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Biofuels driving hunger

The If Campaign, a new campaign by a bunch of NGOs, has been launched to tackle world hunger, although closer examination of their aims suggests other agendas too:

The group is calling for more aid to be targeted towards those most at risk of hunger and curbs on “tax dodging” by companies operating in the developing world.

Other targets include the rise of biofuels, which it argues lies behind a series of legal “land grabs” which have swept poor farmers, many of them women, aside.

In its first report, published today, the group claims that crops burned as biofuels in the UK alone would be enough to feed 10 million people a year.

I'm not quite sure what taxes have to do with hunger, but the focus on biofuels is of course very welcome. Strangely our friend Bob Ward seems to disagree. When I pointed out that greens' campaigns against GM crops and for biofuels were a major factor in world hunger, he responded:

your hatred of environmentalists is plain, but it is ridiculous to claim they are the main cause of hunger.

Leaving aside the normal Wardian misquoting ("major" for "main"), this seems like remarkably weak ground on which to take a stand. That greens have overwhelmingly opposed GM seems indisputable. That many have in the past argued for the use of biofuels is also plainly true (see post earlier today). That's all there is to it.

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Reader Comments (30)

The Telegraph piece is made instantly amusing by the caption

The new coalition of charities and faith groups is backed by figures such as Bill Gates, left, and Desmond Tutu

when the famous black bishop is clearly on the left (I imply nothing against his politics) and the billionaire philanthropist on the right. Richard Curtis is prominent among the new campaign's supporters and his comic talent has clearly inspired the DT sub-editors.

But, such excellent jokes apart, this bears repetition:

Other targets include the rise of biofuels, which it argues lies behind a series of legal “land grabs” which have swept poor farmers, many of them women, aside.

In its first report, published today, the group claims that crops burned as biofuels in the UK alone would be enough to feed 10 million people a year.

At last, proper target identified. Bob Ward, you should, finally and terminally, be ashamed of yourself. Our host has spoken with passion and justice on this subject and he's finally been joined by others of greater repute. But not of greater honesty and courage. You really had better watch out.

Jan 23, 2013 at 1:57 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

'...the crops burned as biofuels in the uk alone would be enough to feed 10 million people a year..'

Ah - but they're RENEWABLES, aren't they - so doen't that make it alright..??

Jan 23, 2013 at 2:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid

The unconscionable use of good arable land, to cultivate food crops to be converted into ethanol to provide fuel for motor vehicles?
How can anyone, who is of sound mind justify it - when men, women and children are wanting but the basic staff of life - BREAD?
Biofuel crops, all encouraged with generous taxpayer subsidy - adds insult to injury.

Bob Ward, is a clown but he is worse than even that - he is a dangerous and misanthropic clown.

Jan 23, 2013 at 2:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

I am aware of a scheme proposed by Peterborough Council to evict tenant farmers off their land so that they can cover hundreds of acres of grade 1 farmland with solar panels to get hold of the subsidies to help pay off Peterborough's huge debts . Elsewhere, hundreds of square miles of good farmland are being covered in solar panels or used to cultivate crops to burn in power stations or grow crops to feed into anaerobic digesters to generate highly subsidised "clean green renewable energy". It's a double whammy; increased fuel poverty and increased food poverty. All because of greed and corruption based on bad 'science' promoted by corrupt NGOs and other assorted hangers-on in the bureacracy and media (and the likes of Bob Ward).

Jan 23, 2013 at 2:37 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

All rational analysts and technical organizations (such as FAO) have advised against using cropland and food crops to make fuels. They not only detract from food supply: they usually have a higher carbon footprint that fossil fuels (growing corn for ethanol is a highly fuel intensive proposition). However, liquid fuels from cereals and oilcrops (like corn ethanol or oilcrop biodiesel) are not the only ways of making biofuels.
The most interesting propositions around are those for making SOLID biofuels with biomass from cellulosic permanent or multi-annual plants (tall grasses and bushes) growing on MARGINAL land not normally used for growing food crops. These alternatives do not need (usually) to be subsidized in order to prosper, have a much lower (in some cases negative) integrated carbon footprint (they do not require ploughing and planting every season), provide additional agricultural production and revenue on marginal lands, such as found in many places of the developing world, and contribute to greening otherwise some semi-arid lands besides providing fuel for electricity. One interesting place to look is and their blog (

Jan 23, 2013 at 2:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterH.M.

