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Re: HLPE consultation on the V0 draft of the Report: Biofuels and Food Security

Alois Leidwein Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety, Austria
30.01.2013
Alois Leidwein

Dear colleagues,

I am sorry to say, but the VO draft paper on Biofuels and Food security is unbalanced.

The collection of data is commendable, but Summary, recommendations and chapter 3.1 look to me like an NGO paper that only takes into account one side of the coin.

It is a matter of fact, that 70% of the poor live in rural areas. most of them work in agriculture (IFAD Rural poverty report 2011). For them higher farm prices is the only way out of poverty and hunger.

Higher prices for agricultural products are the only way to boost production to the level we need for the next decades. otherwise farmes will not  have the money to invest.

Rising demand for food alone will not lead to prices which enable small and medium farms to invest or buy inputs

Demand for biofuels may enhance that rise of prices: for farmes (70% of the poor) that may be positive !!)

In a short or medium term higher commodity prices, even caused by biofuels, will chatch the farm gate in nearly any state.

It is clear that higher agricultural prices may cause problems for the urban poor. But it would make sense to evaluate the economic effects cuased by a farm population with slightly more money to spendand invest dfor the whole economy

The VO report only describes possible negative effects and ignores the possible positive economic outcome.

I kow the the problem: most models only take into account production and prices and don't go so far.

more comments:

1.            prices for oil or diesel will increase dramatically in a medium term. farmers will need alternatives. I do not see electric powered combines and tractors in rural regions (developed or developing) in the next 2 decades. You should discuss that problem as well

2.            landgrabbing is no phenomen of developing countries and caused only by biofuel production. even in industrialized countries like Germany and Austria investors, the church, "even NGOs"  startet to buy agricultural land where they can get, since the eceonomic crisis startet (fear of inflation). land was bought and rented by many state funds for food security reasons too. as land laws are a pure national compentence I think capacity building for politicians and farmers' associations is an option. 

3.            ILUC: Changing from intensive production to organic agriculture has the same effects on land change as biofuel production. In organic production the total output decreases by 30%. But inputs perunit produced stay at the same level as in concventional production. but you need 30% more land for the same output.

4.            please do not only cite agricultural and agro-industrial lobbies as advocates for biofuels  please tell which lobbies fight against biofuels too: you may cite

  • the oil industry
  • multinational food companies (like Nestle): they need low commodity prices for higher profit margins and
  • many NGOs which are not interested in change

I suggest to rework the study taking into account that  rural poor may be winners of a biofuel boom too. Please characterize the real loosers (urban poor and landless - but only for regions where the problem is a real problem) and some multnationals. please dicuss as well the role of farm workers

I do not want to read an FAO "Expert" paper that sounds like the press bulletin of Nestle, Oxfam or the catholik church

Best whishes for the further work.

This comment is written in my personal capacity. the comment s no official position of the Agency.

Dr.Dr. Alois Leidwein
Bereichsleiter/Head of Department
AGES - Österreichische Agentur für Gesundheit und Ernährungssicherheit GmbH
Wissenstransfer, Angewandte Forschung, AGES Akademie - WIF
AGES - Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety
Research Coordination, Knowledge Transfer, AGES Academy