In Guatemala, food-vs.-fuel debate reigns supreme

Source: E&E • Posted: Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Laws in the United States and Europe aimed at increasing the use of biofuels in cars are contributing to starvation in poor countries where land that was once used to grow food is now used to grow crops for fuel.

Because farmers can grow plants for biofuel more profitably than plants for human consumption, fewer people in countries with agriculture-based economies in Latin America, Asia and Africa are growing food. And the nations are forced to import food at a higher cost from other countries.

Guatemala has been hit especially hard by the growing demand for crops for biofuels. There, the price of a tortilla has doubled in just three years, and the price of eggs has tripled because chickens are corn-fed.

Although Guatemala imports nearly half its corn, its lush environment has shifted from providing its people with corn to sugar cane and African palm, which are exported to Europe to be used in biofuels.

In both the United States and Europe, laws requiring an annual increase in biofuels are in place to reduce carbon emissions and reduce reliance on oil-rich countries.

“There are pros and cons to biofuel, but not here,” said Misael Gonzáles of a labor union for Guatemala’s farmers. “These people don’t have enough to eat. They need food. They need land. They can’t eat biofuel, and they don’t drive cars.”

Concerned about the effects of biofuels on starvation, the European Commission proposed an amendment so that half of its 2020 target could be met by using biofuels made from food crops or those grown on land previously devoted to food crops (Elisabeth Rosenthal, New York Times, Jan. 5).