Demand for food has increased with the increase in the global population which has doubled to about 6.5 billion in 2007 since 1945. Production of biofuels must therefore not be left to cause problems of food shortages and soar in food prices. Production of biofuels cannot be applied to replace fossil fuels. Fuel production is one of the reasons why global food security has been put “at a serious risk” according to The Greens European Free Alliance (n.d.).
Improved production technology and agricultural processes have however played a vital role in ensuring that the demand for food is met because it has helped to improve crop production. Moreover, most of the economies have shifted from traditional settings such as farming to more modernized means such as industrialization which means there is a need for emphasis on food production. There is no doubt that the production of biofuels presents a competing option for the manufacture of grains for food in terms of the quantity of the grains available, as well as grain food prices.
For instance, corn prices have increased by 70% in the U.S. where “ethanol production consumes 19% of the corn crop, and animal feed uses 55%” according to Foley (2008). Although there is a possibility of figuring out production of bio-fuels as a threat to food availability because of the opportunity to explore better and advanced production technologies for agricultural grains such as soybeans and corn, as well as the agricultural processes and techniques which increase yield per acre; the bio-fuels option poses a threat not only to the environment but also competition for available grain for food both human and animals.
A proposed solution to feed grain shortage is exploring the possibility of reducing crop wastage through the effect of insects, weeds, and diseases through the biotechnological techniques, but crops that have played a vital role in the production of food used to feed masses such as corn have been exposed to high prices and shortage. Continued use of genetic native corn that is resistant to the fungus causing Anthracnose stalk rot and premature death, use of generic products that are more resistant to drought, among other techniques, may see improvement in yield and preservation of existing crops, and this would improve any shortage situation. The problem, however, would remain if feed grains are targeted more in the face of expected World Marketed Energy Consumption, for example up to 2030 according to figures by the US Department of Energy (2007).
Fuels and food grains
Traditional use of food crops like corn and soybeans remains important because of the prevailing need for food in the event of a rising world population. There is the need to ensure that food production is not compromised even when diesel fuel prices soar or are not enough for consumption. Even where it has been argued that global distribution of food is the problem, it must be seen that surplus food is essential to avoid world food shortage. Arguments exist as to why the biofuel option is not a threat to crop production for food purposes. Crops that have more than one application use, for instance, corn have been produced in higher yields before. For example, the production of corn in the United States was about 150 bushels per acre on average, as compared to about 33 bushels per acre on average in 1945.
The global output for the same crop increased from 17 to 27 billion bushels from 1981 to 2007. There is potential for improvement of yields because exploration of better farming techniques continues. The opportunity for increased food production not only lies on the unexploited land but also the possibility of increasing production of the available lands through innovative management techniques and superior hybrids. Moreover, statistics have evidenced that the yield potential for such grain crops like soybeans and corn has not nearly been reached (Pioneer, 2007; 2). This can be evidenced by a much lower average corn yield of 129 bushels per acre in the United States for the year 2002 with the Pioneer, whereas a single farmer-managed 442 bushels per acre.
In addition, the yield average production for soybean in Nebraska in 2005 was 100 bushels per acre in 2005 as compared to the average yield of 43.3 bushels per acre in the United States for the same period. This is evidence that there is potential for higher production. Increasing production of ethanol per bushel can be achieved by using hybrids that have been purposely developed for ethanol production.
Efforts have seen the development of Canola hybrids which have high levels of oil, a primary component in the manufacture of biodiesel. Pioneer has found a variation of 7% in ethanol yield potential among corn hybrids. Researchers for the aforementioned company have targeted discovery efforts aimed at increasing the amount of fermentable starch in corn and increasing the feed value of distillers grain, and this further demonstrates that research could hold answers to increasing not only the quantity of grain but also efficiency for biofuels production (Pioneer, 2007).
The production of fuel from food grains presents a cheap option to fuel production, can be used to boost fuel quantities during the shortage of fossil fuels, as well as other advantages although it can, on the other hand, be viewed as a competing option to food in the face of food shortage across the globe. On the side of farmers, the most important factor to be considered is the output of what they manufacture, about the inputs like the fertilizers and seeds cost. The option of producing fuels from grain can be used to generate money for the farmers in the society on a local scale and utilize wastes that could just be left to rot.
