Action Alert


Fair trade or free trade? Let your voice be heard on Minnesota’s future!


The Obama Administration is negotiating two new mega trade deals (one with Pacific Rim countries, another with Europe) entirely in secret, with the goal of further expanding the NAFTA-model of free trade. These trade agreements could have major impacts on Minnesota's farmers, workers, small business owners and rural communities. They could limit Minnesota’s ability to support local food and energy systems and grow local businesses. In order to stay up to speed, Minnesota has set up a new Trade Policy Advisory Council (TPAC) to advise the state legislature and Governor.


TPAC wants to hear from Minnesotans: What concerns do you have about free trade? What role could TPAC play in the future? Now is your opportunity to have a say in our future trade policy. Complete the survey and let them know future trade negotiations should be public, not secret. Help ensure the voices of all Minnesotans are heard in the development of trade agreements and that they protect local control and our quality of life. The free trade model has failed for Minnesota and we need a new approach to trade. Help ensure the voices of all Minnesotans are heard before trade agreements are completed, and that they protect local control, our natural resources and our quality of life.


Please take five minutes and complete the survey. To find out more about these trade agreements, go to iatp.org/tradesecrets.

Posted March 31, 2011 by Ben Lilliston   

AgricultureBioeconomy

Used under creative commons license from energyclimatechange.

IATP is leading a delegation of U.S. environmentalists, academics and corn/biofuel producers down to Brazil (you can read our reports here) to learn more about the intersection of agriculture, biofuels and land use.

On our last day in Brazil, we got the hard pitch on sugar ethanol from UNICA: an association of 110 companies producing 60 percent of the country's ethanol and sugar production. UNICA has done a masterful job marketing sugarcane ethanol as the cleanest, lowest carbon fuel in the world—garnering a 2009 Bulldog Public Relations Award for their efforts. But our discussion was more than just a flashy powerpoint, there was a lot to be impressed by as well.

Brazil is the largest sugarcane producer in the world—and the world's second largest ethanol producer (next to the U.S.). According to UNICA, sugarcane production uses less fertilizer than corn (the primary U.S. feedstock), needs only to be replanted every six years or so, and uses a variety of integrated pest management tools to help lower pesticide use. All sugarcane mills are energy self-sufficient because they burn both the leftover stalk from the sugarcane as well as bagasse (waste leftover after the sugarcane has been processed). About two-thirds of sugarcane processing plants can switch between ethanol or sugar, depending on what that market demands.

We asked UNICA about the harsh treatment of workers at sugarcane plantations we had heard about from the Landless Rural Workers Movement earlier in our trip. UNICA pointed to a recent joint government/industry/NGO commitment on labor conditions it had made in 2009. The industry is also moving to lower the need for labor by increasing mechanization. In Sao Paulo—the largest sugarcane producing state in Brazil—all the plantations will be mechanized by 2017. What will happen to workers who formerly worked on these plantations is unclear. And there are still a lot of sugarcane plantations that operate both outside of UNICA, and outside of Sao Paulo.

On the environmental front, UNICA is pushing to reform (some would say weaken) Brazil's Forest Code, which prohibits agricultural expansion into protected areas and requires landowners to set aside 35 percent of their land for forests. The Forest Code is currently being debated in Brazil's legislature. UNICA claims that 90 percent of producers don't comply and meeting the code's requirements is burdensome and nearly impossible. While UNICA does not see sugar production directly extending into forests, they do hope to expand into pasture land, which could be affected by the Forest Code.

Currently, 80 percent of Brazilian ethanol is used domestically, aided by a mandatory blending requirement and the growth of the country's flex-fuel vehicles. But a major UNICA priority is to expand trade and "consolidate ethanol as a global commodity," including knocking down ethanol tariffs in the U.S. and EU. This emphasis on an international market differs from the U.S. farmer cooperative members that were on our trip. In a strange turn that we didn't get fully explained, Brazil actually imported U.S. ethanol earlier this month.

