By Alan Broughton
Alan Broughton is an Australian farmer engaged in developing and teaching techniques of sustainable organic agriculture. He is a member of the Socialist Alliance and lives in rural Victoria. Continue reading
La Vía Campesina: Globalization and the Power of Peasants. by Annette Aurélie Desmarais. Fernwood Publishing, 2007. Reviewed by John Riddell Continue reading
By Ian Angus. Will shared resources always be misused and overused? Is community ownership of land, forests and fisheries a guaranteed road to ecological disaster? Is privatization the only way to protect the environment and end Third World poverty? Most economists and development planners will answer “yes” — and for proof they will point to the most influential article ever written on those important questions. Continue reading
By Adriana Paz. Some say that nothing happens by chance. At the very least, it was a fortunate accident that my first job, when I arrived in Canada from Bolivia three years ago, was in a tomato greenhouse in South Delta, British Columbia — one of the first in the province to request migrant farm workers from Mexico under the federal Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP). My job was to run from the office managers’ office to the greenhouse and back relaying information on workers’ productivity levels. Continue reading
By John Riddell
Around the world, farm income is plummeting, pushing farmers off the land and into destitution. At the very same time, soaring food prices are putting tens of millions onto starvation diets.
Welcome to the bizarre world of capitalist agriculture, where the drive to boost profits of giant transnational corporations is imperiling the production of our means of survival.
Suzanne Weiss and I sought insight into this crisis by talking to farmers who live close to us — in Grey County, 200 kilometers north-west of Toronto. We had been invited there to report on farming in Venezuela to the local unit of the National Farmers Union. Our hosts took time to give us an education in Grey County agricultural economics.
“What is the one single measure that would do the most to help farmers in Ontario?” I asked Rae MacIntyre, president of the Grey County local of the National Farmers Union (NFU).
“Open up food markets to local producers,” he replied. “That would transform the situation.”
MacIntyre’s stress on “local food” reveals how much ground has been lost by Grey County’s 160 NFU members — and their 50,000 farmer colleagues across Ontario — during recent decades of big-business attacks on farmers and degradation of the food system. The challenge before farmers is no longer merely low prices for farm products. They are now almost entirely excluded from grocery-store shelves.
Check out your local supermarket: almost every food product has traveled 3,000 kilometers or more to reach the store.
But more is at stake. Farmers are working people, exploited by big-business profiteering. Despite the supposed advantages of large-scale farming, Canada has very few capitalist factory-farms worked by hired labour. The great majority of operations are “family farms,” where family members do most or all of the work.
Some working farmers employ seasonal labourers under the government’s oppressive migrant-labour programs. Defense of these workers must be a top priority of the labour movement as a whole. But the primary blame for this shameful system falls on the government that designed it, and the capitalist market that requires it.
Farmers are self-employed and must get by on what their products fetch on a hostile market. Many farmers have been subjugated by onerous contracts with giant corporate customers. They are exploited by big-business suppliers, buyers, and banks just as workers at General Motors or WalMart are.
The last two decades of cutbacks, layoffs, and concession contracts, which wage workers know as “neo-liberalism,” hit farmers with extra severity. In that time, 25% of Canada’s farms disappeared.
‘No more buying local’
Our Grey County hosts, mostly beef and lamb producers, told us that most of their potential corporate customers had stopped buying from local producers, seeking to cut costs through giant contracts with foreign suppliers. Shawn, who runs a sheep farm, had just lost his marketing contract with a grocery chain that was cutting out local producers. Another NFU member had lost his contract for pumpkins. The buyer told him frankly: “No more buying local.”
Jon Radojkovic, a Grey County grower of shiitake mushrooms told us he has given up trying to sell them to Toronto distributors. Instead, he finds his customers through a local bartering network.
Like most Grey County farmers, Rae MacIntyre raises beef. Not long ago, “there was a slaughterhouse in every county,” he says. That’s all gone now; the only significant purchaser is the corporate goliath, Cargill, which has an abattoir in Guelph, MacIntyre says. Most Ontario beef is sold into the U.S. for whatever it will bring, and these days that’s next to nothing.
Grey County used to be a major supplier of apples. Now few apples are sold, MacIntyre says. “Juice apples … are often composted or used for animal feed.” Many of the apples we see in stores are flown in from China. The same applies to apple juice and apple sauce, despite the misleading “made in Canada” labels on the packaging.
“Many good farmers have given up,” says Radojkovic. “They were proud and happy; now they have lost hope — killed by low prices.”
The average farm in Canada represented an investment of $1.3 million in 2006 — more per worker than in any other industry. Yet the average farmer’s “net market income” from this massive investment was only $13,000. And more than two-thirds must be set aside to provide for depreciation of buildings and equipment.
The NFU calculates that Ontario farmers` real return on their investment dropped to zero in 1991, and has declined since to “negative $15,000 per farm” in 2006.
Meanwhile, farm debt has more than doubled over the last two decades. With income levels so low, such debts can usually be repaid only be selling the farm.
Farmers try to compensate by taking off-farm jobs. Small and mid-sized Ontario farms get 90% of their income that way. Even farms with the highest sales get more than a quarter of their total revenue from off-farm jobs.
Given the disastrous economic conditions, few young people are stepping forward to replace Canada’s aging farm work force. In twenty years, the number of farmers under 35 years old is down 62%.
The sickness in Canada’s farms is rooted in the way the proceeds of agriculture are divided between farmers and workers, on the one hand, and capitalist corporations on the other.
In Canada’s hog industry, between 1988 and 2002, and despite inflation, farm-gate prices (including inflation) fell 5% from 1988 to 2007. Packinghouse workers’ wages rose a bit, but much less than inflation. Yet the price of pork to consumers went up 39%.
In 2005, the NFU noted that wheat farmers were getting five cents from each loaf of bread, the same amount as thirty years earlier. The income of supermarket workers has been under sharp attack. But the share of each loaf that goes to corporate millers, bakers, and grocers rose from 38 cents to $1.35.
In 2004, which the NFU says was the second-worst year for farming in history, the corporations living off the farmers had their most profitable year ever. The corporations are appropriating every penny of the profits of farming — indeed, more than 100%, since farmers are unable to cover their costs from farm-product sales.
‘The problem is market power’
How do they get away with it?
“The problem is market power,” a Farmers Union document explains. On one side are the “huge transnationals with only two or three competitors” — on the other side, “individual farmers competing in a global market against a billion other farmers.” In such conditions, agribusiness can set prices at will — whatever level best drains the farmers’ resources without shutting down cultivation completely.
Farmers’ incomes can be stabilized in two ways, the NFU points out: (1) government subsidy programs that “transfer money from taxpayers” and (2) programs to enable farmers “to extract money from the marketplace.” The farmers` union strongly advises a focus on enabling farmers to gain more market power.
“If farmers are more powerful, they will be more profitable,” the NFU concludes.
Unity in marketing
Farmers have long sought to achieve market power in the same way as workers — by joining together in order to impose a higher price for their product.
Workers do this through unions, which establish “market power” by bargaining collectively to set wage levels.
Farmers have sought to establish agencies — under their own or government management — that exercise control over the marketing of farm produce. The NFU points to the merits of existing plans of this type, such as the Canadian Wheat Board or Ontario’s egg and milk marketing boards.
