How the poor pay for bio-fuels
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How the poor pay for bio-fuels

As Bangkok Pundit noted yesterday, the price of cassava, the third largest source of carbohydrates for meals in the world and a crucial foodstuff in many developing countries, has nearly doubled.

And as the New York Times reports, this is probably not unrelated to the fact that the world’s largest exporter of cassava chips, Thailand, is selling them to China, who then use them to make bio-fuel. As the NYT says, the impacts are far-reaching:

Soaring food prices have caused riots or contributed to political turmoil in a host of poor countries in recent months, including Algeria, Egypt and Bangladesh, where palm oil, a common biofuel ingredient, provides crucial nutrition to a desperately poor populace. During the second half of 2010, the price of corn rose steeply — 73 percent in the United States — an increase that the United Nations World Food Program attributed in part to the greater use of American corn for bioethanol.

The driver for all of this is the fear of climate change, which, as numerous reports have claimed, could cause food production to fall. Take this report from last year, for example:

Rising temperatures and inadequate rainfall in India is stagnating grain output, threatening food security in the world’s second-most populous country, according to a weather scientist.

Fortunately, as usual, this expert was proven wrong almost immediately:

India is estimated to harvest an all-time record output of 235.88 million tonne (MT) of foodgrains in the 2010-11 crop year (ending June), courtesy the highest-ever production of wheat and pulses.

In fact, as this graph shows, there is no evidence that climate change is having an adverse impact on food production. This would not surprise anyone who owns a commercial greenhouse operation, where carbon dioxide is sometimes artificially introduced to increase yields.

So it appears that climate change itself is not adversely affecting food production, but the attempted remedies really are impacting on the world’s poor.