After nine days in Brazil, meeting with farmers, academics and NGOs, our group was well-armed with questions. But in the end, UNICA gave us a lot more to think about on biofuels and land use as we said our goodbyes and began our 10-hour flight back to the U.S.

Posted March 30, 2011 by Katie Rojas-Jahn   

Healthy Food ActionHealth

A new peer-reviewed study published today in Environmental Health Perspectives has found evidence suggesting that food packaging is a major source of exposure to Bisphenol A (BPA).

The study, conducted by the Breast Cancer Fund and the Silent Spring Institute, recruited five families (each with two parents and two children, for a total of 20 people) and tested them for levels of BPA and certain phthalates in their urine while feeding them a diet of freshly prepared foods. 

BPA is a known endocrine-disrupting chemical and has been linked to numerous health effects, including behavioral changes, early-onset puberty, reproductive harm, diabetes and even cancer. Due to its dubious reputation, it was also recently named on the Minnesota Priority Chemicals list, which includes toxins that are harmful to children and are present in products kids are exposed to. Phthalates are no treat either, having been linked to poor sperm quality, obesity and cancer.

What did the study do?

On the first two days of the study, participants ate as they normally do. On the following three days they were provided with freshly prepared organic meals—no canned food, and no plastic storage containers. After that they went back to their normal diets.

The levels of BPA and a particular phthalate called DEHP (used in food packaging) dropped substantially (an average of 60 percent for the BPA, and 50 percent for DEHP) during the three days when participants were only eating the freshly prepared foods.

Reduce your BPA exposure

Bpa_topten_media These findings suggest that food packaging (e.g., canned food, grease-resistant wrappers and polycarbonate bottles) is a major exposure route for BPA, and that removing it from food packaging would lead to an immediate and significant drop in BPA levels in the general population.

One recommendation from the authors is to cut out consumption of prepackaged foods and to cook from fresh as much as possible. They've even created this handy chart (right) which shows the top ten canned foods known to leach the most BPA, so start by avoiding those if you can.

BPA and phthalates have both been linked to certain types of cancer. You can act now by asking President Obama to take a strong stand on getting these cancer-causing chemicals out of our products.

Posted March 25, 2011 by Ben Lilliston   

AgricultureBioeconomy

IATP is leading a delegation of U.S. environmentalists, academics and corn/biofuel producers down to Brazil (you can read our reports here) to learn more about the intersection of agriculture, biofuels and land use.

After being immersed in Brazil’s new soy frontier, we travelled to another eye-opening landscape—the Pantanal. The Pantanal is the largest wetland in the world and stretches from Brazil into Bolivia and Paraguay. The range of birds (we sorely missed the expertise of avid birder, and IATP President, Jim Harkness), frogs and other species is unlike anything on earth. Some photos below will give you only some idea of our short time there.

Because the Pantanal is under water six months out of the year, there is little direct threat from agricultural expansion onto the area. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t affected by agriculture. The Pantanal is fed partly by a series of rivers and tributaries, including Rio Cuiaba, which run straight through Mato Grosso’s soy fields. We talked with the owner of our lodge who expressed concern that runoff from Mato Grosso farm country was already affecting the Pantanal. Her worry is that the situation will only get worse. The flood cycle is now starting later in the year (consistent with concerns about climate change)—another source of unease in this amazing part of the world.

Wetland Bird in green                                                             

Birds Croc     

 

Capybara Parakeet

Posted March 25, 2011 by Ben Lilliston   

AgricultureBioeconomy

IATP is leading a delegation of U.S. environmentalists, academics and corn/biofuel producers down to Brazil (you can read our reports here) to learn more about the intersection of agriculture, biofuels and land use.

Today, we got our shoes dirty. We visited two very different types of farms outside this bustling agriculture town of Lucas do Rio Verde. One, struggling to survive, the other seemingly thriving. One small, one large. One growing all food, the other nearly all agricultural commodities. The stories of both farms reflect the challenges and promises of Brazilian agriculture.

