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This is a re-post from my blogsite - blogpost and more pictures can be accessed in:[ http://charity.towerofbabel.com/2008/10/24/etalk-should-we-urge-a-debate-on-biofuels/ ]

One of the biggest power that the Internet holds is allowing people to participate on issues that affect the future. Much of the world’s ills and uncertainties are given a platform for discussion. This particular action to convey insights and reflections via the Internet will hold the democratic view that each one of us has the say on what should go around us. Most certainly, talking about issues does enhance or trigger an action towards policy-making.

A forum last October 21 entitled “Talk On Food and Energy Sovereignty Now: Brazilian Grassroots Position on AgroEnergy” was organized by the SouthEast Asia Regional Initiative for Community Empowerment, Third World Network, Visayas Network on Climate Change (VNCC), Negros Organic Agriculture Movement (NOAM), Earth Day Bacolod-Negros Occidental Convenors and the University of Negros Occidental-Recolotes. Forum speaker was Camila Moreno, Ph.D, from the University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and biofuels researcher/expert.. Moreno started the talk by giving a general overview of Brazil’s ecological situation pertaining to the use of biofuels. She touched a bit on political ecology and the rewriting of the colonial past. In Latin America, according to Moreno, to understand politics is to understand regimes. Much of the social issues are also intertwined with politics.

The land-grabbing issues in Latin America are quite similar to the Philippines. Haciendas (large farms) are owned by wealthy landlords and much of the sugarcane fields are tilled by migrant workers in Brazil. According to Moreno, there are currently 1 million migrant sugarcane cutters/workers in Brazil and there are 7.2 million hectares of sugarcane in Brazil while 14 million hectares are for corn production. In the Philippines, the sugarcane workers, otherwise known as “sacadas,” are poor tenants of the hacienda.

Going over these agricultural facts, it’s not unimaginable that alternative sources of energy is being studied. Crops like sugarcanes are referred to as “energy crops.” The bagasse, after which sugarcane is extracted after it goes through a machines that squeezes it, becomes generally a biomass and is sometimes used as bioplastics or bio-electricity – like the case in Brazil. In the Philippines, a small community can run on electricity from biomass, too. Around 25% of sugarcane production is actually allocated for ethanol. This is a small percentage now, but what happens if there will be more demand?

Now, this is where a debate should be urged in order to weigh the pros and cons of cultivating biofuels. If countries yield to the pressure of producing and using biofuels, this can be a threat to the global food crisis. In the Philippines alone, there have been several contracts signed between the Philippines and other foreign firms. Marginal lands are cultivated for crops in order to produce biofuels. Moreno showed pictures of how companies can cut through the amazon forest and allocate a portion of that to cultivating energy crops alone (the pictures shown were in aerial view).

The skepticism is evident since people held so much excitement on such an emerging industry. The use of biofuels will not only be an alternative source of energy but will be an issue of land sovereignty. It is not all about food security and the preservation of marginalized lands or displacing indigenous people, but something that governments should realize that it should be discussed with different stakeholders. Powerful companies can make promises in contracts such as providing clauses for more jobs and bigger investments in other industries in exchange for lands to produce biofuels. Moreno gave an example on how the European Union Biofuel Act stipulates the production of biofuels but some countries in Europe do not have lands to produce biofuels. So does this mean they can invest money in one promising country in exchange for the use of marginalized lands?

People talk about ethanol expansion and before everyone gets excited, we all should employ a bit of caution. We need to discuss with different stakeholders. Can we use the Net as a platform to discuss the issues? Yes, we can.

Moreno announced, too, that an International Summit on Biofuels will be held in Brazil on November 17 to 21, 2008.

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Comment by Seiiti on November 3, 2008 at 3:26pm
Hm this makes me remember about the wood initiatives going on around... I am not a specialist on the matter, but I understand that as much wood/plant can be consumed (either to make wooden houses, paper or fuel), the better from the global warming perspective - using land, as in the example from Joseph, generally means farming land (as opposed to virgin land). So you can plant and crop whatever you want because the same soil will probably be used again for new plants.

In that perspective, the ¨save a tree¨ movement is harmful to the carbon capture. The more wood we use for whatever purpose (other than burning hehe) is a good cause to reduce global warming.

Am I saying something silly? Environmentalists, help!
Comment by Charity Gamboa-Embley on November 3, 2008 at 2:37pm
Yes, it is an ethical issue. That is the price of development. It is either we have the choice to lose our lands for another source of energy and lose lands for crop development to ease the food crisis OR choose development above everything else. We just have to try not to get too excited about this. The more reason, too, that we should really understand what this is all about. Thanks Joseph for your insights! I appreciate it. :)
Comment by Joseph Mokaya Gichana on November 3, 2008 at 12:44pm
As much as the biofuels are the in-thing at the moment, i strongly believe that we should approach the issue very cautiously! Imagine the many hectares of land needed to produce an equivalent of 1000 barrels of ethanol!
The many people who will go hungry as a result of vehicles competing with humanity for same commodity?
Honestly, this isan ethical issue here

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