, Colombia, Brazil, Tanzania and Malaysia to win a slice of the ‘EU biofuel pie’ threatens to force poor people from their land, destroy their livelihoods, lead to the exploitation of workers and hurt the availability and affordability of food.’

More here.

Wider pressures on food supply.

Land for biofuels is competing with demands for food crops. Crops such as palm can be used for either.

Demand from Asia has lifted prices for wheat and corn, Europe’s main cereal crops. While European wheat prices are up to €200, or $285, a ton – up from €120 last year – bakeries of all sizes have struggled to pass on costs.

Higher prices for sugar, soybeans, corn and cooking oil have also weighed heavily on the margins of diversified food producers in Europe and North America, including catering companies, while rising hop and barley prices have affected the bottom line of many brewers.

Premier Foods, the largest food producer in Britain and the name behind Hovis bread, Mr. Kipling pies and Bisto gravy granules, has seen profit from its core bakery business nearly cut in half this year. The share price has fallen more than 30 percent since May. Robin Asquith, a London-based food and drink analyst with JP Morgan Securities says, “Food retailers have accepted that food price inflation is here for the long term, and they are doing a reasonable job pushing through costs.” He said “Companies like Premier Foods are responding and raising their prices to compensate for higher input costs.”

Demand for crops such as soya and palm oil has increased thanks partly to developing economies but, supply has also been affected with crops such as wheat being hit by droughts and floods during 2007.

More on the current economics of food here.

Forest destruction.

The Forest Conservation Portal links to sites covering threats to forests all over the globe., a site publishing on many aspects of the world’s forests is an excellent education & news site. They report that higher commodity prices, especially for beef and soy, have further spurred forest conversion in the Amazon.

The Dutch government has announced it will exclude palm oil from “green energy” subsidies as growing evidence suggests that palm oil is often less sustainable than advertised. Key to the decision was research presented by Wetlands International that showed the climate impact of the conversion of carbon-rich peat lands for oil palm plantations. Oil palm plantations in Indonesia have expanded from 600,000 hectares in 1985 to more than 6 million hectares in early 2007. More here.

The concept of ‘avoided deforestation’.

Avoided deforestation is the concept where countries are paid to prevent deforestation that would otherwise occur. Funds come from industrialized countries seeking to meet emissions commitments under international agreements like the Kyoto Protocol. Policymakers and environmentalists alike find the idea attractive because it could help fight climate change at a low cost while improving living standards for some of the world’s poorest people, safeguarding biodiversity, and preserving other ecosystem services. A number of prominent conservation biologists and development agencies including the World Bank and the U.N. have already endorsed the idea. Even the United States government has voiced support for the plan.

More here and also read, Is the Amazon more valuable for carbon offsets than cattle or soy?

Let the National Geographic take you to the Panama Rain forest

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6 Responses to State of the forests; biofuels, food insecurity, poverty, environmental devastation.

  1. Pete Smith says:

    Just out of interest, on the map showing global forest cover, any idea what it means by “original forest”? Presumably in Northern Europe this would date back to the end of the last Ice Age, but for equatorial areas the forests would have been around a lot longer, as the site says “For millions of years forests were the dominant form of vegetation”. They might not be comparing like with like.

  2. matt says:

    Yes, I wondered that one as well. No idea except the map originated from the World Resources Institute. I think we’re talking forests from millions of years ago for tropical and sub-tropical areas and probably since the last ice age for temperate zones.

    They’re in a poor state now whatever the baseline.

  3. Pete Smith says:

    You’re telling me!

    As far as I can make out, the map is adapted from one published in “The Last Frontier Forests” by WRI in 1997.
    They define original forest as “that estimated to have covered the planet about 8,000 years ago, before large-scale disturbance by modern society began”

  4. matt says:

    OK, makes sense. Humans have proliferated with as much determination as a population of rats since about this time. 🙂

  5. the Grit says:

    Hi Matt,

    I couldn’t agree with you more on the problems caused by the rush to bio-fuels. Over here, the lobbyists for the corn producers managed to win a much larger victory than they had intended, so most all of the Government money is flowing to those turning corn into ethanol. While I am not at all opposed to some corn being fermented, particularly when it is aged in charred oak barrels, the sudden diversion of supply to this end has driven the price for the commodity much too high, with the price of food products incorporating the grain following. Although these increases are mostly overshadowed here in the US by increases in oil prices, in Mexico, where margins for personal expenses are much tighter, it has been enough of a problem to necessitate government price controls to insure domestic tranquility. Up here, it is causing another problem, that most people haven’t noticed yet, by making it profitable to put marginal farm land back into production. Of course, corn grown on such land is going to require more fertilizer and working of the soil, making the produce much less attractive from an environmental conservation point of view, and will also keep a good deal of private land from turning back into native habitat. Measure twice, cut once.

    As to forests, the US has, if one includes timber farms, an increasing amount of forested land, despite the misguided Government forest management policy that causes thousands of acres to burn every year.

    As to the rapid increase in himan population, keep in mind that the effects of Viagra have not yet made their way into the statistics!

    the Grit

  6. matt says:

    Hi Grit

    Yes corn ethanol production has gone popping mad over there thanks to George’s mad subsidy splurge. So much for America’s belief in the free market.

    The mad hatters ruling the EU are also proposing the use of set aside land to meet biofuel targets. It’s the most misguided policy since letting the Russians have half of Europe post WWII. Still we sorted that eventually. If you’re wondering what to send Putin this Xmas a bottle of vodka laced with a little 210Po would go down well with London.

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