The previous day we heard about a forming cooperative of small farmers, struggling to produce food in the margins around giant soy, corn and cotton farms. Sure enough, this morning we drove down a dirt road surrounded by cotton and corn fields, till the road split off in a V. In a triangle shaped wedge, 30 families (each with 2.5 hectares, or 6 acres) managed a series of highly diverse farms. Thesmallfarmer

The lead farmer we talked with (See photo to the right.) had finally been granted access to the land three years ago, after working in the fields for others in the area for 20 years. He had travelled north from southern Brazil, where his father owned a farm, but also had six children, meaning there wasn't enough room for everyone on the farm when they grew up. He headed north to claim his own farm. As he was introduced to our group, his deep blue eyes immediately went to peoples’ hands. He said he was trying to identify who were the farmers in our group.

The 30 families mostly farm to feed themselves. They grow a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, pigs, poultry and cattle. What they don’t eat, they sell in town at the market. While the government helped them locate the land, they receive very little other government support and technical assistance.

There are other challenges. Pesticides sprayed onto the larger farms often drift onto their land, with no buffers except a narrow dirt road. Bugs from nearby soy fields often migrated onto their land when spraying takes place. The farmers expressed concern that expanded corn acreage associated with U.S. ethanol production was increasing pressure to expand soy production in Brazil, and hence further squeeze their access to land in Mato Grosso.

It was clear that life and work on these farms was extremely difficult. When asked, he admitted that in some ways it was harder than life as a laborer, but they wouldn’t trade it. They were becoming self sufficient, and things were getting better.

We saw a different side of Brazilian agriculture when we visited with Carlos Pedrozan later that day. (Photo below, left.) Pedrozan owns an immaculate 500 hectare soybean and corn farm. His father travelled to Thebigsoyfarmer Mato Grosso from the south of Brazil 25 years ago. At that time, about 30 percent of his land was deforested. Now, 75 percent of the land is deforested. Over the last 25 years, land prices have increased “1000 percent.” And many foreign groups are looking for land to develop in the region, according to Pedrozan.

The farm began to grow soybeans right away. But it was only five years ago that they began to grow a different, second crop —corn—during the same season (something we can’t do in the U.S.). When we arrived his corn crop was in the field. While he’s not quite able to get the yields our Minnesota farmers on the trip reported, that’s not entirely the point. His corn is sold for feed connected to the giant pork and poultry facility in town run by Sadia. Salidameatpackign  (See picture to the right.) But it also serves to complement the soybeans to feed the soil.

Like U.S. farmers he talked about the challenges of low prices. Soybean prices are lower in the region
than elsewhere in the country because of the high costs associated with truck transport. Corn prices are also low. Like U.S. farmers he is a price taker, meaning he doesn’t set his prices and must take what the agribusiness companies pay him. He thought the level of production in the U.S. affects the price he receives for corn, but not so much for soybeans, because the market is more local (Sadia, and a nearby soy biodiesel plant).

Unlike U.S. farmers, Pedrozan receives no government support, like crop insurance or subsidies, when the market or weather hits a tough patch. Recently, his soybeans had been hit with a type of nematoid that sounded like cysts to our Minnesota farmers in the group.

Will there be room enough in Brazil for both types of farms, big and small? For a country this size, and all the benefits it has for agricultural production (land, water and tropical weather), and now money and investment, there should be room for both. But it appears government and agribusiness investment have mostly picked one type of farm over the other.

Posted March 24, 2011 by Andrew Ranallo   

AgricultureBioeconomy

This week, IATP led a delegation of U.S. academics, environmentalists and corn and biofuel producers to Brazil to study biofuels and indirect land-use change. Photos from the trip are on IATP's Flickr page and there are plenty to see!

Posted March 23, 2011 by Shiney Varghese   

Water

World Water Day is observed every year on March 22 as a day of action to draw attention to the role that fresh water plays in our world and lives, and the challenges that lie ahead in realizing right to water for all. The past year has been momentous as far as the advancement of right to water goes. There have been two developments in the U.N. system in 2010, both of which uphold the state’s responsibility in ensuring the right to water. The first was the United Nations General Assembly Resolution of July 28, 2010 and the second has been the U.N. Human Rights Commission Resolution of September, 2010.

