Fuelling a food crisis

Published: Monday 30 November -0001

Down to EarthFood prices may climb for years because of the expansion of farming for fuel, climate changes, and demand from richer consumers in fast-growing developing nations, according to a report from a food research group. Biofuel expansion alone could push maize prices up by over two-thirds by 2020 and increase oilseed costs by nearly half, with subsidies for the industry forming an implicit tax on the poor, the International Food Policy Research Institute said.

"Surging demand for food, feed and fuel have recently led to drastic price increases. Climate change will also have a negative impact on food production," says Joachim von Braun, lead author of the World Food Situation report and director-general of the research group.

Global warming could cut incomes from agriculture worldwide by 16 per cent by 2020, despite the potential for increased yields in some colder areas and the fertilizing impact on plants of having higher carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. "With the increased risk of droughts and floods due to rising temperatures, crop-yield losses are imminent," the report warned. It warned that Africa would be hit particularly hard by changes in weather patterns, in which scientist say man-made gases pumped into the atmosphere are an important factor.

Biofuels also threaten nutrition for the poor. Under current investment plans, and assuming expansion in nations with high potential but without detailed plans, maize prices would rise a quarter by the end of the next decade.

Factoring in a more dramatic expansion, prices could climb up to 72 per cent for maize and 44 per cent for oilseeds, the report said.

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