In recent years, such “supply management” plans have come under government attack, and some have been shut down. New marketing agreements of this type are banned by the North American Free Trade Agreement. NAFTA clears the decks for agribusinesses to combine worldwide in giant transnational monopolies, while preventing the world’s atomized and oppressed farmers from uniting in self-defense.
Imagine a law banning collective bargaining by unions, and you’ll have some idea of the effect NAFTA has on farmers.
Governments in Canada could ignore the NAFTA provisions, citing the need for food products to conform to local environmental and health regulations. But their policies cater to transnational corporations and are hostile to smaller family-based farms.
“The Ontario government wants land and farming to be in a few strong hands,” Rae MacIntyre comments. Leafing through government documents, he reads out some examples of this attitude:
- A government leader says, “I remain committed to working with industry leaders.” Rae’s comment: “That means Cargill.”
- “$1.5 billion in aid to livestock producers.” Farmers will not see a penny of that, he says. This aid goes only to farms that have been profitable for three years running, which excludes almost all family farms.
Rae points to other government programs that exclude farmers with off-farm income — which again cuts out the vast majority who need help the most.
He recalls the statement of Ontario Deputy Agriculture Minister Frank Ingratta in 2004 that “We could produce all the product we need from 10,000 large highly mechanized farms” rather than the present 57,000. Despite Ingratta’s later denial, many farmers believe that the “10,000 farms” goal corresponds to current government policy.
Official programs with praiseworthy goals are blocked by bureaucratic methods. Several of the Grey County farmers express frustration with government staffers who are long on talk and promises but unwilling to take action. Meanwhile, the government has been creative in thinking up new regulations that make farming more difficult and shift inspection and other costs onto the farmers` backs.
The Farmers Union proposes an array of measures to help working farmers resist corporate profiteering. Among them:
- Encourage supply management and take initiatives to implement it internationally.
- Establish price supports to guarantee that farmers receive their cost of production.
- Break the monopoly of corporate suppliers of seed, fertilizer, and other farm inputs by funding creation of farmer-owned co-ops.
- Ban corporate farming as well as corporate contracts that dictate where farmers buy inputs and sell their product.
- Provide young people who want to farm with access to the land through community land trusts and land banks; ease the mountain of debt that now prevents sons and daughters from taking over the family farm.
None of this needs to increase the cost of food to consumers, the NFU points out. Farmers receive so little of the food dollar that the cost of increasing their share can be absorbed by corporate processors and retailers without price increases.
In recent years, a new ally for working farmers has appeared: the ecologically minded consumer. Many such consumers now visit Grey County as tourists. “Tourists have new tastes,” says NFU member Lillian Burgess. “They prefer fresh local food. When buying food, they ask, ‘Where was it grown.’”
This new interest in local food has a Third World feel, Burgess says. Impoverished locals have to buy cheap, at the franchised groceries, but “tourists are willing to pay more.”
The rise of “food tourism” reflects concerns felt by a growing number of consumers about the impact of corporate methods on food supply:
- Locally grown food is prized by many consumers as fresher, tastier, and healthier; many seek direct contact with the farmer.
- Air-freighting food around the world when it can be grown locally generates damaging and unnecessary carbon emissions that contribute to global warming.
- Agribusiness imposes industrial farming methods that are unhealthy and unsustainable.
- Environmental degradation and the diversion of food to fuel are placing the security of world food supplies in jeopardy, as has been eloquently explained by Fidel Castro and other leaders of the Global South.
According to a United Nations report, retail prices for food worldwide in 2007 were 40% higher than in 2006. The price of rice, wheat, and corn doubled. (Globe and Mail, March 29) The long-term impact on farmers is uncertain. Those producing grain for the world market may benefit. But farmers buying grain for fodder will pay more. The big winners will be the agribusiness giants. And the big losers are the world’s poor — many of them farmers.
The National Farmers Union has been alert to these threats. On May 9, 2006, it wrote the United Nations, noting that the world body’s own reports show a decline in the “area of arable and permanent crops” since 2001. Grain stocks are the lowest since 1975. “In five of the last six years,” it notes, “our global population ate significantly more grain than farmers produced.”
The NFU seeks to develop an international response to this crisis as part of its participation in the international farmers’ organization Vía Campesina (Farmers’ Way).
Given the scope of the challenge, the Grey County NFU members’ focus on the local-food issue is quite modest. It concedes that for now, local farmers have been driven from mainstream supermarkets and must focus instead on niche markets. But winning the chance to provide consumers with a local-food alternative could be vital for these farmers’ survival.
Wayne Roberts, a Toronto-based ecologist active in efforts to promote local food, points out how easily such a transition could begin. “Two simple actions by the Ontario government would transform the situation,” he says.
First, “all government-funded institutions could buy local and sustainable food: jails, hospitals, educational institutions, seniors residences, and the like. [The government] would not even have to change a law. Ontario farmers would need five to ten years to catch up with the demand. This is readily doable and cost-effective; it just takes organizing to bring it to the attention of the politicians.”
Roberts cites a recent victory in convincing the massive University of Toronto to go over to purchasing local and “sustainable” foods. Such efforts are coordinated through Local Food Plus, which establishes criteria for sustainable food based on positive social and ecological practices.
Roberts’s second proposal concerns the right to farm. As things stand, land is available to aspiring farmers only in the form of large farms that sell for hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. “The provincial government could make land available to those who wish to farm,” he says.
The government owns plenty of idle agricultural land, he says. “They could lease it out in small packets for reasonable prices, with special programs to encourage members of minority groups and new immigrants who may wish to grow products favored by their communities and neglected by conventional supermarkets.”
The local-food effort is helping to provide farmers with an influential potential ally — the ecological movement. Farmers deserve determined support from the labour movement as well. Working people have a lot to gain from the availability of local-food at grocery stores and from ecologically sound and sustainable agriculture.
It is also a question of solidarity. Working people who are employed need to stand together with farmers, fishers, truckers, and other independent producers who are exploited by the same corporations and face the same enemy.
John Riddell is co-editor of Socialist Voice (www.socialistvoice.ca) and a member of Socialist Project.
- National Farm Union — www.nfu.ca
- Local Food Plus — http://www.localflavourplus.ca/
- La Via Campesina — http://viacampesina.org/
- Fidel Castro on Global Warming, Biofuels and World Hunger — http://www.socialistvoice.ca/wp-content/uploads/2007/12/castroonglobalwarming.pdf
Programs provide land, aid to working farmers
By John Riddell and Suzanne Weiss
Suzanne and John are members of the Venezuela We Are With You Coalition. The following are major portions of a presentation they made to members of the National Farmers Union in Grey County, Ontario, March 10, 2007.
The people of Venezuela are today campaigning to rebuild a devastated family farm economy. They have more problems than solutions, but still are making significant progress.
Venezuela is an oil-rich country. But that doesn’t mean that Venezuelans are rich: in poor countries, oil brings misfortune. The so-called free market ensured that oil exports were balanced by a flood of cheap imports that stunted Venezuelan manufacturing and devastated its agriculture.
So despite the oil, Venezuela remained poor – its income per person is about one-fifth of Canada’s. And a rich minority gets most of it; 65% live in desperate poverty. Over half, unable to get jobs, scrape by in what is called the “informal economy.”
For ‘holistic rural development’
When Hugo Chávez was elected as Venezuela’s president in 1998, only a fraction of Venezuela’s once flourishing farming sector was left. There were fewer than 300,000 farm families, and many of them were doing little farming. Much of its richest farmland was no longer utilized. Much was being held idle in huge estates. Agriculture made up only 6% of national production – extremely low for a country so rich in farming potential and so poor in industrial development. Three-quarters of Venezuela’s food was imported.