Acknowledging these and other developments around the world as well as outlining the broad contours of the challenges communities face in realizing the right to water, the following statement has been prepared for this World Water Day by all who are part of the water justice movement.

World Water Day Statement from the Water Justice Movement March 22, 2011

On World Water Day 2011, with water justice activists around the world mobilizing to assert the right to water and sanitation for people and communities, to preserve water as part of an ecological trust and to ensure that water is democratically controlled by the people in the public interest, we issue this short statement to reflect on both recent victories toward implementation of the right to water as well as the challenges and threats that remain ahead.

We are heartened by passage this past year of two resolutions within the U.N. system that have further affirmed the right to water and the obligations governments must fulfill to uphold this right. The first resolution, passed in July 2010 in the U.N. General Assembly was championed by leading countries in Latin America, including Bolivia, as well as other countries in the global South, and its passage marked the first time this body had gone on record formally acknowledging the right to water and sanitation.

The passage of a resolution within the U.N. Human Rights Council acknowledging states’ obligations to fulfill the rights to water and sanitation just three months later is demonstrative of the momentum that has been built over the past year. Even those countries in the global North, reluctant to support the resolution, have been compelled to shift their positions, recognizing that the time when governments must truly recognize this right is at hand.

We also wish to express our solidarity with the communities and individuals struggling in their own countries to push for national recognition of the right to water, such as in Colombia where an effort to enshrine the right to water as a constitutional right shares wide popular support despite resistance from elected officials.

We find the imminent decision of the U.N. Human Rights Council to extend the position of the U.N. Independent Expert on the Rights to Water and Sanitation a promising step toward honoring the commitment governments need to make toward advancing the right to water. We are pleased that as a result of the resolution authorizing this extension, communities whose right to water is being violated or hindered may now raise specific complaints with the Independent Expert, now the Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Water and Sanitation.

We also look forward to efforts in the coming year by champions of the right to water in the global South to move U.N. Member States to pass a resolution that would call on states to guard against the privatization of water resources and systems, which would be further evidence that governments are prioritizing their obligation to protect the right to water from interference by corporations intent on exploiting water resources for profit at the expense of people and nature.

The ongoing tragic events in Japan demonstrate how even in countries where the majority of people have adequate access to water and sanitation, a natural calamity can quickly put millions in desperate situations where access to water quickly vanishes. This profound reminder of our fragility and dependence on this fundamental resource should strengthen our resolve to ensure there are strong protections for people’s right to water, so that it is prioritized when emergencies occur, and so that the billions of people whose lives are a constant struggle for access to water and sanitation might finally find reprieve.

The long struggle for free expression and self-determination that has recently flowered in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere, provides a profound analogy to the ongoing struggle we have seen to protect and fulfill people’s right to water. For too long, some governments have failed to respect the rights of their people. This negligence has included not only the denial of people’s civil and political rights, but in some cases their rights to water as well.

Governments now have a choice. They can honor these rights and take full responsibility. They can prioritize the right to water by fully funding these systems and by protecting the water sources that provide people with access, especially the poorest who are in greatest need. They can support the public water systems and workers that run these systems by enhancing their capacity and supporting sustainable jobs for those who are entrusted with running these systems. They can foster truly democratic institutions that give people and communities the power to make decisions about how their water sources and public water are governed, with full transparency, participation and accountability.

Or, they can abdicate that responsibility, whether by closing their eyes to over-extraction and pollution of water sources or by handing over control of the water systems to the private sector, rationalizing their decisions in the name of narrow economic efficiency.

So, today, on World Water Day, we call on the United Nations and its member states to continue to take concrete action to fully realize the right to water for people and nature. The momentum built this year must not be delayed by further inaction or by attempts to co-opt such efforts into just another means by which to maintain the status quo for the benefit of entrenched corporate and political interests.

