Agrofuels: more a problem than a solution

Agrofuels: more a problem than a solution

By Pablo Villegas and Mónica Vargas

Recommending the development of agribusiness to mitigate the effects of climate change is far-fetched to say the least. Agriculture and changes in land use (deforestation) represent respectively 14 and 18% of the gas emissions responsible for global warming. The conversion of forests into farmland, the use of nitrate fertilizers, the large-scale cultivation of legumes such as soybeans and the decomposition of organic residues have been identified as the causes of nitrous oxide emission, the third effect gas. greenhouse.

Agrofuels: more a problem than a solution (1)

Since the beginning of this decade, agrofuels have not only been promoted as one of the alternatives in the face of the planetary environmental crisis, but they have also received important incentives from the governments of the Central countries, and their production has accelerated. When considering this problem, we propose here to start from a comprehensive perspective, considering various areas from which it is necessary to implement a responsible reflection. We are situated in the paradigm of ecological debt, defined as the debt contracted by industrialized countries with the rest of the countries due to the historical and current plundering of natural resources, the exported environmental impacts and the free use of global environmental space.

This debt is closely articulated with the mode of consumption and production implemented by the capitalist system (Ortega, 2007: 20). Likewise, we consider the specific case of Bolivia, where the agribusiness and landlord sector of the east has become the mainstay of an intense campaign for the production of agrofuels, directing an important part of its propaganda towards small producers, with the promise high prices for their products, employment and food security.

A miracle solution

From the meetings of the G8 and the World Economic Forum to the forums of the United Nations, two global themes have been reiterated in recent years: climate change and hunger. After years of intense debates and disdain for the minimum targets set by the Kyoto Protocol, responsibility for human activities in 90% of the first was formally established by the Fourth Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in the month February 2007. On the other hand, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), currently nearly one billion people in the world suffer from hunger and in 2015 there will be 100 million more. If we listen to the different actors that actively promote the development of agrofuels (2), it would seem that there lies one of the most appropriate responses to both problems. What is this miraculous solution? Currently, the production of fuels from biomass is concentrated in bioethanol and biodiesel. The first is obtained from products rich in sucrose (sugar cane, molasses and sweet sorghum), from substances rich in starch (cereals such as corn, wheat or barley), and by hydrolysis of substances that contain cellulose (wood and agricultural residues) (3). It can be used to replace gasoline, but requires a prior adaptation of the engines. In turn, biodiesel comes from vegetable oils (oil palm, rapeseed, soybean and jatropha) or animal fat. It is intended to replace diesel and can be used pure or mixed (4).

Based on a perception, today questioned from different spheres, according to which agrofuels would not increase the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, several countries have legislated in favor of a mandatory implementation of these fuels in the transport sector, without having the necessary production capacity. In the United States, it has been established that by 2030, at least 30% of fuel in transportation will be derived from agrofuels (especially ethanol), which will require an annual production of 227 million liters per year. For its part, the European Union has opted for four types of incentives, all of them using public resources: agricultural subsidies within the framework of the Community Agrarian Policy, defiscation, the obligation to mix a percentage of 5.75% in 2010 and double in 2020 in transport fuels, the use in pilot projects by public transport companies. In this regard, it should be noted that since transport constitutes 30% of total energy consumption, the target of 5.75% corresponds only to 1.8% of total consumption, so the real savings would be 36 million tons of CO2 equivalent, that is, less than 1% of European emissions (Russi, 2007).

Currently, Europe produces 3 million tons of biodiesel, aims to reach 7 million in 2010, which will require 13 million tons of raw material, and in the medium term it has the second generation based on lignocellulosic waste to supply 30% of consumption. Europe does not have the land it needs to meet these goals. For example, it is calculated that in countries like Great Britain, trying to reach the 2020 target would require the use of almost all of the cropland (Redes-AT and Grain, 2007b). Therefore, all these countries will have to resort to importing raw materials or agrofuels. To respond to this demand, the production of the required commodities has been intensified in countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Malaysia and Indonesia, where the best and most abundant lands are located.

Agriculture and climate change

Recommending the development of agribusiness to mitigate the effects of climate change is far-fetched to say the least. The current agricultural model is based on oil, from the production of chemical inputs to the transport of goods.

Furthermore, as the Stern Report warned, agriculture and changes in land use (deforestation) represent respectively 14 and 18% of the gas emissions responsible for global warming (Stern, 2006). In particular, the conversion of forests into farmland, the use of nitrate fertilizers, the large-scale cultivation of legumes such as soybeans and the decomposition of organic residues have been identified as the causes of nitrous oxide emission, the third greenhouse gas. Only in Brazil, 59% of emissions come from deforestation due to the expansion of soybean and sugar cane crops. Furthermore, the destruction of peat associated with monocultures is assessed to cause the release of about 40 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere (GRAIN, 2007).

