The World Bank’s annual index shows global food prices have soared 36 per cent in 12 months, adding a further 44 million people to the 1.2 billion who live in extreme poverty.
The greater proportion of your income you need to spend on food, the greater the impact of higher food prices. If you spend 15% of your income on food, as many westerners do, then a 36% increase in food costs is a nuisance. If you spend 75% of your income on food, a 36% increase could mean starvation.
Government pressure to include a proportion of bio-fuels in petrol has put pressure on food prices. There are other factors of course, but the additional pressure from diversion of food crops into fuel is still significant.
Nor are biofuels any better for the environment than fossil fuels. Palm oil is efficient compared with other oil crops in the amount of oil produced per hectare. But a new palm oil plantation would take 840 years of efficient cropping for biofuel to recover the carbon emitted when the forest it replaced was cut down and burned.
Now a new study has shown that a proposed biofuel plantation in Kenya could generate up to six times more CO2 than it saves:
Tribal Elder, Joshua Kahindi Pekeshe, who lives in the forest says:
“My people have lived here for generations. If the jatropha plantation goes ahead, we will become squatters on our own land. We will lose our homes, farms and the only school our children have.
“The company promised us jobs, dispensaries, roads and water, but it just makes me laugh. When somebody wants something from you, they know they must give you promises. We don’t trust them because nothing was written down.
“This is a direct violation of our rights. We voted for the new constitution that says the community owns the land directly. What right do they have to take it from us?”
Tim Rice, ActionAid’s biofuels expert, said:
“Biofuels are far from the miracle climate cure they were thought to be. Like most other biofuels, jatropha could actually end up increasing carbon emissions. Crucially the Dakatcha case also shows how biofuel plantations can rob entire communities of their land, homes and jobs.”