Countries must not only lend their weight to these international efforts, but must also take greater responsibility for full implementation of this right within their own borders, such as by developing comprehensive national plans for democratic governance of water resources, public water and sanitation systems. Communities should have the power to decide how to organize their common resources, especially one as vital to survival as water.

As people around the world over strive for greater transparency, accountability and participatory democracy, governments must heed these voices, not just that of bankers and corporations. Let us together revive our commitment to democracy and democratic institutions so that together we can fully realize and implement the right to water.

Posted March 23, 2011 by Ben Lilliston   

AgricultureBioeconomy

IATP is leading a delegation of U.S. environmentalists, academics and corn/biofuel producers down to Brazil (you can read our reports here) to learn more about the intersection of agriculture, biofuels and land use.

Today we drove north five hours, from Cuiaba through soybean and cattle country, to a city that seems only possible in Brazil—Lucas do Rio Verde. The city was founded in 1988 and now is a bustling agribusiness town full of chemical and seed shops and farm equipment. As we drove into town many of the company signs were familiar to Minnesota farmers: Cargill, ADM, John Deere.

The town's population has grown from 19,000 in 2000 to 45,000 in 2010 thanks to agriculture. The giant meat processing plant takes chickens and pigs, fed by the large-scale soybean fields that surround the town (though we also saw a lot of corn). Forty percent of those soybeans go into the local biodiesel plant or animal feed for the poultry and hogs.

But the boom hasn't come without bumps in road, particularly related to land and environmental protection.

20110321_lucas43 Representatives from the Rural Workers Union told us how many small-scale farmers had difficulty getting access to land 10 years ago, and laborers faced terrible working conditions. But conditions have improved. Many who were previously landless now have land they have either rented or bought collectively (divided equally in two-hectare increments). They are on the verge of launching a coop that will include 500 farm families from 10 districts in the area, and hope to market a variety of foods—vegetables, milk, poultry, pork—produced by traditional ecological practices. Their goal is to meet the region's foods needs—somewhat surprising given the agricultural activity that surrounds the town. But similar to many U.S. rural farm areas, the large-scale production in Lucas Do Rio Verde is destined for elsewhere. Poultry to Arab states and the pork to Venezuela, a local government official told us. (Photo: trucks of soybeans heading out of town.)

Edu Laudi Pascoski, the Minister of Agriculture and Environment for the region, told us about the area's unique history when it comes to environmental protection. In the 1970s, the Brazilian government offered incentives to clear the land and turn it into farm fields. After massive deforestation, and under rising  international pressure to better protect the environment, the Brazilian government reversed itself. Farms in this region are required to leave 35 percent of the farm in forests or replant forests if they've alreay been cut (imagine such a law in the U.S.). And land along waterways is required to have a significant natural buffer from farmland.

Enforcement of these environmental requirements has been difficult, Pascoski told us. A farmer may buy forested land somewhere else in the country, just to cover his 35 percent requirement. This is difficult to verify. And, if a watered down revision of the country's Forest Code gets approved by the Brazilian government, the pressure to protect land won't be as strong.

20110321_lucas23 One result of Brazil's environmental requirements is that there can be no more agriculture land expansion in Lucas Do Rio Verde. But that doesn't mean production can't become more intensive and efficient. We were given slick marketing material (titled in English "Everybody's Land"). Pascoski mentioned that he had recently hosted 120 Americans visiting the region. He said U.S. and other foreign interests both rent and own existing land in the region. (Photo: A statue and biodiesel plant in front of our hotel.)

This optimistic town has another reason for optimism: A coming railway, which will reduce transportation costs and time. And send Lucas do Rio Verde's bounty to the rest of the world.

Posted March 22, 2011 by Ben Lilliston   

AgricultureBioeconomy

IATP is leading a delegation of U.S. environmentalists, academics and corn/biofuel producers down to Brazil (you can read our reports here) to learn more about the intersection of agriculture, biofuels and land use.