Re Phillip Bratby's post - although I hate useless-bird-chomping-eco-crucifixes with a passion, you can at least grow food/graze cattle around them. Solar panels you can't grow anything underneath. Plus of course they work a MAXIMUM of twelve hours a day (unless you're a Spanish developer, and don't mind connecting up a diesel generator to get the feed-in tariff at night as well)....
(Snow's not good, either...)

Jan 23, 2013 at 3:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid

Philip, can you provide any more information on that? Peterborough is surrounded by some of the most fertile land in the UK and is the unquestioned centre of UK vegetable production. This is beyond scandalous.

Jan 23, 2013 at 3:06 PM | Registered Commenterflaxdoctor

SNTF: Try this for starters. I have more details of the council's proposals.

Alos this "This land is some of the most fertile in the country, valued at £8,000 an acre. It produces an abundance of corn, potatoes and sugar beet. It is also beautiful, in that unique way of the Fens" from

Jan 23, 2013 at 3:22 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Bio-fuels are just part of the avoidable tragedies inflicted on the world by those who act upon the advice of so-called 'environmentalists'.

“The environmental movement I helped found has lost its objectivity, morality and humanity. The pain and suffering it is inflicting on families in developing countries must no longer be tolerated. Eco-Imperialism is the first book I’ve seen that tells the truth and lays it on the line. It’s a must-read for anyone who cares about people, progress and our planet.”

– Patrick Moore, Greenpeace co-founder


The development lobby was duped by the environmental one before about climate change. So that Oxfam and Christian Aid and the World Development Movement, as but three examples, all jumped on the CO2 bandwagon. That included the promotion of bio-fuels for a while until even such as Al Gore saw the adverse publicity they were generating. Oxfam has also noticed that and condemns bio-fuels, as I daresay they all do now. But I suspect they all have the eco-flim-flam of 'sustainable development' in their media-kits and conference resolutions. Meanwhile the Rio conference revealed that the developing world can spot 'suppressed development' when they see it.

The environmental lobby has long been more powerful than the development one, for the simple reason I suppose that the former can more readily appeal to self-interest to win supporters and strengthen their lobby. But I wish the development lobby could find the courage to condemn them. Is this 'If' initiative step in that direction, or have they remained in bed with the so-called environmentalists?

Jan 23, 2013 at 3:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

Thanks Phillip, I'll see if I can stir anything up - £8000 an acre sounds very cheap for the good stuff though.

Jan 23, 2013 at 3:32 PM | Registered Commenterflaxdoctor

`Hatred of environmentalists` seems a bit harsh,they don`t take criticism very well do they?.
Mostly i`d rather they stopped paving the road to hell with their `good intentions`..and insisting that i get on it with them.
There`s miles of dirty rivers and hundreds of polluting factories for them to get their teeth into.Lots of them due to production of solar cells and windmill parts.
Most of `em in china....good luck with that.

Jan 23, 2013 at 3:35 PM | Unregistered Commenterbanjo

I wonder whether the If Campaign is aware of this report (Peak Farmland and the Prospect for Land Sparing)? Looking especially at India and China, it shows how hugely improved productivity – sparing for Nature vast areas of land much of which would otherwise have been destroyed – has enabled rapidly expanding populations to be properly fed. And it’s no coincidence that India and China have something else in common: rapid economic growth based on cheap and reliable electricity supplies, generated by fossil-fuel burning power stations. It’s a growth that has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and starvation, already achieving one of the UN’s Millennium Goals set for 2015. Yet politicians in the developed West are trying to stop poor people getting the power they desperately need.

Strangely, the If Campaign doesn’t seem to mention any of this.

