Biofuel programs again blamed for “silent tsunami” as Burma’s production hit by cyclone

Posted by Editorial on 8th May 2008

World food production and prices are major global issues at the moment and concern about the food crisis, dubbed the “silent tsunami”, does not appear likely to die down anytime soon.

Yoseph Yilak, Head of the Ethiopian Grain Traders Association, joined the growing chorus of calls for biofuel programs to be stopped. “We have gone from three meals a day to two. Then it will be one meal. Then we will die. Why is the world taking corn for fuel? It will mean the death of many people,” he told the Head of the UN’s World Food Program.

Mr Yilak then added, upon being asked what can be done about the problem, “The best solution long-term is massive production of food.”

The biofuel plans of the US and Europe have been under great attack from a wide variety of sources with US Secretary of State recently admitting that the US “food for fuel” program may have contributed to the escalation of food prices.

America is likely to set aside about one quarter of the corn they will produce this year to biofuel production and the rewards for farmers switching to corn and maize production have probably led to less land being set aside for other food commodities. This has resulted in a flow-on effect for other commodity prices, with biofuels now blamed by the US Department of Agriculture for almost 20% of the food price hikes.

Meanwhile, Burma are in a crisis greater than the rest of the world, with Cyclone Nargis destroying a part of the country where the UN Food and Agricultural Organization estimates 65% of the country’s rice is produced. Adding further concern is the estimation that 80% of its aquaculture, 50% of its poultry and 40% of its pig production is done in the same region.

The effect of the shortfall of production is likely to be catastrophic for the country but is unlikely to have a ripple effect on global commodity prices and global stocks. Burma was at one stage the largest rice producing country in the world but, with their output falling from 4 million tonnes to about 600,000 tonnes in the past forty years, their impact on a global scale is minimal – particularly as the majority of their rice is not exported.