Agrofuels and food production

impossibleartist anaamorim at
Wed May 14 21:56:43 BST 2008

Agrofuels and food production


Ariovaldo Umbelino*

The relationship between the expansion of agrofuels and the production
of food has taken over the international agenda. The world agriculture
is still going through deep transformations. The advance of the
"comodification" of food and the genetic control of seeds which have
always been the heritage of humanity has been accelerated.

Two monopolist processes command the world agricultural production. On
one hand, is the de-territorialisation of monopoly, acting
simultaneously to control private ownership of land, the productive
process in the countryside and the industrial processing of
agricultural and cattle production. The main example being the
sugar-ethanol sector.

On the other hand, is the monopoly of territory by companies involved
in trade and industrial processing of the agricultural and cattle
production, which without producing absolutely anything in the land,
control through mechanisms of subjection, peasants and capitalist
producers in the countryside.

The monopolistic corporations of the crop sector act as "players" in
the futures market of the world, and many times they also have the
equally monopolistic control of the agrochemical and fertilizer

This crisis therefore, has two foundations. First, of a more limited
reflexion, refers to the rise of the international price of oil, and
consequently, the rise of the cost of fertilizers and agrochemicals.

The second is a consequence of the consumption rise, but not direct
consumption such as food, as the Brazilian government want to make us
believe, but rather, the one originated from the option of the United
States for the production of ethanol from corn. This route leads to
the reduction of international stocks for this crop and the rise of
its prices as well as other crops such as wheat, rice, soy.

Thus, the North American "solution" against global warming has become
a paradise for the easy gains of the "players" of international
monopolies which produce nothing, but subject producers and consumers
to their logic of accumulation.

Certainly, there is no way back for the crises, since, in the
North-American case, the available farming soils are fought over among
wheat, corn and soya.

The advance of one inevitably reflects in the withdrawal of the other.
That is the reason for Jean Ziegler's, from the UN (United Nations)
criticism, who classified ethanol as a "crime against humanity".

It is in the centre of this crisis that Brazilian agro business and
agro-fuels want to get a ride into the future grounded in the
reproduction of the past. The government is paving the way.

Because of that, the issue of agrofuels and food production kick back
directly in Brazilian countryside. The sugar-cane farming area in the
last crop came close to 7 million hectares, and in Sao Paulo, which
concentrates more than 50% of the total; it already covers almost all
the existing fertile soil.

In the midst of the expansion of the agrofuels, a question must be
asked: what are the consequences, of the expansion of the sugar-cane
plantations in the last 15 years, for food production in Brazil?

Data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics [IBGE],
between 1990 and 2006, reveals that the reduction in the production of
food imposed by the expansion of sugar cane plantations, increased by
more than 2.7 million hectares in the period. Taking counties where
the expansion exceeded 500 hectares of sugarcane for the period, one
sees that, there was a reduction of 261 thousand hectares of beans and
340 thousand hectares of rice.

The reduced area could produce 400 tons of beans, which represents,
12% of the national production, and 1 million tons of rice, which is
equivalent to 9% of the total production in the country. Furthermore,
in those counties there was a reduction in production of 460 million
of litres of milk and more than 4.5 million heads of cattle were reduced.

Even though this expansion is more concentrated in Sao Paulo, it is
already happening in the state of Parana, Mato Grosso, Minas triangle,
Goias and Mato Grosso. In those states, the production area of
agricultural goods has been reduced and it has been transferred
towards the Amazon. Consequently causing deforestation. Therefore, the
expansion of the agrofuels will continue to cause the reduction of the
food production.

The production of the three main staple foods in the country – rice,
beans and cassava – has not increased since the 90's, and Brazil has
become the largest wheat importer in the world. Therefore the way out
of the crises for the construction of a food sovereignty policy is
still the implementation of the agrarian reform, general and massive.


*Ariovaldo Umbelino is a professor of agrarian geography at USO
[University of Sao Paulo] and director of ABRA [Braziliann Association
of Agrarina reform]. He was a member of the team responsible for
drafting a proposal for the Second national Agrarian reform Plan for
Lula's administration (2003). (This article was published in Folha de
S. Paulo, April 17th, 2008).

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