On Sunday, we travelled to Cuiaba—a city of half a million in Mato Grosso, Brazil. Cuiaba is a gateway city between two critical biospheres in Mato Grosso: the Pantanal to the south, and savannahs of the middle and northeast. The savannahs are home to springs that feed into many rivers in Brazil, including the Amazon, which dips into the northwest part of Mato Grosso. Aside from its biodiversity, Mato Grosso is culturally diverse, home to 35 distinct Indigenous peoples. The region is also home to some of the largest agricultural expansion in Brazil. While most agricultural land is for cattle ranching, and increasing number of hectares are going towards soy production.

1300626460089 On a hot and extremely humid day, we met with representatives from FORMAD (Mato Grosso Environment and Development Forum), which includes representatives of human rights, environmental, indigenous rights and small-scale farmer organizations. FORMAD is developing alternative models to help reach social and environmental goals together.

Like many other parts of Brazil, the main disputes in Mato Grosso are over land. Pressure to increase expansion of soy, cattle and lumber production are overrunning the need to protect environmentally sensitive areas, as well as traditional lands for indigenous peoples, according to FORMAD. Currently, there are geographic boundaries that define what is private and indigenous land. But enforcement is weak, and big landowners are pushing to redraw the boundaries.  

FORMAD members discussed how the growth of soy and cattle ranching has drawn indigenous people away from their land; leaving behind traditions, culture and a greater diversity of agricultural production.  This trend stands to be a major loss for biodiversity, as the pointed to research showing that indigenous communities are the best stewards of these lands, even better at protecting natural areas than national parks and other government preserves. “In indigenous land, the protection of biodiversity is part of a cultural tradition to preserve nature. Indigenous people have an economic model that is based on nature. And sacred values based on protecting nature,” a FORMAD representative told us.

The changes in agricultural land in Mato Grosso have had a number of adverse effects, according to FORMAD. There has been a major loss of rural populations, with many migrating to the cities. Slave labor continues to be a problem: In 2009, 5,000 workers were saved from slave labor in Mato Grosso by Brazil’s Labor Department. Pesticide contamination is affecting health (found in breast milk) and water quality throughout the region. Many pesticides currently banned in the U.S. and EU are still being used here.

20110320_cuiaba12 FORMAD representatives were very interested in the reality of U.S. farming. Several of the Minnesota corn farmers with our group talked about the loss of family farmers in the U.S., the increasing absentee ownership of farmland, the push to increase value in what they produce (through ethanol), the migration of children in farm families to urban areas, and the growth of larger farms and loss of mid-sized farms.(Left, FORMAD members talk to our delegation)

Transportation holds the key to Mato Grosso’s future. Right now, agriculture products are transported almost exclusively by trucks, but there is a growing push to expand and improve railways and river navigation. FORMAD believes that transportation improvements designed largely for agribusiness will bring increasing pressure to expand agricultural land in Mato Grosso, and further damage to the region’s rich biological and cultural diversity.

Posted March 22, 2011 by Ben Lilliston   

AgricultureBioeconomy

Used under creative commons license from dylanpassmore.

IATP is leading a delegation of U.S. environmentalists, academics and corn/biofuel producers down to Brazil (you can read our reports here) to learn more about the intersection of agriculture, biofuels and land use.

“Land in Brazil is a source of power. The landowners are the powerful. Inequality in Brazil can be traced directly to who owns land,” Paulo Alentejano, a Geography professor at the University of Rio de Janeiro told us on Friday. We were at the union hall of Brazilian oil workers at a meeting hosted by the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) to help us understand the relationship between land ownership and the agricultural economy in Brazil.  

20110319_rio110 Professor Alentejano made four key points about the concentration of land in Brazil:1) there has been a persistent concentration of ownership; 2) there is an increasing influence of globalization on Brazilian agriculture; 3) increased mechanization is reducing labor opportunities; 4) there continues to be persistent violence and environmental degradation associated with land use throughout the country.