Rising cereal prices, speculation and corporate concentration

The industrial agricultural model as a whole, currently boosted by the biofuel boom, is largely responsible for the current food crisis (5). Indeed, this model is based on the liberalization of agricultural products, which has allowed two phenomena that have promoted the increase in the price of food: speculation in the futures market for basic foods and corporate concentration in this sector . According to the consulting firm AgResourse Co., in the United States, the world's largest exporter of wheat, corn and soybeans, the value of purchases of these grains in the futures market has represented about half of the value of the total harvest. (Wilson, 2008). On the other hand, it is estimated that the amount of speculative money in the commodity futures market increased from 3,172 million euros in 2000 to 111,000 million euros in 2007 (GRAIN, 2008). The free trade policies imposed by actors such as the WTO in the agricultural sector, by dismantling the tariffs and protections that impoverished countries had, are also responsible for the business concentration throughout the production chain. In 2008, the growth in turnover and profits announced by the main companies operating in agribusiness was extraordinary. The net profits of the US company Cargill in April increased 86% compared to the previous year, amounting to 653 million euros (Cargill, 2008). Bunge's sales grew 70% and ADM's 64%. What is the degree of incidence of these companies that the food crisis does not seem to affect? They determine what will be produced, how it will be produced, set prices and select who will produce the food. For example, Cargill, ADM, ConAgra, Bunge and Dreyfus dominate more than 80% of the world cereal trade, while Monsanto is the main commercial seed company and the fifth in the pesticides sector. In the specific case of soybeans, Bunge, ADM and Cargill control 75% of the world market and 80% of the processing industry in the European Union (6).

Social impacts: from dispossession to bad living

In itself, the industrialization of agriculture has proven to be a social failure in several countries. The issue of biofuels has been advanced as a labor alternative that would allow the peasants of the Center and the Periphery to increase their profits and achieve social welfare. Nothing seems further from the truth.

In the case of the European Union, there is still uncertainty and some studies report that 1'000 tons of biofuels can create between 2 and 8 full-time jobs, essentially concentrated around refineries and ports (Biofuelwatch, Carbon Trade Watch / TNI, Corporate Observatory, 2007). But in the Periphery countries, where a large part of the raw material will eventually come from, the development of crops for automotive fuels is based on the creation of economies of scale and on a highly centralized industrial agricultural model, where relations between transnational capital and local landowning elites (GRAIN, 2007).

The inhabitants of rural communities are increasingly expendable and have only two options: migrate or become agricultural laborers.

The Rural Reflection Group (GRR) highlights that the Green Revolution applied in the Argentine countryside is linked to the impoverishment of the population. Thus, in a country that was considered the “breadbasket of the world”, the 2006 National Nutrition and Health Survey registered that 34% of children under two years of age suffer from malnutrition and anemia. According to the GRR, part of the explanation for this phenomenon lies in the conversion of Argentina into a country that produces transgenics and an exporter of forage, with the implementation of large-scale monocultures of RR soy. In this context, there was a business concentration of land that ruined tens of thousands of small producers and caused the rural exodus, increasing the poverty lines of the cities (Rulli and Semino, 2007).

During the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Populations that met in May 2007, it was underlined that indigenous populations are being displaced from their lands by the expansion of energy crops, which contributes to the destruction of their cultures and migration. towards the cities. Only in one Indonesian province of West Kalimantan, there are already 5 million people who will have to leave their ancestral territories (Biofuelwatch, Carbon Trade Watch / TNI, Corporate Observatory, 2007).

In Paraguay, the advance of transgenic soybean and sugar cane monocultures is also expressed in a compulsive process of grabbing the best land. The country allocates 2.4 million hectares to soybean production, but plans to reach 4 million to meet its sales commitments to the European Union. In a country where 21% of the population lives in extreme poverty, 1% of the owners own 55% of the land, and 40% of the producers cultivate plots of between 0.5 and 5 hectares.

However, other methods of de-peasantization are being denounced by civil organizations. This is the case of the Colombian Afro-descendant communities of Jiguamiandó and Curvaradó. Military and paramilitary violence forced them to leave their lands, which were illegally occupied by the Urapalma company (Redes-AT and GRAIN, 2007b).

Those who dared to return could hardly recognize their destroyed houses. The forest they had been preserving was razed by oil palm crops that stretched to the horizon. With regard to working conditions, we will refer later when considering the case of Bolivia.

