[permaculture] Trigona / Biofuels: a danger for Latin America / May 26
peace at totalaccess.net
Tue Jun 26 21:58:51 EDT 2007
The article below touches on what I observed when I went to the Earth Summit
and Global Forum in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and what we too have to keep an
eye out for here in the states regarding the mass producion of crops for
fuels as well as their import.
* * * * *
Biofuels: a danger for Latin America May 26, 2007
By Marie Trigona
Renewable fuels, in particular Biofuels, energy sources derived from
agricultural crops have suddenly won the support from the United States.
This is partly due to George Bush's recent 5-nation tour of Latin America to
wedge out unity and push through ethanol accords. Development funds and
corporations hope that Latin America, especially refining sugarcane into
fuel in Brazil and soybeans in Argentina, can spur the US's booming biofuel
industry demands. Corporate experts and financiers held the First Biofuels
Congress of the Americas in Buenos Aires this month to promote biofuel
production in the region. Former US Vice President Al Gore addressed
investors, NGO's and soy producers at the congress to spearhead renewable
fuel production in Argentina.
Northern hunger for "bio" fuels
Inexpensive land, cheap labor and plentiful bumper crops of soybeans make
Argentina a prime target for the production of ethanol and bio diesel.
Argentina is already offering tax-incentives to step up investments for the
biofuels market which is expected to triple by 2015. The South American
nation wants 5 percent of its fuel supply be biodiesel or ethanol-based in
three years. The government has eagerly pushed through pro-biofuel policy
but has ignored worries over food supply, the environmental effects of
mono-agricultural production and the social side-effects of biofuel
production on the rural population.
Argentina's vice-president Daniel Scioli welcomed international financiers
to the Biofuels Congress, saying that Argentina is eager to develop
biodiesel technology and production. "Argentina is already exporting
biodiesel. We are hopeful and are creating favorable conditions to lure
investments to this sector. We are developing the necessary infrastructure,
improving our highways and ports to transport and store the fruit of our
"We are completely convinced that alternative biofuels will convert
Argentina into a global leader in renewable energy," said Scioli at the
Biofuels Congress. Investors and institutions attending the First Biofuels
Congress of the Americas paid 500 dollars a head to attend the event, which
was closed off to media outlets not allied to biofuels.
A study published by the National Academy of Sciences found that neither
ethanol, which is corn derived, nor bio-diesel, which is soy-produced can
replace petroleum without having an impact on food supply. However, biofuel
proponents brushed off any criticism of the renewable energy industry during
the First Biofuels Congress of the Americas.
Juan Carlos Iturregui president of the Foundation for InterAmerican
Development said that biofuels can only bring positive results. "Biofuels
can propel development. They bring a very important factor which is the
ability to compete and develop. This has already been proven, let's not get
tied up with supposed theories and false debates. There can be food for
everyone. There can be biofuels for everyone."
Soybean plantations bump off small farms
Argentina is the third-largest soybean producer in the world after the
United States and Brazil. Top soil erosion and pollution caused from
pesticides and fertilizers have been just some of the side effects to
soybean plantations which have expanded exponentially at a rate of 10
Many foreign financiers have been eager to invest in the booming biodiesal
industry. Dynamotive, a Canadian biofuels developer, will invest up to 120
million in six plants in Argentina that would use lumber- and paper-industry
waste to make biofuel. The Spanish-Argentine oil and gas company Repsol YPF
has already invested 30 million in dollars in a biofuel refinery in the
province of Buenos Aires, expected to produce 100,000 tons a year as of
According to Oscar Delgado, a farmer from the northern province of Salta,
soy production has also led to the violent eviction of small farmers and
indigenous from lands cleared for soy bean plantations. "In the northern
region of Argentina, in the provinces of Jujuy and Salta, local residents
are witnessing a crisis because of the expansion of the mono-crops. Most
serious is the expansion of trans genetic soy in Salta that has produced the
eviction of small farmers and indigenous from lands. The local government in
Salta supports these evictions; the government is supporting these new
businessmen coming to the province."
Shortly after Al Gore's visit to Buenos Aires, seven small-scale farmers
were arrested for resisting eviction from lands in the Northern province of
Santiago del Estero. The farmers form part of MOCASE, a provincial
grassroots movement of campesinos that promotes sustainable agriculture to
build community. Their land will be cleared for soy production. The Santiago
del Estero provincial government, which ordered the arrests, co-sponsored
the First Biofuels Congress of the Americas, which paid Gore 170,000 dollars
to give a 40 minute presentation derived from his award-winning film The
Goodbye food sovereignty Local environmental groups and farmers held a
parallel event to shed light on the dangers of biofuels, especially the
effects on food production and prices. They also held a protest outside of
the hotel where the Biofuels Congress of the Americas was held.
With surgery masks and megaphones on hand, they chanted "Food sovereignty,
Yes! Biofuels, No!" Soledad Ogoliano, from the assembly for food sovereignty
said that multi-nationals like Monsanto and Repsol YPF, a Spanish-Argentine
petroleum company, speculate large profits while putting Argentina's food
production at risk. "The immediate effect of this kind of production is the
massive disforestation like we are seeing now in the forests in Chaco, the
Amazon, and other areas that are large sources of biodiversity that are
destroyed for mono crops, only one agricultural crop, generally transgenetic
like soy." She added "We are talking about production that is highly
concentrated because it requires large amounts of capital and investments in
technology. It is no longer agricultural food production in the hands of
local communities, but simply large scale production of commodities."
Food prices have already been affected due to soy and corn production for
export. Economists worry that plant-based fuels will cause food prices to
soar in Argentina, where food inflation continues to rise over 15% annually.
The nation has unsuccessfully imposed export limits on certain foods like
milk and beef, where production is plentiful but supply for the domestic
market scarce and expensive for consumers.
A drive in food prices will hit the nation hard, with over 30 percent of the
population under the poverty line. The policies promoting biofuel exports
over domestic food production in developing countries could be an ecological
and social recipe for disaster. In addition to Argentina, small farmers in
Brazil and Paraguay have been pushed off of lands cleared for soy production
at an exponential rate. In Mexico, consumers are fighting a tortilla war, a
battle over increased prices in tortillas partly due to the nation's
increase in ethanol production.
Groups will have to fight an uphill battle against corporations that have a
tight hold on growing biofuel production in Latin America promising quench
the North's thirst for energy at the cost of food sovereignty and
biodiversity. Local environmental groups in Argentina will organize a series
of protests against the corporations investing in biofuel in the coming
months. Subsequent bio-fuel congresses will take place in Mexico, Colombia
and Brazil this year.
Marie Trigona is a writer and independent radio producer based in Buenos
Aires. She can be reached at mtrigona at msn.com
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