Climate Progress is no fan of using food crops for fuel. Neither, it seems, is the New York Times or the world’s undernourished, with this long article, “An Oil Quandary: Costly Fuel Means Costly Calories.” The whole story is worth reading, especially for biofuel fanatics (you know who you are, Vinod), but I’ll just reprint the opening here:
Rising prices for cooking oil are forcing residents of Asia’s largest slum, in Mumbai, India, to ration every drop. Bakeries in the United States are fretting over higher shortening costs. And here in Malaysia, brand-new factories built to convert vegetable oil into diesel sit idle, their owners unable to afford the raw material.
This is the other oil shock. From India to Indiana, shortages and soaring prices for palm oil, soybean oil and many other types of vegetable oils are the latest, most striking example of a developing global problem: costly food.
The food price index of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, based on export prices for 60 internationally traded foodstuffs, climbed 37 percent last year. That was on top of a 14 percent increase in 2006, and the trend has accelerated this winter.
In some poor countries, desperation is taking hold. Just in the last week, protests have erupted in Pakistan over wheat shortages, and in Indonesia over soybean shortages. Egypt has banned rice exports to keep food at home, and China has put price controls on cooking oil, grain, meat, milk and eggs.
According to the F.A.O., food riots have erupted in recent months in Guinea, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Senegal, Uzbekistan and Yemen.
“The urban poor, the rural landless and small and marginal farmers stand to lose,” said He Changchui, the agency’s chief representative for Asia and the Pacific.
A startling change is unfolding in the world’s food markets. Soaring fuel prices have altered the equation for growing food and transporting it across the globe. Huge demand for biofuels has created tension between using land to produce fuel and using it for food.
A growing middle class in the developing world is demanding more protein, from pork and hamburgers to chicken and ice cream. And all this is happening even as global climate change may be starting to make it harder to grow food in some of the places best equipped to do so, like Australia.