Soon after the election, the Venezuelan people adopted a new constitution that addressed this problem in terms not just of raising farm production but of rebuilding rural communities. It declares:
“The state will promote conditions for holistic rural development guaranteeing the farming population an adequate level of wellbeing, as well as their incorporation into national development.”
The government stated in 2004 that farming is “the basic foundation for the preservation of a culture” and of “a way of life.” (“ALBA and Food Security,” Bancoex, February 5)
It is government policy to promote family farming as the best way to achieve this cultural goal and as the most efficient form of agriculture.
In Venezuela, 5% of landowners hold three-quarters of the land. The constitution deplores this situation, declaring that “the predominance of large estates is contrary to the national interest.” President Chávez explains this with a biblical quotation from the prophet Isaiah: “Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, tell there be no room, and ye be made to dwell alone in the midst of the land.”
As Venezuela sees it, reliance on food imports endangers the security of its food supply.
Venezuelan farmers cannot compete with highly subsidized U.S. exports, and with the big lead that U.S. agriculture has developed in technology and infrastructure, but attempts to protect producers are denounced as attacks on “free trade.”
Meanwhile, the predatory tactics of a handful of corporate giants are making farmers “more and more dependent on the purchase of expensive inputs of transnational companies.” (Bancoex)
The heart of Venezuela’s agricultural program is a land reform that aims to distribute idle land to small farmers or farming cooperatives, using both state-owned land and expropriated portions of private estates with compensation.
The reform is moderate, leaving untouched large estates that are in production. Yet it has led to a wave of violence in the countryside. Assassins in the pay of large landowners have killed almost 200 farm activists. The reform has also met with obstruction from government bureaucrats, judges, and police.
Farmers, who face lawless, chaotic conditions in the countryside, receive weak legal and police support. Infrastructure is lacking – for example, the rural road system is very poor, so it is hard to market products. State officials appointed under the old regime are often unhelpful.
Nonetheless, by 2004, 125,000 families had received inalienable title to four million acres – often land they were already cultivating – and there’s been much progress since.
Many of the new farms are independent family enterprises; others are cooperatives, and there’s a full-time training program for those who are joining or forming new co-ops. Producer co-ops are mostly small and often family-based. There are also co-ops that process or transport food.
Close to $1 billion a year has been invested in agricultural development. Low-interest loans have been provided to small farmers. And food production has increased in each of the last three years – 12% in all.
Meanwhile, the government has moved to counter hunger among the poor. It slapped price controls on basic foods. A new network of 14,000 state-run groceries stores, called Mercal, provides cut-rate food in poor districts, and another network of 6,000 community-run kitchens, using donated space and labour, provides free meals each day to a million of Venezuela’s neediest.
A visit with Venezuelan farmers
While we were in Venezuela in November and December, we met residents of the town of Libertador, in the state of Caribobo, who had taken up farming on idle land.
We met Maria Morillo, president of a communal government formed by about 200 farm families living in a hill district called Mont Vernont. She told a dramatic story. In the early days of the Bolivarian government, she and her neighbours had occupied an idle farm, refused to accept the landlord’s eviction order, fought off an armed attack by his thugs (two farmers were wounded), and finally won title under the land reform law.
Mont Vernont farmers set up communal councils in each of the area’s 14 hamlets, which in Venezuela have authority to decide on and administrate local improvements. They worked to bring in health, electricity, schooling, and other services.
Mont Vernont is famous in Liberator for the success of its first electrification project. The farmers got funds to wire up one of their hamlets. By working some angles and contributing some free labour, they managed to stretch the money to cover electrifying not one but three hamlets. Such community control means cheap government.
As president, Maria visits the 14 communities to check on progress. She goes on foot and can reach three hamlets in a day. In these isolated rural communities, everything cries out for action. We reached another mountain farming community, Las Vegas del Torrito, by the worst road we’ve ever seen. At one point it dived into a gully and splashed across a stream, obviously passable only in dry weather and only by a truck or four-wheel-drive. Garbage was burning in piles by the side of the road.
There are 23 farm families in Las Vegas. The communal council decided to put human needs before issues such as roads and garbage. Their first project was a community building—a classroom, meeting room, and consulting area for a visiting Cuban doctor. A school is under construction. They have council assemblies every two weeks with attendance of between 40 and 100.
We also found in Libertador several examples of the obstruction farmers face from a conservative state bureaucracy.
There are small hog raising operations in the municipality, which generate manure that threatens local water supplies. The local government developed a solution: septic tanks that would eliminate pollution and odor while generating gas that can be burned for cooking. But the project was quashed by the ministry of the environment, on the grounds of zoning regulations.
There had been other incidents of this sort, like a ministry ban against construction of ponds where small farmers could raise trout.
What explanations do the ministry provide? “None whatsoever,” says Libertador mayor Argenis Loreto. “Just as we always say: this bureaucracy is eating us alive… We can’t change things with this type of state…. I’d like to dissolve the municipal administration and create a confederation of community governments.”
During our visit, many basic food items were in short supply, especially in the Mercal stores. The shortages were causing discontent.
Partly, this reflects the success of efforts to improve living standards of working people. Venezuela’s poor now have more money in hand (more than double, by one estimate), and they are buying food at subsidized prices. They are eating better. Demand for milk has risen 50% in eight years. By another measure, demand for food rose by more than a third in three years.
Corruption is also a factor. Some subsidized food was being diverted from the Mercals and sold privately.
Market forces make matters worse. Scare tactics by the right-wing media have encouraged panic buying. Importers brought in too little food. Distributors resisted price controls by hoarding. Large amounts of food – often subsidized food – were being smuggled out of the country.
Public exasperation was increased by the fact that these problems were all foreseeable.
In recent months, the government has responded decisively. Price controls and import restrictions have been eased. Funds have been allocated to reinvigorate and expand the Mercal chain. Mercal stores have been placed under community control. Most importantly, a large state-owned food distributor has been established to import food on a massive scale for the Mercal network.
World food crisis
President Chávez believes that the food shortages in Venezuela are also symptoms of a looming crisis of supply on a world scale. He recently quoted an article from Canada’s National Post (January 7, 2008), reporting a speech by a Bank of Montreal investment expert. “A new crisis is emerging, a global food catastrophe,” the expert said. Raw food prices are up 22% in a year. Corn prices are up 44%. The U.S. produces more than half the world’s corn, and its exports are expected to shut off in three years.
Two dozen companies control world food supplies, says the bank’s expert.
Chávez identifies three causes of world food shortage, all of them hard to reverse.
- An increase in world demand, particularly for meat and dairy.
- A decline in yields, caused by global warming.
- “George Bush’s crazy plan to use food to make gasoline.”
The answer? In Chávez’s words, “With the grace of God, we will make Venezuela a powerhouse of food production.” Venezuela aims to increase cattle herds 50% in four years; to increase food production 2½ times over. The pace of government investment in agriculture has been stepped up greatly.
Many new socially owned food processing plants are being opened under community control. For example, on January 10, 2008, Chávez opened a milk processing centre, one of the largest in Latin America, in the state of Zulia. The centre’s history is typical of many of these projects. It began 47 years ago and was government-owned until 1995. Then it was then sold to an Italian firm, Parmalat, which ran it into the ground. The plant lay idle until the government repurchased it last year.