As regards the populations surrounding palm and soybean crops, their health is threatened by the application of powerful herbicides. Argentine urban and rural communities have launched the “Stop Fumigating” campaign, given the aerial dispersion of herbicides over neighboring soybean fields. Furthermore, a study by the Ministry of Health carried out in five cities in the South of the province of Santa Fe discovered an alarming number of cancer cases (Biofuelwatch, Carbon Trade Watch / TNI, Corporate Observatory, 2007).

Megaprojects and agrofuels

An undeniable fact: biodiesel and bioethanol are rarely teleported from the fields to the gasoline tanks. And here is another very little "bio" aspect in the boom of agrofuels: the growing need for infrastructure integration that implies their transport and export. The unfortunately resuscitated Puebla Panama Plan (PPP) and the Initiative for the Integration of South American Infrastructures (IIRSA) came to light. These megaprojects consider the rebellious Latin American geography as an obstacle for the extraction of raw materials and the transport of goods. Its mission is to subdue it through intermodal highway corridors, hydroelectric dams, waterways, power lines, pipelines, etc. Not to mention the significant benefits that these projects will bring to companies such as Spanish companies Iberdrola and Gamesa (wind farm in Mexico), ACS (port management and dredging in Brazil), and even unknown consulting firms such as TYPSA or Norcontrol. Despite the promises of “local development” that they make (evoking the exhausted theory of the “spill of wealth”), they are disastrous because they are located on indigenous territories and peasant communities, and cross areas of high biodiversity.

In its design, one of the main debt-generating entities on the continent, and of which the Spanish State is a member, has participated, without any consultation from the local populations: the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). Today it promotes agrofuels in different ways. He estimates that it will take Latin America 14 years to become a biodiesel and bioethanol producing area and that it will require $ 200 billion. The IDB president himself, Luís Alberto Moreno, co-directs a private sector group, the Inter-American Ethanol Commission, together with Jeb Bush (former governor of the State of Florida) and former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Kozumi. Thus, the IDB supports the expansion of palm crops in Colombia and sugar cane and soybeans in the Brazilian Amazon. In fact, this year the IDB Board of Executive Directors approved the first financing to the private sector for an agrofuel project in this country for a total of 120 million dollars, specifically for Usina Moema Açucar e Alcohol Ltda. (Sao Paulo). This operation is part of a bank initiative to promote the structuring of priority debt financing for five bioethanol projects that will cost 997 million dollars (IDB, 2007).

On the other hand, it is important to ensure a flow of commodities to ports, not only Atlantic, but also Pacific, facing the Asian markets. Thus, the bank recommends that Brazil spend 1'000 million dollars per year on infrastructure for 15 years. It also aims to accelerate IIRSA projects rejected by civil society, such as the Paraguay-Paraná-Plata Waterway, the Meta River navigability project, Ferro Norte (rail network that would connect the soybean states of Paraná, Mato Grosso, Rondonia and Sao Paolo), and the Río Madera Complex.

The latter constitutes one of the main projects of the IIRSA Peru-Brazil-Bolivia Hub and is located on the Brazilian-Bolivian border. It currently consists of the construction of two hydroelectric mega-dams in Brazilian territory, in San Antonio and in Jirau, with a combined generating capacity of 6.400 Megawats, and a cost of 10.3 billion dollars.

Construction would begin in 2008. The first would be 190 kilometers from Bolivia, and the second 84 kilometers.

Independent studies have shown that both dams will have serious social and environmental impacts, not only in Brazil, but also in Bolivia. Banco Santander Central Hispano and the Portuguese bank Banif are actively involved in this problematic megaproject, and are creating a Fund for Investments and Participations (FIP) to finance the construction of the San Antonio dam. The Fund aims to raise $ 220 million. The Spanish bank advises a consortium led by the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht that will compete for the tender for the project. Experts from the Brazilian Environmental Protection Technical Service recommended that the project not be licensed before conducting new environmental impact studies, and the Bolivian government has protested and also requested new studies to verify the impacts of the dams in its country. An important link is established in this case with the boom in agrofuels, since the hydroelectric plants will supply energy to the Brazilian states of Rondonia and Matto Grosso, allowing the extension of soybean production that is already very important in the latter state, governed by Blairo Maggi, one of the largest soybean producers on the planet.

As we see it, the scope of mega-projects for the integration of infrastructures is crucial when considering the transport of goods such as grains for the production of agrofuels. Not only does it imply an increase in the external debt of the countries where these plans take place, since in addition, due to the social and environmental impacts that they entail, they simultaneously generate a considerable ecological debt of large corporations vis-à-vis local populations, who lack financial resources. any possibility of participation or of exercising your right of consultation.

