ethanol


Head, from the Treasure of King Kofi Kakari. Akan people, Asante subgroup. Ghana. Gold. London: Wallace Collection.

The thinking of the Bush/Cheney Administration is so 19th century that I find it staggering.

In 1873-74 the British fought the Ashanti in the name of “free trade”. What that meant then was, rather than the Ashanti controlling the gold trade, the British should control the gold trade.

Henry Stanley probably offered the best short explanation of the origins of the Anglo-Ashanti war. “King Coffee”, (Asantahene Kofi Kakari) he said, “is too rich a neighbour to be left alone with his riches.”

And that seems to be the approach the Bush/Cheney administration has taken to Africa in creating Africom. Africa is too rich a neighbor to leave alone.

Not only does the Bush/Cheney administration want to control African oil in the name of free trade. When you read the proposals, it also looks like they want to turn Africa into a vast plantation, think 19th century Caribbean sugar plantation, or think of the rapacious labor and environmental practices of Florida’s Big Sugar, to grow sugar cane bio-fuel for the US market.

b real said… (in the comments on the previous post)

here’s a heritage foundation paper that came right before hallinan’s article

Africa’s Oil and Gas Sector: Implications for U.S. Policy

two of the key recommendations made in the paper that stood out to me are:

1.) “The Department of State, Department of Energy (DOE), Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Agency for International Development (USAID) [local interests need not apply!] should develop a comprehensive strategy to improve the investment climate in Africa, focus­ing on privatization of the oil and gas industry’s assets and reserves.”

and

2.) “The DOE, U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), and Department of the Treasury should work with Congress to remove tariffs and quotas on sugarcane ethanol before 2009.”

“Africa offers the ideal tropical climate for pro­ducing ethanol from sugarcane.”

“To tap Africa’s potential and expand U.S.–Africa energy cooperation, real barriers will have to be overcome, especially the U.S. 54-cents-per-gallon tariff on ethanol. This tariff violates the principles of free trade and undermines U.S. energy security.”

they also recommend that all the euro energy companies form a “coordinating forum”, led by the u.s., to promote privatization & apply leverage to african energy producers.

it’s essentially all laid out there in the open…

And the effect of this free trade?

. . . the impact of free trade on Africa will be profound. “The majority in Africa . . . will be faced with losses in both agricultural and industrial goods,” and small African farmers will be unable to compete.

As part owner of small farms in Ghana, I find this terrifying.

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It turns out the food or fuel competition over corn may be a much more serious and immediate problem than anyone realized. Lester R. Brown of the Earth Policy Institute writes:

World May Be Facing Highest Grain Prices in History

Investment in fuel ethanol distilleries has soared since the late-2005 oil price hikes, but data collection in this fast-changing sector has fallen behind. Because of inadequate data collection on the number of new plants under construction, the quantity of grain that will be needed for fuel ethanol distilleries has been vastly understated. Farmers, feeders, food processors, ethanol investors, and grain-importing countries are basing decisions on incomplete data.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) projects that distilleries will require only 60 million tons of corn from the 2008 harvest. But here at the Earth Policy Institute (EPI), we estimate that distilleries will need 139 million tons . . . half the 2008 harvest projected by USDA.
. . .
This unprecedented diversion of the world’s leading grain crop to the production of fuel will affect food prices everywhere. As the world corn price rises, so too do those of wheat and rice, both because of consumer substitution among grains and because the crops compete for land. Both corn and wheat futures were already trading at 10-year highs in late 2006.

The U.S. corn crop, accounting for 40 percent of the global harvest and supplying 70 percent of the world’s corn exports, looms large in the world food economy. Annual U.S. corn exports of some 55 million tons account for nearly one fourth of world grain exports. The corn harvest of Iowa alone, which edges out Illinois as the leading producer, exceeds the entire grain harvest of Canada. Substantially reducing this export flow would send shock waves throughout the world economy.
. . .
And this soaring demand for corn comes when world grain production has fallen below consumption in six of the last seven years, dropping grain stocks to their lowest level in 34 years.
. . .
The grain it takes to fill a 25-gallon tank with ethanol just once will feed one person for a whole year. (emphasis mine)
. . .
Soaring food prices could lead to urban food riots in scores of lower-income countries that rely on grain imports, such as Indonesia, Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria, and Mexico.


Already, the price of Mexico’s staple food, corn tortillas, has increased 400%.

Magdalena Antonio explains the process of making a tortilla – from corn to masa to tortilla.

After yesterdays post on the Jatropha curcas plant, I found an article in The Register today that shows the problem of food versus bio-fuel in starker form.

Demand for eco-friendly bio-fuels in the US is being blamed for a massive rise in the price of corn in Mexico. The recent 400 per cent increase in the price of a tortilla has driven thousands of Mexico’s poorest people onto the streets in protest.

Tortilla is a staple food in Mexico. To have the price go up 400% means a lot of people will be going hungry. Mexico grows corn, but has a large population, and in order to feed people, it imports corn from the United States.

The country has been entitled to cheap corn imports from the US for some time, under the terms of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement. However, as demand for corn in the US has increased, driven by the manufacture of bio-fuels, the amount of corn available to Mexico has reduced considerably.
. . .
Corn is the staple grain in Mexico, and makes up the main part of the diet for many people. Since the surge in the cost of tortillas, many are spending up to a third of their income on the flat breads.

In Mexican farming, it is worth noting, they grow a:

combination of corn, beans and squash. It is a magnificent combination because the corn takes nitrogen from the soil, and beans fix that nitrogen in the soil. The leaves of the squash cover the land, the soil, and then keep the humidity in the soil for the growth of corn. The combination is very creative.


Producing bio-fuel can have a number of unintended side effects. Any land use planning in Ghana needs to put feeding people as the top priority. This example of the use and demand for corn in the United States and Mexico, should serve as a cautionary tale for Ghana.