German official warns biofuels could hurt developing nations

The global boom in biofuels could have dramatic consequences for the food supply in those developing countries that export crops for biofuels, an official at the German development ministry warned on Saturday.

German official warns biofuels could hurt developing nations
An oil palm farmer in Malaysia. Photo: dpa

Social Democrat Karin Kortmann, the Ministry’s parliamentary liaison, said that in countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia, more and more agricultural land is being used to grow biofuel crops such as oil palms.

“The cost of wheat and millet has risen exorbitantly because of this,” she told German news agency DPA. “If we don’t change direction, this will lead to whole new poverty cycles.”

She referred to a study by the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute, which found that, for each percentage point increase in the cost of food, an additional 16 million people are threatened with hunger.

The situation in Indonesia is particularly critical, the Ministry official said. Some 6 million hectares are currently devoted to oil palm cultivation, and NGOs expect this figure to rise to 20 million by 2020.

Kortmann was critical of the fact that biofuels targets set by European governments were potentially endangering the future of millions of people in developing nations.

“We have a big opportunity now to fix this where possible, because the German and European legislation hasn’t been completed yet,” Kortmann said.

The EU has set a target to ensure that 10 percent of fuel comes from renewable sources by 2020 in an effort to curb its carbon emissions. But in January, the EU’s environment chief said the bloc would rethink its biofuels policy in light of the environmental and social problems caused by large-scale production of the crops needed for biofuels.