Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
November 2, 2009
Agro-fuel production ravages poor farmers
CCODP says using farmland for fuel production leads to deforestation, water pollution
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON - Until a few days ago Mary Jane Klein of St. Joseph's Basilica was convinced agro-fuel production was a good green practice that helped poor farmers and the environment. Not anymore.
Klein changed her mind after attending the education and action workshop of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace at St. John the Evangelist Parish Hall Oct. 24.
At the workshop, CCODP officials introduced their fall action campaign on food sovereignty and spoke about the negative environmental effects of agro-fuels such as ethanol and their impact on the food crisis.
"Now I realize that (agro-fuel production) is unsustainable and is not green and is not economical," Klein said.
CCODP is focusing on food sovereignty as a way of addressing the main cause of the food crisis that's impacting close to a billion people.
More than 30 parish representatives and guests attended the five-hour workshop.
Agro-fuels are created from agricultural products such as corn, sugar, palm oil, canola and soy. They are usually grown in large-scale monocultures that depend on chemical fertilizers, cause deforestation, pollute water and damage biodiversity.
As demand for agro-fuels increases, so does the price of food because farmers devote more of their land to growing agro-fuel crops. In Mexico, for example, the price of corn went up by 70 per cent in six months during 2006-07. Mexican corn was being sold for ethanol use in the United States.
FUEL INSTEAD OF FOOD
"This creates difficulty for the poor, people who rely on staple crops (like corn)," noted Marie-Claude Poirier, regional animator of CCODP. It takes 240 kilograms of corn to make 100 litres of ethanol, enough to fill an SUV.
"That exact amount of corn can feed a person for a year."
Poirier tried to debunk the myth that agro-fuels reduce our global carbon footprint, saying production methods cause more damage to the environment than they prevent.
The fertilizer and machinery used in agro-fuel plantations consume large amounts of fossil fuels. Agro-fuel crops are also heavy consumers of water, which could worsen the water crisis affecting one-third of the world's population.
Some argue agro-fuel farming is a needed source of income for small-scale farmers, but Poirier said the reality is agro-fuel plantations lead to landlessness and a lower quality of life.
How? Corporations buy the land from smallholders who end up migrating to large cities and joining the ranks of the unemployed.
"Small-scale holders of land, if not threatened, are often seduced by high land prices to sell their land for lots of money even if it is a small parcel of land," Poirier said.
"In Paraguay alone 60 per cent of all land is dedicated to agro-fuel crops. In Colombia, paramilitary forces have joined forces with the corporations and have chased small-scale farmers away (from the land)."
Moreover, agro-fuel plantations create fewer jobs per hectare than small-scale farming, Poirier said. Those lucky enough to get jobs usually end up living in housing with inadequate water and sanitation.
AGAINST THE FAITH
Rod Loyola, chair of the archdiocesan council of CCODP, urged participants to tackle the campaign on food sovereignty from a faith perspective.
"Agro-fuels go against the principles of our faith (because they lead to higher food prices and environmental degradation)," Loyola said.
As part of its campaign, CCODP will pressure the Canadian government to promote food sovereignty policies that give priority to small-scale farmers who produce food for local markets in sustainable ways.
To make sure its message is heard, CCODP is launching a postcard campaign urging Prime Minister Stephen Harper to determine agricultural policies by food sovereignty principles.
The postcard also urges Harper to use Canada's influence with other G8 countries when Canada hosts a G8 summit in Huntsville, Ont., next June.
CCODP wants parishes to meet with their MPs to explain the campaign and obtain their support. A workshop on how to deal with MPs will be held in Edmonton Nov. 21.
"I had thought that (agro-fuel production) was a good, green practice before today," said Klein, who came to the workshop to deepen her understanding of the social justice issues that impact the world today.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.