Zulia is an important cattle-raising area, and the plant will help local dairy farmers market their product. But it takes more than a single plant to create a healthy environment for farming. Alongside the milk plant, Chávez announced an array of measures for Zulia’s farmers:
- A centre for genetic support of livestock herds.
- A meatpacking plant.
- A branch of the government’s Agrarian Bank, providing low-interest loans to farmers.
- The rebuilding of 226 kilometers of rural roads.
- Creating of a rural planning district, which will implement an integrated plan for supply of electricity, water, schools, health, security, and other services.
Such socially owned processing plants can fit into a farm marketing system that cuts out the profiteering private food monopolies. Small farmers get preference in sales to the socially owned processing plants, whose product can be passed on to the state distributor, and then to the Mercal community grocery, and finally to the consumer.
Venezuela’s agricultural efforts are also expressed internationally through its alliance with other countries that seek a path independent of U.S. control – an alliance called ALBA (Spanish for “dawn”). One result of this cooperation that we saw is a large vegetable garden in downtown Caracas – a demonstration site that was established with help from Cuba.
A massive challenge
Farmers in Venezuela, as in Canada, are aging. The young generation is mostly in the cities and has mostly lost touch with its farming roots. Venezuela needs to persuade tens of thousands of young people to return to the land. How will this be possible?
It will take more than economic support. For farming to flourish, it needs a rich rural culture. But this is Venezuela, where farmers cannot easily get a truck or tractor, let alone satellite TV and Internet. How can such needs be met in a poor country, with urgent problems on every side crying out for solution?
What’s more, the country is locked in conflict and threatened with attack from abroad, and the very survival of the social experiment led by Chávez is in question. Farmers cannot always count on the sympathy of government bureaucrats or police. And Zulia, where Chávez opened the milk processing plant, is often hit by right-wing violence initiated by paramilitary gangs that cross the border from neighboring Colombia.
So it won’t be surprising if Venezuela finds it difficult to achieve the high goals it has set for the expansion of food production. But its people deserve credit for setting the right tasks and tackling them with energy.
Support for small-scale farmers and rebuilding of family farming is an urgent priority worldwide. In this struggle, farmers in Canada share a common interest with the popular movement led by Hugo Chávez and with Venezuelan farmers.
- More than Three Billion People Condemned
to Premature Death (March 29, 2007)
- The Internationalization of Genocide (April 3, 2007)
- An Immediate Energy Revolution Is Essential May 1, 2007)
- The Biofuels Debate Heats Up (May 9, 2007)
More Than Three Billion People in the World Condemned to Premature Death from Hunger and Thirst
by Fidel Castro Ruz
March 29, 2007
That is not an exaggerated figure, but rather a cautious one. I have meditated a lot on that in the wake of President Bush’s meeting with U.S. automobile manufacturers.
The sinister idea of converting food into fuel was definitively established as an economic line in U.S. foreign policy last Monday, March 26.
A cable from the AP, the U.S. news agency that reaches all corners of the world, states verbatim:
“WASHINGTON, March 26 (AP). President Bush touted the benefits of ‘flexible fuel’ vehicles running on ethanol and biodiesel on Monday, meeting with automakers to boost support for his energy plans.
“Bush said a commitment by the leaders of the domestic auto industry to double their production of flex-fuel vehicles could help motorists shift away from gasoline and reduce the nation’s reliance on imported oil.
‘“That’s a major technological breakthrough for the country,’ Bush said after inspecting three alternative vehicles. If the nation wants to reduce gasoline use, he said “the consumer has got to be in a position to make a rational choice.”
“The president urged Congress to ‘move expeditiously’ on legislation the administration recently proposed to require the use of 35 billion gallons of alternative fuels by 2017 and seek higher fuel economy standards for automobiles.
“Bush met with General Motors Corp. chairman and chief executive Rick Wagoner, Ford Motor Co. chief executive Alan Mulally and DaimlerChrysler AG’s Chrysler Group chief executive Tom LaSorda.
“They discussed support for flex-fuel vehicles, attempts to develop ethanol from alternative sources like switchgrass and wood chips and the administration’s proposal to reduce gas consumption by 20 percent in 10 years.
“The discussions came amid rising gasoline prices. The latest Lundberg Survey found the nationwide average for gasoline has risen 6 cents per gallon in the past two weeks to $2.61.”
I believe that reducing and moreover recycling all motors that run on electricity and fuel is an elemental and urgent need for all humanity. The tragedy does not lie in reducing those energy costs but in the idea of converting food into fuel.
It is known very precisely today that one ton of corn can only produce 413 liters of ethanol on average, according to densities. That is equivalent to 109 gallons.
The average price of corn in U.S. ports has risen to $167 per ton. Thus, 320 million tons of corn would be required to produce 35 billion gallons of ethanol.
According to FAO figures, the U.S. corn harvest rose to 280.2 million tons in the year 2005.
Although the president is talking of producing fuel derived from grass or wood shavings, anyone can understand that these are phrases totally lacking in realism. Let’s be clear: 35 billion gallons translates into 35 followed by nine zeros!
Afterwards will come beautiful examples of what experienced and well-organized U.S. farmers can achieve in terms of human productivity by hectare: corn converted into ethanol; the chaff from that corn converted into animal feed containing 26% protein; cattle dung used as raw material for gas production. Of course, this is after voluminous investments only within the reach of the most powerful enterprises, in which everything has to be moved on the basis of electricity and fuel consumption. Apply that recipe to the countries of the Third World and you will see that people among the hungry masses of the Earth will no longer eat corn. Or something worse: lend funding to poor countries to produce corn ethanol based on corn or any other food and not a single tree will be left to defend humanity from climate change.
Other countries in the rich world are planning to use not only corn but also wheat, sunflower seeds, rapeseed and other foods for fuel production. For the Europeans, for example, it would become a business to import all of the world’s soybeans with the aim of reducing the fuel costs for their automobiles and feeding their animals with the chaff from that legume, particularly rich in all types of essential amino acids.
In Cuba, alcohol used to be produced as a byproduct of the sugar industry after having made three extractions of sugar from cane juice. Climate change is already affecting our sugar production. Lengthy periods of drought alternating with record rainfall, that barely make it possible to produce sugar with an adequate yield during the 100 days of our very moderate winter; hence, there is less sugar per ton of cane or less cane per hectare due to prolonged drought in the months of planting and cultivation.
I understand that in Venezuela they would be using alcohol not for export but to improve the environmental quality of their own fuel. For that reason, apart from the excellent Brazilian technology for producing alcohol, in Cuba the use of such a technology for the direct production of alcohol from sugar cane juice is no more than a dream or the whim of those carried away by that idea. In our country, land handed over to the direct production of alcohol could be much useful for food production for the people and for environmental protection.
All the countries of the world, rich and poor, without any exception, could save millions and millions of dollars in investment and fuel simply by changing all the incandescent light bulbs for fluorescent ones, an exercise that Cuba has carried out in all homes throughout the country. That would provide a breathing space to resist climate change without killing the poor masses through hunger.
As can be observed, I am not using adjectives to qualify the system and the lords of the earth. That task can be excellently undertaken by news experts and honest social, economic and political scientists abounding in the world who are constantly delving into to the present and future of our species. A computer and the growing number of Internet networks are sufficient for that.