Jan 23, 2013 at 3:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterRobin Guenier

With regards to David at 3.02 pm...I would be interested ti find out if cattle (any other animal) is affected by the low frequency noise generated by these monstrosities. Is there any evidence that animals are attracted or repelled by these things? We know about the bird and bat destruction but I have not seen anything about the effect on domestic livestock

Jan 23, 2013 at 4:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterTony Windsor

Phillip, the farm in question is on Grade II land (of which we have about 18,000 sq km) so whilst insanely wasteful, this isn't going to raise too many hackles since DEFRA's policy on the subject is vacuously useless:

While the Government aims to minimise the loss of farmland, particularly the best and most versatile land (grades 1, 2 and 3a), it also recognises the need for a positive approach towards a more diverse rural economy.

'Diverse', as in producing anything other than boring, worthless food.

Jan 23, 2013 at 4:09 PM | Registered Commenterflaxdoctor

From the Austrian filmmaker Ulrich Eichelmann

Germany: It is hardly possible to describe in words the damage done to German nature, as Eichelmann describes it in his film. The country side is made desolate by monoculture of corn fields stretching to the horizon, and biosphere reserves are not spared. Everything is done just to ensure enough biofuels are produced to meet Germany‘s climate targets — all in the name of a supposedly clean energy. Many bird species have already disappeared completely, others will follow. Hares and other soil dwellers will not be seen again. The largest biogas plant in the country needs 1,000 tons of corn per day. 7,000 plants have already been built, about 1,000 on average will be added each year. Due to generous subsidies, the corn farmers can pay any rent, so the rents have more than doubled and farms are going bankrupt. By the way: in 2011 Germany could not cover its cereal needs for the first time.

Jan 23, 2013 at 4:18 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Sadly, Ayn Rand predicted the ability of lefty extremists to cause food shortages. But lefties dismiss Rand at our peril.

Jan 23, 2013 at 4:28 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

The GWPF has posted a piece which strengthens the 'so-called' into 'so-called environmentalists':

These days, much is spoken and written about the destruction of our planet as a result of climate change. In his evocative film “Climate Crimes”, the Austrian filmmaker Ulrich Eichelmann who was an active member of WWF for 17 years and worked in conservation for decades, now documents that it is rather the reverse: he shows how many ecosystems, species, habitats and the cultural heritage too are threatened – but, as he sums up, “not by climate change, but by climate protection and the things done in its name.” It is predominantly hydropower and bioenergy projects that threaten to destroy precious areas of our planet’s nature.
[my bold]

Now I dont care much for the WWF and any ex-members 'active for 17 years' who insist that 'greenhouse gases pose a risk to the global climate' despite the almost complete lack of evidence for that claim, but I imagine (I have not seen it) that this film is helping expose the slipshod thinking of eco-adventurists based around CO2 alarmism. Slipshod, superficial, and deadly.

Jan 23, 2013 at 4:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

Bob Ward, is a clown but he is worse than even that - he is a dangerous and misanthropic clown.

@Jan 23, 2013 at 2:08 PM | Athelstan.

Many of the Green persuasion are hugely misanthropic - witness Sir David Attenborough's recent outburst.

Jan 23, 2013 at 5:12 PM | Registered Commenterjeremyp99

John Shade:

You "imagine ... that this film is helping expose the slipshod thinking of eco-adventurists based around CO2 alarmism". Unfortunately that isn't so. The GWPF article goes on to say,

Although he has changed from being a climate change campaigner into a fighter against this kind of climate protection, Eichelmann still assumes that greenhouse gases pose a risk to the global climate. He thinks the only chance to counter the risk is to question the idea of global economic growth. Only in this way, he argues, the world could prevent the “Climate Crimes”, which his film documents.

For a very different view, see my post above (at 3:55 PM).

Jan 23, 2013 at 5:22 PM | Registered CommenterRobin Guenier

Robin, the man ain't perfect, but he has exposed some of that eco-thinking. And your post at 3:55 is spot-on. Is it not astonishing that so little has been made of "already achieving one of the UN’s Millennium Goals set for 2015"? Perhaps not, given that so much of the media does not care to celebrate the successes of cheap energy and economic growth, especially when it looks like a relaxation of state control led the way as in the case of India and China.

