|Agrofuels and the
A number of Latin and Central American countries (namely Argentina,
Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Guatemala)
are currently experiencing what can be called an agrofuels’
The rapid expansion in the use of agricultural
crops as transport fuel could be seen as a prodevelopment
policy that could help bring developing countries out of poverty
along with fighting climate change. This could indeed increase
agricultural production, generate foreign income through exports,
make countries less dependent on imports of fossil fuel and
drive new investments in agriculture and rural communities.
However the agrofuels boom has actually
serious social and environmental impacts:
- conversion of small productive
family farms in monoculture crops leading to higher
unequal ownership and to rural employment drop;
- agriculture intensification
(use of GM seeds and intensive use of agrochemicals) resulting
in crop vulnerability, in soil and water table contamination
and in higher economic risk ;
- conversion of natural ecosystems
leading to threats to biodiversity and having a negative
impact on CO2 emission ;
- and last but not least, it has
direct and indirect sizeable impacts on deforestation
of the Amazon region.
Deforestation in Matto Grosso
Brazil seen by ASTER in 2006. Since 1970, Brazil has
lost close to 700,000 km2 of its forest much of it due
to the expansion of cattle ranching and agriculture.
This is an area almost the size of France and Belgium.
At the current deforestation rate, the Amazon Rainforest
will be reduced by 40% in 2030 - Source: NASA
and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team
The Amazon Rainforest spreads over nine nations and
covers approximately seven million km², making
it the world’s largest contiguous tropical forest.
Intensively-farmed monocultures, such
as sugar cane or soy farms, which require
large amount of land, chemicals and water, can
cause some forest clearing directly. But they have
a much greater impact on deforestation by consuming already
cleared land, savannahs, and transitional forests, thereby
competing with cattle ranching, the dominant
form of agricultural land use. They push ranchers
and slash-and-burn farmers always deeper into the forest frontier,
increasing deforestation. They also provide a key economic
and political impetus for new highways and infrastructure
projects, which accelerate deforestation by other actors.
Deforestation is the single largest
source of land-use change emissions, i.e. the conversion of
forest to pasture land. The carbon stored in vegetation and
soil is released directly if the forest is burned (i.e. slash
and burn) or more slowly if it is left to decay. Also, the
re-absorption of CO2 (sequestration) through photosynthesis
is reduced, leaving more CO2 to accumulate in the
atmosphere. More than 90% of land-use change emissions originate
from tropical (developing) countries. Out of those 90%, 30%
and 20% are attributed to deforestation in Indonesia and Brazil
Improved infrastructure combined with rising demand for vegetable
oils for food, industrial uses, and biodiesel production led
to the spread of soybeans cultivation in the Amazonian states
(since 2000 the area of land in soybean production has expanded
at the rate of 17% per year) causing the destruction of 21
million hectares of forest in Brazil, 14 million in Argentina
and 2 million in Paraguay.
In Brazil, sugarcane is spreading to
regions where it has never been grown before, threatening
natural sites such as the Pantanal Wetland in Matto Grosso.
Soy production is heading northward,
encroaching on the Amazon. As demand for biofuels continues
to grow, there is also a very real possibility that oil palm
could become a dominant crop in the Amazon — an ominous
development considering that the planting of oil palm plantations
has been the driving force behind the recent destruction of
huge areas of rain forest in Indonesia and Malaysia.
Soy expansion in the Brazilian Amazon,
1990-2005. Total deforestation and area
of soybean cultivation across states in the Brazilian Amazon.
cultivation makes up only
a small portion of deforestation, though its role
is accelerating - Source: Mongabay.com
Agrofuel is defined as solid,
liquid or gaseous combustible fuel derived from renewable
and non-fossil organic (or biological) material. Globally,
biomass fuels are most commonly used for cooking and space
heating of homes, as well as central heating of homes
and larger facilities.
Simply put, the use of agrofuels as substitute for liquid
fossil oil based fuels in transportation vehicles can
be achieved by two common strategies:
- Ethanol can be obtained from fermentation of sugar or
starch crops, like sugar cane or corn. It can be used
in a regular car motor when it is mixed with gasoline
or can replace gasoline with specially adapted motors
- The second strategy is to extract oil from oil-producing
plants such as oil palm, soybean or rape. When these oils
are heated, their viscosity is reduced, and they can be
burned directly in an adapted diesel engine. Oils can
also be chemically processed to produce biodiesel. Biodiesel
can be used in its pure form in a regular diesel engine
without any modification.
produced from a great variety of crops. Energy efficiency
and environmental impact vary from simple to quadruple
depending on the plant. Most biofuels have an overall
environmental performance that is worse than gasoline,
though their relative performance differs considerably.
The figure shows GHG emissions of biofuels related to
their gasoline or diesel alternatives and overall environmental
for Economic Co-operation and Development
Over the last 30 years, Brazil has achieved
the lowest production costs for fuel derived
from sugarcane.With 7 millions ha cultivated,
Brazil became the world largest producer of
sugarcane. Half of this production is intended
for sugar production, and the other half for
In 2007, Brazil
was the 2nd biggest ethanol producer in the
Brazilian export of ethanol
have increased by more than 600% between 2001
and 2005 (US is the biggest importer).
Demand for ethanol
is expected to increase massively, requiring almost
200 million tons of sugarcane by 2013, representing
a production increase of 50% from 2005.
In Brazil, biofuels
have been obtained so far from sugarcane, but
the expansion of soya will make the displacement
of sugarcane inevitable. Currently 60% of biodiesel
in Brazil is produced from soy.
Argentina is the biggest
biodiesel exporter (the current production is
1.6 million tons of biodiesel) and the world’s
2nd largest producer of soybeans (producing 18%
of the total – 15 million ha) and is promoting
agrofuels, mainly from soybean oil.
In the last 10 years, Argentina's
soybean area has grown by 250%, thanks partly
to cheaper and easier-to-grow GMO soybeans and
no-till planting, which permits farming in drier,
less fertile areas.
Today, soybean cultivation represents
nearly 55% of the total acreage and 30% of the
country's foreign exchange are generated by soybean
and its derivatives.
More than 90% of Argentian soybeans
are genetically modified.
Nearly half of all soy production
is in the hands of 2.2% of the producers.
200 ha of milk production employs
5 families throughout the year – the same
quantity of soybean production requires 1 person
for 10 days a year.
Is the cure worse than the disease ? Organisation for Economic Cooperation
prospects, risks and opportunities
Republic Brazil - Institute of Science in Society
les biocarburants détruisent l'Amérique latine - Notre-
in the Amazon - Mongabay.com
Destruction in Latin America - Friends of the Earth
nexus in South America Fields
of dreams:Genetech goes South Stop
the agrofuel craze
Amazon in graphics - BBC
True Cost of Agrofuels: Impacts on Food, Forests, People and the
prospects, risks and opportunities - THE STATE OF FOOD AND AGRICULTURE
in Amazonia - The Encyclopedia of Earth
Deforestation - Earth Observatory
une foresterie durable - FAO
of Change: Amazon Deforestation - NASA Earth Observatory