Biofuels Could Strain U.N. Goals of Ending Hunger
STOCKHOLM Rising production of biofuels from crops might complicate U.N. goals of ending hunger in developing countries, where 850 million people do not have enough to eat, a senior U.N. official said on Wednesday.
"There's a huge potential for biofuels but we have to look at ... competition with food production," said Alexander Mueller, assistant Director General of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Production of fuels from sugar, maize, soybeans and other corps is surging, spurred by oil prices above $70 a barrel and a drive for more environmentally friendly fuels from renewable sources.
"This is a completely new issue, we only know that this has impact on the question of feeding the world," he told a news conference during a meeting of 1,500 water experts in Stockholm.
Still, he said that a surge in biofuels production in the past year or two had not hampered food supplies. "We have to find out what the situation will be in 5 to 10 years ... a lot of research has to be done," he said.
Biofuels now make up only a fraction of a percent of world energy use but have an economic potential to rise to perhaps 6 percent by 2050, according to rough FAO estimates.
"This is an emerging issue with no clear figures and no guidelines," Mueller said. The rise of biofuels could also strain world water supplies -- about one in three people live in areas where water is scarce, he said.
He also said that the world would need better management of fresh water to "feed all the people and to produce energy for the world."
Mueller said biofuels presented one of three major challenges for farming, alongside climate change and a rising world population.
Food output would have to rise by 40 percent in the next 25 years to keep pace with a rise in the world population to nine billion people. That in turn will strain demand for irrigation with one in three people living in regions with water shortages.
And climate change might bring more droughts, floods, heat waves and erosion. Most scientists say that emissions of greenhouse gases, largely from burning fossil fuels in power plants, factories and cars, are warming the planet.