Jan 23, 2013 at 5:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

Jan 23, 2013 at 4:18 PM Phillip Bratby

Re: Austrian filmmaker Ulrich Eichelmann

Phillip, are you sure that the numbers are correct, because it amounts to 2.5 billion tonnes of corn/year. How much land is required to produce such a vast quantity of corn? Or have I got my calculations wrong!

Jan 23, 2013 at 5:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Porter

In BBC's "Room 101", Chris Packham when asked to send the things he hates the most into Room 101 suggested the entire human race (

This about sums up just how obnoxious most environmentalists really are.

Jan 23, 2013 at 5:42 PM | Registered Commentersteve ta


They are not my figures. By definition, most plants will not be as big as the largest! In this country the yield for maize is about 35te per hectare. That largest plant would need over 10,000ha of land. That's a lot of land and the 'greenhouse gases' emitted in fertilising, planting, harvesting and transporting the maize must be enormous. But that won't factor into the equation of whether there are any CO2 emissions reductions. It's all about money and appearing to be green.

Jan 23, 2013 at 5:48 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Chris Packham, David Attenborough and all these other environmentalists who think humans are a plague should put their money where their mouth is.

Jan 23, 2013 at 5:51 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Bob 'fast fingers ' Ward does not deal in reality , his job after all is the spinning of Eco-BS .

Jan 23, 2013 at 6:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

@Hunter - When Stalin ruled The Soviet Union he deliberately engineered famines. He knew all along that Trofim Lysenko's false theories of genetics were a recipe for disaster. He knew all along. He laughed about it. We should never assume that our policy makers are merely erroneous. They know exactly what they are doing.
Yours Darkly, Pete.

Jan 23, 2013 at 6:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Crawford

While I am not familiar with Stalin's cynical use of Lysenko to help with what he apparently perceived as an over popuation problem, I would not be surprised to find it true. For me, attribution of motive is always tricky. I have observed that incomepetence and bigotry and narrow mindedness can result in as much or more trouble than deliberate plan. The incompetence, bigotry and narrow mindedness of the leadership class of today is breath taking.

Jan 24, 2013 at 8:54 PM | Unregistered Commenterlurker, passing through laughing

Just caught the end of a program on BBC2 The Genius of Invention, broadcast from the Drax power plant. Apparently Drax is destined to go over to biofuels completely from coal. There only downside of this change mentioned was the transport of the material, but otherwise the sense of inevitability and correctness of this move was communicate in quite a startling matter of fact way.

I had to check my watch I thought the program I was watching was made for children, the presenters were so patronising. Then it dawned on me the reason they are presenting “science” to the dumb people like this, in a Blue Peter’ish matey “Ooh Mark, what do you think is best, biofuels or solar?” and so on, was that this is one of those programmes with an agenda to get a message over whilst purporting to take credit for being “inventive”. Quite creepy.

Maybe a product of the IBT lobbyists "...significant impact on the BBC’s output..." ? ;)

Jan 24, 2013 at 10:21 PM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement


i actually thought the invention prog & Drax bits were not to bad & gave a good insight into our power output/use for the gereral public.
agree the biofuel bit taged on the end was what we exptect from the BBC party line, with no explination of where all this bio mass will be found (sustainability - which word they also had to shoe horn in)

ps. all BBC science/nature etc progs now remind me of 'newround' from the 70's aimed at kids.
maybe i'm getting old & cynical but the dumb down has worked at treat for the powers that be :-(

Jan 25, 2013 at 1:04 AM | Unregistered Commenterdougieh

@Jan 25, 2013 at 1:04 AM | Unregistered Commenterdougieh

i actually thought the invention prog & Drax bits were not to bad & gave a good insight into our power output/use for the gereral public.

Interesting, I might check out the rest on iPlayer then. I literally only caught the last 5 minutes.

Jan 25, 2013 at 5:43 AM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

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