Today, we are seeing for the first time a really globalized economy and a dominant power in the economic, political and military terrain that in no way resembles that of Imperial Rome.
Some people will be asking themselves why I am talking of hunger and thirst. My response to that: it is not about the other side of the coin, but about several sides of something else, like a die with six sides, or a polyhedron with many more sides.
I refer in this case to an official news agency, founded in 1945 and generally well-informed about economic and social questions in the world: TELAM. It said, and I quote:
“In just 18 years, close to 2 billion people will be living in countries and regions where water will be a distant memory. Two-thirds of the world’s population could be living in places where that scarcity produces social and economic tensions of such a magnitude that it could lead nations to wars for the precious ‘blue gold.’
“Over the last 100 years, the use of water has increased at a rate twice as fast as that of population growth.
“According to statistics from the World Water Council, it is estimated that by 2015, the number of inhabitants affected by this grave situation will rise by 3.5 billion people.
“The United Nations celebrated World Water Day on March 23, and called to begin confronting, that very day, the international scarcity of water, under the coordination of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), with the goal of highlighting the increasing importance of water scarcity on a global scale, and the need for greater integration and cooperation that would make it possible to guarantee sustained and efficient management of water resources.
“Many regions on the planet are suffering from severe water shortages, living with less than 500 cubic meters per person per year. The number of regions suffering from chronic scarcity of this vital element is increasingly growing.
“The principal consequences of water scarcity are an insufficient amount of the precious liquid for producing food, the impossibility of industrial, urban and tourism development and health problems.”
That was the TELEAM cable.
In this case I will refrain from mentioning other important facts, like the melting ice in Greenland and the Antarctic, damage to the ozone layer and the growing volume of mercury in many species of fish for common consumption.
There are other issues that could be addressed, but with these lines I am just trying to comment on President Bush’s meeting with the principal executives of U.S. automakers.
The Internationalization of Genocide
by Fidel Castro Ruz
April 3, 2007
The Camp David meeting has just come to an end. All of us followed the press conference offered by the presidents of the United States and Brazil attentively, as we did the news surrounding the meeting and the opinions voiced in this connection.
Faced with demands related to customs duties and subsidies which protect and support US ethanol production, Bush did not make the slightest concession to his Brazilian guest at Camp David.
President Lula attributed to this the rise in corn prices, which, according to his own statements, had gone up more than 85 percent.
Before these statements were made, the Washington Post had published an article by the Brazilian leader which expounded on the idea of transforming food into fuel.
It is not my intention to hurt Brazil or to meddle in the internal affairs of this great country. It was in effect in Rio de Janeiro, host of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, exactly 15 years ago, where I delivered a 7-minute speech vehemently denouncing the environmental dangers that menaced our species’ survival. Bush Sr., then President of the United States, was present at that meeting and applauded my words out of courtesy; all other presidents there applauded, too.
No one at Camp David answered the fundamental question. Where are the more than 500 million tons of corn and other cereals which the United States, Europe and wealthy nations require to produce the gallons of ethanol that big companies in the United States and other countries demand in exchange for their voluminous investments going to be produced and who is going to supply them? Where are the soy, sunflower and rape seeds, whose essential oils these same, wealthy nations are to turn into fuel, going to be produced and who will produce them?
Some countries are food producers which export their surpluses. The balance of exporters and consumers had already become precarious before this and food prices had skyrocketed. In the interests of brevity, I shall limit myself to pointing out the following:
According to recent data, the five chief producers of corn, barley, sorghum, rye, millet and oats which Bush wants to transform into the raw material of ethanol production, supply the world market with 679 million tons of these products. Similarly, the five chief consumers, some of which also produce these grains, currently require 604 million annual tons of these products. The available surplus is less than 80 million tons of grain.
This colossal squandering of cereals destined to fuel production —and these estimates do not include data on oily seeds—shall serve to save rich countries less than 15 percent of the total annual consumption of their voracious automobiles.
At Camp David, Bush declared his intention of applying this formula around the world. This spells nothing other than the internationalization of genocide.
In his statements, published by the Washington Post on the eve of the Camp David meeting, the Brazilian president affirmed that less than one percent of Brazil’s arable land was used to grow cane destined to ethanol production. This is nearly three times the land surface Cuba used when it produced nearly 10 million tons of sugar a year, before the crisis that befell the Soviet Union and the advent of climate changes.
Our country has been producing and exporting sugar for a longer time. First, on the basis of the work of slaves, whose numbers swelled to over 300 thousand in the first years of the 19th century and who turned the Spanish colony into the world’s number one exporter. Nearly one hundred years later, at the beginning of the 20th century, when Cuba was a pseudo-republic which had been denied full independence by US interventionism; it was immigrants from the West Indies and illiterate Cubans alone who bore the burden of growing and harvesting sugarcane on the island. The scourge of our people was the off-season, inherent to the cyclical nature of the harvest. Sugarcane plantations were the property of US companies or powerful Cuban-born landowners. Cuba, thus, has more experience than anyone as regards the social impact of this crop.
This past Sunday, April 1, the CNN televised the opinions of Brazilian experts who affirm that many lands destined to sugarcane have been purchased by wealthy Americans and Europeans.
As part of my reflections on the subject, published on March 29, I expounded on the impact climate change has had on Cuba and on other basic characteristics of our country’s climate which contribute to this.
On our poor and anything but consumerist island, one would be unable to find enough workers to endure the rigors of the harvest and to care for the sugarcane plantations in the ever more intense heat, rains or droughts. When hurricanes lash the island, not even the best machines can harvest the bent-over and twisted canes. For centuries, the practice of burning sugarcane was unknown and no soil was compacted under the weight of complex machines and enormous trucks. Nitrogen, potassium and phosphate fertilizers, today extremely expensive, did not yet even exist, and the dry and wet months succeeded each other regularly. In modern agriculture, no high yields are possible without crop rotation methods.
On Sunday, April 1, the French Press Agency (AFP) published disquieting reports on the subject of climate change, which experts gathered by the United Nations already consider an inevitable phenomenon that will spell serious repercussions for the world in the coming decades.
According to a UN report to be approved next week in Brussels, climate change will have a significant impact on the American continent, generating more violent storms and heat waves and causing droughts, the extinction of some species and even hunger in Latin America.
The AFP report indicates that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) forewarned that at the end of this century, every hemisphere will endure water-related problems and, if governments take no measures in this connection, rising temperatures could increase the risks of mortality, contamination, natural catastrophes and infectious diseases.
In Latin America, global warming is already melting glaciers in the Andes and threatening the Amazon forest, whose perimeter may slowly be turned into a savannah, the cable goes on to report.
Because a great part of its population lives near the coast, the United States is also vulnerable to extreme natural phenomena, as hurricane Katrina demonstrated in 2005.
According to AFP, this is the second of three IPCC reports which began to be published last February, following an initial scientific forecast which established the certainty of climate change.
This second 1400-page report which analyzes climate change in different sectors and regions, of which AFP has obtained a copy, considers that, even if radical measures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions that pollute the atmosphere are taken, the rise in temperatures around the planet in the coming decades is already unavoidable, concludes the French Press Agency.
As was to be expected, at the Camp David meeting, Dan Fisk, National Security advisor for the region, declared that “in the discussion on regional issues, [I expect] Cuba to come up (…) if there’s anyone that knows how to create starvation, it’s Fidel Castro. He also knows how not to do ethanol”.
