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Will the New “Green Economy” be Fueled by Unsustainable Agrofuels?

January 2009

In 2006 Grassroots International received a report from the Social Network for Justice and Human Rights (Rede Social), one of our Brazilian partners, about rapid expansion of agrofuels production based on large scale plantation-style cultivation of sugar cane for ethanol.  We also heard from them about massive expansion of soy plantations and U.S. based transnational corporations and investors buying up large tracts of land to expand cultivation for both ethanol and diesel fuel.   Soon we began to hear more and more  stories about displacement of small and family farmers, indigenous farmers and about human rights violations of agricultural workers on these new agrofuels plantations.  We began to hear similar stories from our partners across the Latin American region where we have longstanding partnerships with rural social movement organizations, and from Asia and Africa.

As a result we organized a workshop at the U.S. Social Forum held in Atlanta in June 2007 so that our Brazilian and Mexican partners could discuss the problems that U.S. agribusiness was causing with their counterparts and allies here.  And we convened another roundtable  at the Forum where the  seeds of a U.S. Agrofuels Workgroup were planted.

Since September 2007 Grassroots International has been working with our allies in the Agrofuels Workgroup to inform more people about the negative impacts of  the rush to expand large scale industrially produced agrofuels all over the world.  We have also followed and shared the information, provided by reputable scientists, which shows that as currently produced agrofuels may, in fact, do very little to reduce global warming.  On the contrary, current agro-industrial methods of crop production contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions.

In November 2007 Grassroots International and the Agrofuels Workgroup  released a call for a moratorium on agrofuels expansion and imports of agrofuels from poor countries into the United States.  That moratorium has received endorsements from supporters all over the world and is also now posted by our European allies.

We have also worked with the International Links Committee of the Community Food Security Coalition to produce a report entitled Fueling Disaster: A Community Security Perspective on Agrofuels  that highlighted the potential dangers of this rapid expansion and called upon people to sign on to our call for a moratorium.

We travelled to Mozambique, southern Africa in October 2008 for the Via Campesina’s 5th International Conference and heard reports from small farmers from across the  globe about the plans to substitute food crops  with crops for fuel production for export.  We learned that plans to greatly expand agrofuels were afoot in Mozambique and that President Lula of Brazil had developed those plans with the Mozambican president.  The Via Campesina, the world’s largest international movement of peasants, small- and medium-sized producers, landless, rural women, indigenous people, rural youth and agricultural workers, has released their own position paper on agrofuels.

In November, we supported a number of our partners to travel to Geneva, for a global conference convened by a number of our allies on “Confronting the Global Food Challenge: Finding New Approaches to Trade & Investment that Support the Right to Food.” Faustino Torres of the Via Campesina and Nicaragua’s Association of Rural Workers was one of the keynotes. We also participated in the conference and helped organize a working group on “Agriculture, Agrofuels & Climate Change” with the Via Campesina and the Mexican Action Network on Free Trade.

Now in early 2009, as we all look forward toward a new administration in the United States, we fear that our concerns about agrofuels are even more important as the new green economic recovery plans of President Obama’s proposed  “New Green Deal” may hasten the expansion of both first and second generation agrofuels with new bio-technologies that many fear will contribute to, rather than help solve the growing ecological and food crisis.  Please read the attached OPEN LETTER: Unsustainable Biofuels: Fueling Climate Change, Poverty and Environmental Devastation to learn more about this controversial topic.

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