Food prices are climbing steeply just as more crops are being converted to biofuels worldwide.
The US, China, Indonesia, India and the European Union have all established biofuel targets in recent years. This increased demand, along with poor crop yields in parts of the world (because of severe drought, floods and fires associated with climate change), has limited food reserves. Combined with rising fuel costs for transportation, these factors are driving food prices to all-time highs.
Prices rose 15% from October to January alone, according to an index kept by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Prices are higher across the board than ever before in the 20-year history of the index. As a result, an additional 44 million people around the world have crossed into poverty, as measured by the World Bank.
"The problem is complex, so it is hard to come up with sweeping statements like biofuels are good or bad. But what is certain is that biofuels are playing a role. Is it 20 or 30 or 40 percent? That depends on your modeling," said Olivier Dubois, a bioenergy expert at the Food and Agriculture Organization.
In 2007, China banned the use of corn for making ethanol, after prices of the grain skyrocketed. Instead, biorefineries in the country have switched to using cassava root as a feedstock. But as a result, 98% of cassava chips exported from Thailand are now used in Chinese biofuel, instead of food products like tapioca pudding, ice cream and animal feed.
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