The bio-fuels present advantages such as cost, fewer pollutants, and being able to produce with cheaper technology among others over gasoline and therefore may be preferred. An example is the 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emission by ethanol as compared to gasoline on a lifecycle basis (Foley, 2008, Environmental Farmers Network, 2007), and lower carbon dioxide levels produced by the same fuel. Biofuels have presented to the world an important option for reducing reliance on fossil fuels and imported fuels. In addition, exploration of this technology has come in to help increase the number of people employed.
The fact is that the production of biofuels should be viewed as an option for fossil fuels because replacement is very costly. This is because sometimes the amount of grain required for the production of a certain amount of biofuel produced is high, for example, one tone of cellulose would yield about 150 liters of methanol, and one tone would require a crop from a vast area. Therefore replacement would be very costly.
Another good opportunity presented by biofuels is the possibility for renewable energy, adaptability to regional socio-economic viability, climate security, and water security among other advantages. However, some challenges need to be looked into while exploring this option. While usage of food grains for fuel production may be a viable option for energy needs, it should be considered that the world and especially the developing countries already suffers from problems of soil structural decline, soil erosion, and depletion of nutrients from the soil. Therefore, increasing grain production to cater to fuel production would cause further stress on the soil as a facility and extend the aforementioned problems.
There is the possibility that crop production will be further extended to marginal lands (or usage of more marginal lands would be realized), to increase crop yields to cater for the increased needs. Grains for fuel production are not diverted directly from feed grain as argued by Foley (2008) and in addition, distillers’ grains “are considered as an excellent source of bypass or rumen escape protein” and as sources of high levels of energy and protein (Popp & McKinnon, n.d.).
The world already suffers from problems of forest destruction, which has resulted in global warming. Therefore, increasing crop production for biofuels purposes carries with it the possibility of resulting in large-scale destruction of tropical rainforest. Degradation and destruction of forest may therefore be expanded with the increased production of palm oil, for example, as well as creating more areas for crop cultivation.
In the United States, the common raw material that has been used for the production of ethanol is corn, although fermentation of sugar has also been applied. Dry and wet millings are the two processes applied in the production of ethanol. Apart from ethanol, the wet milling process produces corn oil, animal feed ingredients, and gluten meal. Animal feed and distillers’ dry grains are other products of the dry milling process, apart from ethanol. The grains in the dry milling process are first grounded before adding water. During the initial stage of wet milling, corn is soaked in water to allow separation of grain into components thus the name wet milling. The capital cost per gallon for wet milling is higher than that of dry milling.
Biofuels have caused problems in addition to the advantages they present. Production of fuels from food grain as raw material is not a very welcome idea in that energy-crop programs have been indicated to compete with food crops through certain means, namely skilled labor, fertilizer use, water use, infrastructure, rural investment, and agriculture. The project may not only cause a shortage of food by reducing the amount of grain available for food but also cause the price for this grain to increase. According to Brown, the U.S. grain harvest which is taken to ethanol distilleries “is driving up food prices worldwide” (2007).
The author notes that price rise had initially hit those countries where corn was the staple food. Although the issue has caused concern, it should be analyzed while considering other issues such as the advantages of producing biofuels, the increased potential for agricultural productivity on a global scope, the under-utilized potential for agricultural production among other factors. Sometimes, although the reason given for the reduction of food is the competing option for use of grain to manufacture fuel, the fact is that it may emanate from other causes such as poor policy and planning.
An example is a complaint raised in Brazil one time that food shortages and rise in prices were as a result of the ProAlcohol Program for fuel ethanol (Addison, n.d.). Addison has stated that there were instead other causes of such problems including policy issues dealing with price control of domestic foodstuffs, currency devaluation, and hyper-inflation. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization pointed out that the “Latin America’s poor” would have food less accessible as a result of the global increase in biofuel production (Marine Institute, 2009).
Although food can be perceived as the most important commodity, the fact is that most of the developing countries not only suffer shortages in food production but also fuel problems. Therefore the whole issue should be viewed in this dimension. The United States has played an important role in exporting food grain which helps reduce food shortage. The grains which are major raw materials for fuel production in the US are; maize (corn), which could alternatively be used to produce ethanol, and soybeans which could be used to produce soy oil for biodiesel. One of the reasons that could be brought forward against the excess use of biofuels in developing countries is the fear of starvation in the world because of reduced food exports from the United States to these countries, as some of the grains would be used for the production of the biofuels.
This analysis has been indicated to fall short of some important things such as essential analysis of food supply and demand. In addition, it ignores the fact that there has been large wastage of biomass in third world countries. This wastage has manifested in several ways including through dumping of waste cooking oil in landfills and sewers, through commercial food-processing by-products, and forestry and agricultural residues.