As I find myself obliged to respond to this gentleman, it is my duty to remind him that Cuba’s infant mortality rate is lower than the United States’. All citizens —this is beyond question—enjoy free medical services. Everyone has access to education and no one is denied employment, in spite of nearly half a century of economic blockade and the attempts of US governments to starve and economically asphyxiate the people of Cuba.
China would never devote a single ton of cereals or leguminous plants to the production of ethanol, and it is an economically prosperous nation which is breaking growth records, where all citizens earn the income they need to purchase essential consumer items, despite the fact that 48 percent of its population, which exceeds 1.3 billion, works in agriculture. On the contrary, it has set out to reduce energy consumption considerably by shutting down thousands of factories which consume unacceptable amounts of electricity and hydrocarbons. It imports many of the food products mentioned above from far-off corners of the world, transporting these over thousands of miles.
Scores of countries do not produce hydrocarbons and are unable to produce corn and other grains or oily seeds, for they do not even have enough water to meet their most basic needs.
At a meeting on ethanol production held in Buenos Aires by the Argentine Oil Industry Chamber and Cereals Exporters Association, Loek Boonekamp, the Dutch head of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)’s commercial and marketing division, told the press that governments are very much enthused about this process but that they should objectively consider whether ethanol ought to be given such resolute support.
According to Boonekamp, the United States is the only country where ethanol can be profitable and, without subsidies, no other country can make it viable.
According to the report, Boonekamp insists that ethanol is not manna from Heaven and that we should not blindly commit to developing this process.
Today, developed countries are pushing to have fossil fuels mixed with biofuels at around five percent and this is already affecting agricultural prices. If this figure went up to 10 percent, 30 percent of the United States’ cultivated surface and 50 percent of Europe’s would be required. That is the reason Boonekamp asks himself whether the process is sustainable, as an increase in the demand for crops destined to ethanol production would generate higher and less stable prices.
Protectionist measures are today at 54 cents per gallon and real subsidies reach far higher figures.
Applying the simple arithmetic we learned in high school, we could show how, by simply replacing incandescent bulbs with fluorescent ones, as I explained in my previous reflections, millions and millions of dollars in investment and energy could be saved, without the need to use a single acre of farming land.
In the meantime, we are receiving news from Washington, through the AP, reporting that the mysterious disappearance of millions of bees throughout the United States has edged beekeepers to the brink of a nervous breakdown and is even cause for concern in Congress, which will discuss this Thursday the critical situation facing this insect, essential to the agricultural sector. According to the report, the first disquieting signs of this enigma became evident shortly after Christmas in the state of Florida, when beekeepers discovered that their bees had vanished without a trace. Since then, the syndrome which experts have christened as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has reduced the country’s swarms by 25 percent.
Daniel Weaver, president of the US Beekeepers Association, stated that more than half a million colonies, each with a population of nearly 50 thousand bees, had been lost. He added that the syndrome has struck 30 of the country’s 50 states. What is curious about the phenomenon is that, in many cases, the mortal remains of the bees are not found.
According to a study conducted by Cornell University, these industrious insects pollinate crops valued at anywhere from 12 to 14 billion dollars.
Scientists are entertaining all kinds of hypotheses, including the theory that a pesticide may have caused the bees’ neurological damage and altered their sense of orientation. Others lay the blame on the drought and even mobile phone waves, but, what’s certain is that no one knows exactly what has unleashed this syndrome.
The worst may be yet to come: a new war aimed at securing gas and oil supplies that can take humanity to the brink of total annihilation.
Invoking intelligence sources, Russian newspapers have reported that a war on Iran has been in the works for over three years now, since the day the government of the United States resolved to occupy Iraq completely, unleashing a seemingly endless and despicable civil war.
All the while, the government of the United States devotes hundreds of billions to the development of highly sophisticated technologies, as those which employ micro-electronic systems or new nuclear weapons which can strike their targets an hour following the order to attack.
The United States brazenly turns a deaf ear to world public opinion, which is against all kinds of nuclear weapons.
Razing all of Iran’s factories to the ground is a relatively easy task, from the technical point of view, for a powerful country like the United States. The difficult task may come later, if a new war were to be unleashed against another Muslim faith which deserves our utmost respect, as do all other religions of the Near, Middle or Far East, predating or postdating Christianity.
The arrest of English soldiers at Iran’s territorial waters recalls the nearly identical act of provocation of the so-called “Brothers to the Rescue” who, ignoring President Clinton’s orders advanced over our country’s territorial waters. Cuba’s absolutely legitimate and defensive action gave the United States a pretext to promulgate the well-known Helms-Burton Act, which encroaches upon the sovereignty of other nations besides Cuba. The powerful media have consigned that episode to oblivion. No few people attribute the price of oil, at nearly 70 dollars a gallon as of Monday, to fears of a possible invasion of Iran.
Where shall poor Third World countries find the basic resources needed to survive?
I am not exaggerating or using overblown language. I am confining myself to the facts.
As can be seen, the polyhedron has many dark faces.
An Immediate Energy Revolution is Essential
“It hurts to think that 10 billion tons of fossil fuel is consumed every year. This means that each year we waste what it took nature one million years to create.”
by Fidel Castro Ruz
From Granma, May 1 2007
I hold nothing against Brazil, even though to more than a few Brazilians continuously bombarded with the most diverse arguments that could well confuse even people who traditionally have been friendly to Cuba, we might sound callous and careless about hurting that country’s net income of hard currency. However, for me to keep silent would be to opt between the idea of a world tragedy and a presumed benefit for the people of that great nation.
I do not blame Lula and the Brazilians for the objective laws that have governed the history of our species. Barely 7,000 years have passed since human beings left their tangible mark on what has come to be a civilization immensely rich in culture and technical knowledge. Advances have not been achieved at the same time or in the same geographical latitudes. It can be said that due to the apparent enormity of our planet, quite often the existence of one or another civilization was unknown. For thousands of years human beings never lived in cities with 20 million inhabitants such as Sao Paulo or Mexico City, or in urban communities such as Paris, Madrid, Berlin and others who see trains speeding by on rail and air cushions at speeds of more than 250 miles an hour.
At the time of Christopher Columbus, barely 500 years ago, some of these cities did not exist, or had populations that did not exceed several tens of thousands. Nobody used one single kilowatt to light his/her home. The population of the world at that time was probably no more than 500 million. We know that in 1830, world population reached the first billion mark; 130 years later it had multiplied by three; and 46 years later the total number of inhabitants on the planet had grown to 6.5 billion, the immense majority of whom were poor, having to share food products with domestic animals and from this time onward, with biofuels.
At that time, humanity did not have all the advances in computers and means of communication that we have today, even though the first atomic bombs had already been detonated over two large human communities in a brutal act of terrorism against a defenseless civilian population, for reasons that were strictly political.
Today, the world has tens of thousands of nuclear bombs that are 50 times as powerful, with carriers that are several times faster than the speed of sound and have absolute precision; our sophisticated species could destroy itself with them. At the end of World War II, fought by the peoples against fascism, a new power emerged that took over the world and imposed the absolutist and cruel order under which we live today.
Before Bush’s trip to Brazil, the leader of the empire decided that corn and other foodstuffs would be suitable raw material for the production of biofuels. For his part, Lula stated that Brazil could supply as much biofuel as necessary from sugar cane; he saw in this formula a possibility for the future of the Third World, and the only problem left to solve would be to improve the living conditions of the sugarcane workers. He was well aware – and he said it – that the United States should in turn lift the custom tariffs and the subsidies affecting ethanol exports to that country.