The GINI Index measures inequality among countries and Brazil’s is among the highest in the world. According to Alentejano, this is linked to increasing control of the land by agribusiness interests. He cited the presence of companies—like Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta, ADM, Cargill, Bunge and Dreyfuss—as deeply influencing land-based decisions. Land ownership by foreign interests is increasingly a concern, particularly as China becomes the country’s largest trade partner.  

Alentejano pointed out that exact statistics on land ownership are impossible, and that’s part of the problem. “The country doesn’t know much about who owns the land. We don’t know how much land is in foreign control. The Brazil agency has no data. They just don’t know,” Alentejano told us.

As agricultural land increasingly serves the interests of agribusiness by focusing mostly on five products (sugar, soy, cattle, lumber and corn), food insecurity is increasing, according to Alentejano. There has been a reduction in production of rice, beans and mandioca—staples of Brazilian diets—over the last 20 years. 

Somos Todos Sem Terra Marcelo of the Landless Rural Workers Movement talked with us about how land ownership affects sugarcane workers. Marcelo described horrific working conditions,  including tightly packed trucks (often the same trucks used to transport animals), slave labor and regular exposure to toxic pesticides. Sugarcane workers are often uneducated and unaware of their rights. “To earn more, workers need to eat less, drink less and endure degrading labor conditions,” Marcelo told us. Workers that don’t complain are rewarded.

Sugarcane production in Brazil continues to expand, particularly around Sao Paulo and Rio. One driver of this expansion is increasing mechanization, which also requires less workers. Another driver is biofuels (agrofuels as MST calls them) produced by the sugarcane. MST believes the expansion of sugarcane production is crowding out food production. “Energy production can work with family farms, but you can’t stop producing food,” said Marcelo. “We can’t enter into this production model and undermine the other model.”

Posted March 21, 2011 by Ben Lilliston   

AgricultureBioeconomy

Nathanael Greene coordinates renewable energy work at the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC). He is travelling on an IATP-led delegation to Brazil to study agriculture, biofuels and land use. IATP is reposting views from others on the trip. This blog first appeared on NRDC's Switchboard blog.

I'm in Rio De Janerio today on my first full day of a nine-day trip to explore the impacts on biofuels policy here in Brazil and back home in the U.S. on land-use change here (ILUC). As I wrote about earlier this week, the trip was organized by IATP and includes a mix of farmers, ethanol producers, environmentalists and one academic who also fits into a number of those other categories.

We all got to Rio with no problems and spent the afternoon wandering along the beach and downtown. This is a beautiful and incredibly lively city, and our conversations kept switching between biofuels and policy, land-use and agriculture, and hey look at that!Sugar Loaf at sunset

We sat down early on in the afternoon and shared our reasons for coming on this trip. The perspectives on the link between biofuels policy and land-use change are all across the board. Some largely rejected the idea of ILUC but wanted to understand why others believed in it. Some are trying to understand the details better so they can better explain and refine the accounting for the emissions from ILUC. All of us expressed interest in both understanding what's happening on the ground in Brazil from Brazilians and at the same time getting a broader perspective on the important and extremely complicated set of links between policy, biofuels production, land use, food and feed production, food prices, food security, economic development, energy security... the list goes on.

On the one hand, ILUC is very simple and direct: biofuels today require land that could be used to produce food or feed. Group picture in RioThis land is limited. If we produce even a little less food or feed, the markets adjust. We call it indirect, but it's really very direct and fundamental to any product that requires large amounts of land. We should think about oil the same way, but I've yet to identify a aspect of oil production that is as fundamental to gasoline as land is to current biofuels. But of course, there is little that is simple in the world of energy policy, land-use policy or agriculture policy. 

As John Sheehan from the University of Minnesota said during this initial discussion, biofuels keep taking us to ever deeper and wider into the questions around sustainability.

One thing I already learned is that the threat to the Pantanal is not from filling but from conversion of the neighboring Cerrado. The Cerrado drains into the Pantanal and is being converted for soy and sugar cane and the concern is that the fertilizer, herbicides, pesticide runoff and changes in hydrology maybe damaging the Pantanal.

Oh and we saw this too!

Christo from the beach




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