Any government wishing to explore the option of biofuels production as an alternative to fossil fuels must carefully consider the underlying impact, benefits, and disadvantages. Governments must be sure to decentralize biofuels production to minimize monetary costs tied to the transportation of raw material grains as well as the finished products. The benefits of such projects must carefully be analyzed; these include the provision of jobs for more people and relieving fuel needs during times of shortages, environmental concerns, e.t.c. The possibility of the competition between fuel production and food for the available grains or raw materials should also be looked into.
The view that there are no alternative sources of food grains must be replaced with the view that there is a possibility for more economical options for utilizing the available grains. Production of fuels from grains should also be efficient to reduce the wastage of grains, and this stresses the importance of proper technology and an efficient production process.
Governments should explore the option of producing biofuels from waste materials in addition to grains. This is because it would save the amount of the total grain volume to be used for the production of a particular volume of fuel.
Production of fuels from grains presents a competing option for food grains, either by raising the price or making the available quantities not enough. An increase in the world population means an increasing demand for food. Arguments exist as to why the biofuel option is not a threat to food production. There has been evidence of increasing grain production across the globe, and still, there is potential for more production because of the likelihood of advances in better technological innovations and management techniques in agriculture.
Biofuels offer advantages of cheaper fuel than fossil fuels, in addition to their ability to save the environment from more pollution as compared to fossil fuels. An example is the lesser green gas emission from ethanol as compared to fossil fuels. Biofuels technologies have offered increased job opportunities; as well can be options for recycling wastes such as that from workshops. In addition, careful use can make them generate income for societies.
Production of fuels from grains however carries with it some disadvantages and must not be used as an option to replace fossil fuels. One reason why it is not possible to replace fossil fuels with biofuels is that a lot of raw materials would be required to produce a lesser amount of biofuels for example ethanol from corn. Other disadvantages of using the biofuels option include the likelihood of damaging forests for example through the production of palm oil. There is a likelihood that extensive demand and production of biofuels could lead to competition for food grains.
Instead of blocking the option for producing biofuels, governments should explore technologies aimed at increasing food grain production thus increasing the efficiencies for agricultural processes and yield because biofuels present important options of confronting modern global challenges saving fuel costs (or helping out during fuel shortages) and saving the environment from pollution.
Addison, K. (n.d.). Food or fuel? Web.
Brown L. (2007). Massive diversion of U.S. grain to fuel cars is raising world food prices. Web.
Environmental Farmers Network (2007). Biofuels Policy. Web.
Foley, D. (2008). Food vs. fuel: part 1-seeds of change. Web.
Foidl, N., Foidl, G., Sanchez, M., Mittelbach, M., Hackel, S. (1996). Jatropha Curcas L. as a source for the production of biofuel in Nicaragua. Bioresource Technology; 58: 77-82.
Jarvis, A., H.I. Reuter, A. Nelson, E. Guevara, (2008) Hole-filled SRTM for the globe Version 4, available from the CGIAR-CSI SRTM 90m. Web.
Marcot, B. (2006). Habitat modeling for biodiversity conservation, Northwestern Natural 87:56-65. Spring
Marine Institute. Food versus fuels an Irish perspective. Web.
Pioneer. (2007). Food, feed, fuel and fiber: Meeting the challenge for increased grain production. Web.
Popp, J., and McKinnon, J. (n.d.). By-Products of ethanol fuel production as feeds. Web.
Prakash, N. (2003). Land suitability Analysis for Agricultural Crops: A Fuzzy Multicriteria Decision Making Approach, Msc. Thesis, ITC, Enschede, The Netherlands.
Robert, J., Hijmans, Susan, E., Cameron, Juan L., Para, et al., (2005) Very High Resolution Interpolated Climate Surface for Global Land areas (in WorldClim), International Journal of Climatology 25:1965-1978, Wiley InterScience. Web.
The Greens European Free Alliance. (n.d.). Food first: Sustainable agriculture can feed the world. It can fuel our cars. Web.
US Department of Energy. (2007). Energy Information Administration. World Marketed Energy Use by Fuel 1990-2030. Web.
Wang, X., Xu, W., Ouyang, Z., Liu, J., Xiao, Y., Chen, Y., et al., (2008). Application of ecological niche factor analysis in habitat assessment of giant pandas; Ecological Society of China. Elsevier B.V.
100 Years of Bacillus Thuringiensis: A Critical Scientific Assessment. American Academy of Microbiology, 2002, p. 12.