Food for fuel vs food for life
Is Moringa the answer?
We are arriving at that collision crossroads where decisions are being made as to the type of crop to grow and for what reason.
Crops are grown for feeding populations, specifically ubiquitous crops like rice and corn. Water is essential for growing anything.
Today, there is an increasing tension among farmers as to the crops to grow, with a slant now towards using land reserved for growing rice to growing corn for ethanol. The objective is that growing corn is more financially satisfying and correlates with reduction of dependence on oil as well.
In addition, there is growing concern for overusing water resources to grow these crops if we are to sustain our lifestyles.
If corn requires more than 20 inches (50 centimeters) of irrigation per year, then the ethanol you get from the biofuel will not provide sufficient energy to desalinate the amount of seawater you will need to irrigate the next year’s crop. So in South Africa, for example, if the government is contemplating building desalination plants, they might instead stop growing any corn for ethanol if the corn requires anywhere near that much irrigation.
Finally, the extent of tropical deforestation for the purposes of growing biofuel is difficult to calculate. But it appears we are talking about a few hundred thousand square miles just in Indonesia and Southeast Asia. Needless to say, an equivalent amount is lost to biofuel in the Amazon, and Africa is racing to catch up. As you know, tropical rainforests once covered 8.0 million square miles – and today there is less than 3.0 million left. I would guess .5 million is already gone for biofuel plantations, with another .5 million (possibly much more) destined to be lost to biofuel within 5 years.
The sugar-bioethanol chain, which has provided huge benefits for Brazil, could also create jobs and income for several African countries, hence many countries are considering it.
But sugar production has created major concern in recent years. Future potential is limited in South Africa and one reason for this is the industry’s consumption of water. A 2005 World Wildlife Fund study found that 600 to 1000 litres of water are used to produce 1 kg of sugar, or one million litres of water to produce 12.5 tonnes of commercial cane. It is a water intensive crop that remains in the soil for the whole year.
When we look at the land ratio to food for fuel, food for life, there are issues which will need to be addressed so as to create more equity in distribution. Emphasis should be placed on stepping up the research on moringa as as effective substitute for food and for fuel.