Bush replied that custom tariffs and subsidies to growers were untouchable in a country such as the United States, which is the first world producer of ethanol from corn.
The large U.S. transnational producers of this biofuel, which are investing tens of billions of dollars at an accelerated pace, had demanded from the imperial leader the distribution in the U.S. market of no less than 35 billions (35,000,000,000) of gallons of this fuel every year. The combination of protective tariffs and real subsidies would raise that figure to almost one hundred billion dollars every year.
Insatiable in its demand, the empire had launched into the world the slogan of producing biofuels in order to free the United States, the world’s supreme energy consumer, from all external dependency on hydrocarbons.
History shows that sugar as a mono-crop was closely associated with the enslavement of Africans, forcibly uprooted from their natural communities and brought to Cuba, Haiti and other Caribbean islands. In Brazil, the exact same thing happened with sugarcane cultivation.
Today, in that country, almost 80% of sugar cane is cut by hand. Sources and studies contributed by Brazilian researchers affirm that one sugarcane cutter, a piece-work laborer, must produce no less than12 tons in order to meet basic needs. This one worker needs to perform 36,630 flexing movements with his legs, make small trips 800 times carrying 15 kilos of cane in his arms and walk 8,800 meters in his task. He loses an average of 8 liters of water every day. Only by burning cane can that productivity per person be achieved. Cane cut by hand or by machines is usually burned to protect people from nasty bites and especially to increase productivity. Even though the established norm for a working day is from 8 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon, this type of piece-work cane cutting tends to go on for a 12-hour working day. The temperature sometimes rises to 45 degrees centigrade by noon.
I have cut cane myself more than once as a moral duty, as have many other comrade leaders of the country. I remember August of 1969. I chose a place close to the capital. I went there very early every day. It was not burned cane but green cane, an early variety and high in agricultural and industrial yield. I cut for four hours non-stop. Somebody else was sharpening the machete. I consistently produced a minimum of 3.4 tons per day. Then I would shower, calmly have some lunch and take a break in a place nearby. I earned several coupons in the famous harvest of 1970. I had just turned 44 then. The rest of the time, until bedtime, I worked at my revolutionary duties. I stopped that personal effort after wounding my left foot. The sharpened machete had sliced through my protective boot. The national goal was 10 million tons of sugar and approximately 4 million tons of molasses as by-product. We never reached that goal, although we came close.
The USSR had not disappeared; that seemed impossible. The Special Period, which took us to a struggle for survival and to economic inequalities with their inherent elements of corruption, had not yet begun. Imperialism believed that the time had come to finish off the Revolution. It is also fair to acknowledge that during the years of bonanza we wasted resources and our idealism ran high along with the dreams accompanying our heroic process.
The great agricultural yields of the United States were achieved by rotating gramineae (corn, wheat, oats, millet and other similar grains) with legumes (soy, alfalfa, beans, etc.). These contribute nitrogen and organic material to the soil. The corn crop yield in the United States in 2005, according to UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) data, was 9.3 tons per hectare.
In Brazil they only obtain 3 tons of this same grain over a similar area of land. The total production registered by this sister nation that year was 34,600,000 tons, consumed internally as food. It cannot contribute corn to the world market.
Prices for this grain, the staple diet in numerous countries of the region, have almost doubled. What will happen when hundreds of millions of tons of corn are redirected toward the production of biofuel? And I would rather not mention the volumes of wheat, millet, oats, barley, sorghum and other cereals that industrialized countries will use as a source of fuel for its engines.
Add to this that it is very difficult for Brazil to rotate corn and legumes. Of the Brazilian states traditionally producing corn, eight are responsible for 90% of production: Paraná, Minas Gerais, Sao Paulo, Goiás, Mato Grosso, Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina y Mato Grosso do Sul. On the other hand, 60% of sugarcane, a grain that cannot be rotated with other crops, is cultivated in four states: Sao Paulo, Paraná, Pernambuco and Alagoas.
The engines of tractors, harvesters and the heavy machinery required to mechanize the harvest would use growing amounts of hydrocarbons. The increase of mechanization would not help in the prevention of global warming, something that has been proven by experts who have measured annual temperatures for the last 150 years.
Brazil does produce an excellent food that is especially rich in protein: soy, 50,115,000 tons. It consumes almost 23 million tons and exports 27,300,000 tons. Could it be that a large part of this soy will be converted to biofuel?
As it is, the producers of beef cattle are beginning to complain that grazing land is being transformed into sugarcane fields.
The former agriculture minister of Brazil, Roberto Rodrigues, an important advocate of the current government position – and presently a co-president of the Inter-American Ethanol Commission created in 2006 following an agreement with the state of Florida and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to promote the use of biofuel on the American continent – announced that the program to mechanize the sugarcane harvest will not create more jobs but, on the contrary, would produce a surplus of non-qualified manpower.
We know that the poorest workers from various states are the ones who gravitate toward cane cutting out of necessity. Sometimes, they have to spend many months away from their families. That is what happened in Cuba until the triumph of the Revolution, when the cutting and lifting of sugarcane was done by hand, and mechanized cultivation or transportation hardly existed. With the demise of the brutal system forced on our society the cane-cutters, massively taught to read and write, abandoned their peregrinations within a few years and it became necessary to replace them with hundreds of thousands of voluntary workers.
Added to this is the latest report by the United Nations on climate change, which affirms what would happen in South America with water from the glaciers and the Amazon water basin as the temperature of the atmosphere continue to rise.
Nothing is preventing U.S. and European capital from funding the production of biofuels. They could even send the funds as gifts to Brazil and Latin America. The United States, Europe and the other industrialized nations would save more than $140 billion every year without having to worry about the consequences for the climate and the hunger which would affect the countries of the Third World in the first place. They would always be left with enough money for biofuels and to acquire the little food available on the world market at any price.
It is imperative to have an immediate energy revolution that consists not only of replacing all the incandescent light bulbs, but also of massively recycling all domestic, commercial, industrial, transport and social electric appliances that require two and three times more energy with their earlier technologies.
It hurts to think that 10 billion tons of fossil fuel is consumed every year. This means that each year we waste what it took nature one million years to create. National industries are faced with enormous challenges, including the reduction of unemployment. In that way, we could gain a little time.
Another risk of a different nature facing the world is an economic recession in the United States. In the past few days, the dollar has broken records in losing value. On the other hand, every country has most of its reserves in convertible currencies precisely in this paper currency and in U.S. bonds.
Tomorrow, May Day, is a good day to bring these reflections to the workers and to all the poor of the world. At the same time we should protest against something incredible and humiliating that has just occurred: the release of a terrorist monster, precisely on the 46th Anniversary of the Revolutionary Victory of the Bay of Pigs.
Prison for the assassin!
Freedom for the Five Heroes!
The Biofuels Debate Heats Up
by Fidel Castro Ruz
May 9, 2007
Atilio Borón, a prestigious leftist intellectual who until recently headed the Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO), wrote an article for the 6th Hemispheric Meeting of Struggle against the FTAs and for the Integration of Peoples which just wrapped up in Havana; he was kind enough to send it to me along with a letter.
