Poverty: 260m driven into hunger by push for biofuel – ActionAid

Ashley Seager
The Guardian,

The G8’s push for greater biofuel use has been a significant factor in driving 760 million people into food insecurity and putting them at risk of hunger in the past two years, ActionAid says today.

Released before next week’s G8 summit in Hokkaido, Japan, the charity’s report, Cereal Offenders, says the 82% rise in food commodity prices since 2006 has directly pushed 260 million people into risk of hunger as a result of the rich world’s drive for biofuels.

Its report coincides with a warning yesterday from Robert Zoellick, the World Bank president, that the world is entering a “danger zone” caused by rising food and energy prices.

“What we are witnessing is not a natural disaster … it is a man-made catastrophe. I urge the G8 countries, in concert with major oil producers, to act now to address this crisis. This is a test of the global system to help the most vulnerable and it cannot afford to fail,” he said.

ActionAid’s report comes as Professor Ed Gallagher prepares to release his government-sponsored review of biofuels, which may conclude that the European Union’s ambitious targets for biofuel use may be misguided.

ActionAid says the huge thirst for biofuels is mainly a consequence of the targets and subsidies the rich world has put in place to build energy security. Biofuel subsidies to US and EU farmers are worth between $16bn (£8bn) and $18bn a year – four times as much as all agricultural aid to the developing world. It says the food crisis has come at a time of record harvests. In 2007, world cereal production hit a new high and is forecast to increase again in 2008.

Tom Sharman, ActionAid policy officer, said: “The global food crisis is creating poverty and hunger and it is being fuelled by policies and practices dictated by G8 nations … The rise of biofuel production and the increasing impact of climate change coupled with an unparalleled decrease in agricultural aid are creating a triple whammy for poor countries.”

Nearly 30 years of agricultural aid policies have laid the foundation for today’s crisis, it says. Aid to farmers in developing countries has nearly halved since 1980 to under $4bn, or 3% of the total subsidies given to farmers in rich countries.

Aid has also been used to encourage governments to change their agricultural sectors towards production of export commodities such as fruit and vegetables, which rely on heavy use of fertilisers. Poor farmers cannot compete and large landowners and food companies have moved in, it says.

Bob Geldof, who is attending the G8 summit on behalf of campaign group ONE, said: “It is tragic and absurd that people are still going hungry in the 21st century. I cannot stand the idea that a food crisis born out of high energy prices and increasing global prosperity is starving the super-poor in Africa.”

The ONE campaign is calling on each G8 country, led by Japan, to increase the quantity and improve the quality of investments in African agriculture for the next 15-20 years.


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Fri Jul 4 , 2008

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