The gist of what he wrote I have summarized using exact quotes of paragraphs and phrases in his article; it reads as follows:
Pre-capitalist societies already knew about oil which surfaced in shallow deposits and they used for non-commercial purposes, such as waterproofing the wooden hulls of ships or in textile products, or for torches. Its original name was ‘petroleum’ or stone-oil.
By the end of the 19th century –after the discovery of large oilfields in Pennsylvania, United States, and the technological developments propelled by the massive use of the internal combustion engine– oil became the energy paradigm of the 20th century.
Energy is conceived of as just merchandise. Like Marx warned us, this is not due to the perversity or callousness of some individual capitalist or another, but rather the consequence of the logic of the accumulation process, which is prone to the ceaseless “mercantilism” that touches on all components of social life, both material and symbolic. The mercantilist process did not stop with the human being, but simultaneously extended to nature. The land and its products, the rivers and the mountains, the jungles and the forests became the target of its irrepressible pillage. Foodstuffs, of course, could not escape this hellish dynamic. Capitalism turns everything that crosses its path into merchandise.
Foodstuffs are transformed into fuels to make viable the irrationality of a civilization that, to sustain the wealth and privilege of a few, is brutally assaulting the environment and the ecologic conditions which made it possible for life to appear on Earth.
Transforming food into fuels is a monstrosity.
Capitalism is preparing to perpetrate a massive euthanasia on the poor, and particularly on the poor of the South, since it is there that the greatest reserves of the earth’s biomass required to produce biofuels are found. Regardless of numerous official statements assuring that this is not a choice between food and fuel, reality shows that this, and no other, is exactly the alternative: either the land is used to produce food or to produce biofuels.
The main lessons taught us by FAO data on the subject of agricultural land and the consumption of fertilizers are the following:
- Agricultural land per capita in developed capitalism almost doubles that existing in the underdeveloped periphery: 3.26 acres per person in the North as opposed to 1.6 in the South; this is explained by the simple fact that close to 80 percent of the world population live in the underdeveloped periphery.
- Brazil has slightly more agricultural land per capita than the developed countries. It becomes clear that this nation will have to assign huge tracts of its enormous land surface to meet the demands of the new energy paradigm.
- China and India have 1.05 and 0.43 acres per person respectively.
- The small nations of the Antilles, with their traditional one-crop agriculture, that is sugarcane, demonstrate eloquently its erosive effects exemplified by the extraordinary rate of consumption of fertilizers per acre needed to support this production. If in the peripheral countries the average figure is 109 kilograms of fertilizer per hectare (as opposed to 84 in developed countries), in Barbados the figure is 187.5, in Dominica 600, en Guadeloupe 1,016, in St. Lucia 1,325 and in Martinique 1,609. The use of fertilizers is tantamount to intensive oil consumption, and so the much touted advantage of agrifuels to reduce the consumption of hydrocarbons seems more an illusion than a reality. The total agricultural land of the European Union is barely sufficient to cover 30 percent of their current needs for fuel but not their future needs that will probably be greater. In the United States, the satisfaction of their current demand for fossil fuels would require the use of 121 percent of all their agricultural land for agrifuels.
Consequently, the supply of agrifuels will have to come from the South, from capitalism’s poor and neocolonial periphery. Mathematics does not lie: neither the United States nor the European Union have available land to support an increase in food production and an expansion of the production of agrifuels at the same time.
Deforestation of the planet would increase the land surface suitable for agriculture (but only for a while). Therefore this would be only for a few decades, at the most. These lands would then suffer desertification and the situation would be worse than ever, aggravating even further the dilemma pitting the production of food against that of ethanol or biodiesel.
The struggle against hunger –and there are some 2 billion people who suffer from hunger in the world– will be seriously impaired by the expansion of land taken over by agrifuel crops. Countries where hunger is a universal scourge will bear witness to the rapid transformation of agriculture that would feed the insatiable demand for fuels needed by a civilization based on their irrational use. The only result possible is an increase in the cost of food and thus, the worsening of the social situation in the South countries.
Moreover, the world population grows 76 million people every year who will obviously demand food that will be steadily more expensive and farther out of their reach.
In The Globalist Perspective, Lester Brown predicted less than a year ago that automobiles would absorb the largest part of the increase in world grain production in 2006. Of the 20 million tons added to those existing in 2005, 14 million were used in the production of fuels, and only 6 million tons were used to satisfy the needs of the hungry. This author affirms that the world appetite for automobile fuel is insatiable. Brown concluded by saying that a scenario is being prepared where a head-on confrontation will take place between the 800 million prosperous car owners and the food consumers.
The devastating impact of increased food prices, which will inexorably happen as the land is used either for food or for fuel, was demonstrated in the work of C. Ford Runge and Benjamin Senauer, two distinguished professors from the University of Minnesota, in an article published in the English language edition of the Foreign Affairs magazine whose title says it all: “How Biofuels Could Starve the Poor”. The authors claim that in the United States the growth of the agrifuel industry has given rise to increases not only in the price of corn, oleaginous seeds and other grains, but also in the prices of apparently unrelated crops and products. The use of land to grow corn which will feed the fauces of ethanol is reducing the area for other crops. The food processors using crops such as peas and young corn have been forced to pay higher prices in order to ensure their supplies. This is a cost that will eventually be passed on to the consumer. The increase in food prices is also hitting the livestock and poultry industries. The higher costs have produced an abrupt decrease in income, especially in the poultry and pork sectors. If income continues to decrease, so will production, and the prices of chicken, turkey, pork, milk and eggs will increase. They warn that the most devastating effects of increasing food prices will be felt especially in Third World countries.
Studies made by the Belgian Office of Scientific Affairs shows that biodiesel causes more health and environmental hazards because it creates a more pulverized pollution and releases more pollutants that destroy the ozone layer.
With regards to the argument claming that the agrifuels are harmless, Victor Bronstein, a professor at the University of Buenos Aires, has demonstrated that:
- It is not true that biofuels are a renewable and constant energy source, given that the crucial factor in plant growth is not sunlight but the availability of water and suitable soil conditions. If this were not the case, we would be able to grow corn or sugarcane in the Sahara Desert. The effects of large-scale production of biofuels will be devastating.
- It is not true that they do not pollute. Even if ethanol produces less carbon emissions, the process to obtain it pollutes the surface and the water with nitrates, herbicides, pesticides and waste, and the air is polluted with aldehydes and alcohols that are carcinogens. The presumption of a “green and clean” fuel is a fallacy. The proposal of agrifuels is unviable, and it is ethically and politically unacceptable. But it is not enough just to reject it. It is necessary to implement a new energy revolution, but one that is at the service of the people and not at the service of the monopolies and imperialism. This is, perhaps, the most important challenge of our time, concludes Atilio Borón.
As you can see, this summary took up some space. We need space and time; practically a book. It has been said that the masterpiece which made author Gabriel García Márquez famous, One Hundred Years of Solitude, required him to write fifty pages for each page that was printed. How much time would my poor pen need to refute those who for a material interest, ignorance, indifference or even for all three at the same time defend the evil idea and to spread the solid and honest arguments of those who struggle for the life of the species?
Some very important opinions and points of view were discussed at the Hemispheric Meeting in Havana. We should talk about those that brought us real-life images of cutting sugarcane by hand in a documentary film that seemed a reflection of Dante’s Inferno. A growing number of opinions are carried by the media every day and everywhere in the world, from institutions like the United Nations right up to national scientific associations. I simply perceive that the debate is heating up. The fact that the subject is being discussed is already an important step forward.