Next we will highlight the problem of agrofuels in the specific case of Bolivia.

Agrofuels and Separatism in Bolivia

The Chamber of Industry, Commerce, Services and Tourism of Santa Cruz (CAINCO) and the Bolivian Institute of Foreign Trade (IBCE), have become the main drivers of biofuel production in Bolivia. According to one of its documents at the beginning of 2008, the main tasks (IBCE, 2008a) of the IBCE were:

a) “Child Labor Free” Certification for exporting companies;
b) Dialogue with civil society and studies on production, foreign trade and integration;
c) Biofuels, together with CAINCO.

These activities are financed by the Netherlands Import Promotion Center (CBI); The Secretary of State for the Economy (SECO) of Switzerland and USAID-USA.

In its campaign, the IBCE has endeavored to present the great magnitude of the business, as a party open to anyone; highlighting the great possibilities of each one of the Bolivian departments, which would even have native raw materials to produce them, such as the t'ola in the highlands.

Assuming, according to one of their calculations, that we only enter 1% of the world market for agrofuels, this would mean a cumulative investment of $ 2,470.55 million and an export of $ 5322.02 million in 10 years. The argument is as follows: “Although ethanol has an unfavorable cost structure compared to gasoline, when compared -… among Ethanol from various crops - it is favorable for sugar cane. If it is also considered that for environmental and strategic reasons the world trend is to adopt it as a replacement or complement to gasoline,… the opportunities for a country like ours are more than evident; …, We would do well to look at Ethanol as…, “a global opportunity” (Delius, 2008).

Obviously, "global opportunity", or anything like this, is an economic approach properly speaking.

The "Trojan" of agrofuels: Small producers

In this world of opportunities, the most important thing according to IBCE is that agrofuels can also be produced by the poor in developing countries (Solares & Solares, 2008). The benefits that are most frequently cited are: good prices, food security and employment.

Zaratti (2008), a former presidential delegate from Mesa (7), has referred to the high prices that producers would obtain as a historic revenge of the countryside against the city.

As the basis for this type of argument, however, we only find a question of faith: “… the trend in fuel markets is towards greater transparency and freedom, fewer access barriers and therefore freer trade, something that when it comes to food, it definitely does not occur frequently ”(Delius, 2008). On this basis, the analysis of the price setting process is avoided, and how these differ from what small producers receive to final marketers. The fact that the origin of the agrofuel market has not been natural, but imposed by force of law, is avoided; and that at all levels of the agrofuel economy, it is the monopoly that imposes its own pricing rules (8).

The monopoly also reigns in land tenure and agrofuels advance where it is already constituted. In Bolivia there are 14,000 soy producers (, in Ribera, 2008), and 70% of their land is in the hands of 300 large businessmen, only 30 of them Bolivians (Montes de Oca, 2005), that is that foreignization is part of the monopoly. According to Amorim (2006), the chancellor of Brazil, the Brazilian soy producers in Bolivia are responsible for 40% of the soybean production in Bolivia and for 60% of the export of this product.

The IBCE raises the problem of land only as a question of its physical availability, hiding its economic character, which is a field where the landlords and capitalists are the powerful party. In the economic context, land, like any merchandise, can appear and disappear even if we have it in front of us, and in light of these events, small owners, the landless, and the national economy are always the victims (9).

National agribusinesses have acquired the best land, with water and access to infrastructure, and under these conditions, their higher production and low costs compete with the worst land, that of smallholders. The advantages of good lands have been acquired by political influences and to cover this up, the myth of a “thriving agro-industrial entrepreneurship” has been created in the face of a delayed peasant production and low productivity.

In the graphs, we see that sugarcane in Bolivia has experienced increasing productivity, correlative with an expansion of the cultivated area. Soybeans experience declining productivity and extreme expansion of the cultivated area; currently 38% of the national total.

Note: (1) Includes previous winter season, in the case of corn, it is taken into account as of 2003
Year 1991 = 100%. (10) - Source: Own elaboration with data from the INE.

On the other hand, traditional crops such as potatoes and cassava experienced an extension with a declining trend but with increasing productivity. The same is true of many other non-industrial crops, such as broad beans and barley. In the cases of coffee and quinoa, the pictures are much more positive (11).

Note: Year 1991 = 100%. - Source: Own elaboration based on INE.

This shows that agribusiness owes its merits to the pirating of a national natural resource, the fertility of new lands, and other resources such as water, which are accessed by policy, while small producers remain for centuries working the same land.

By hiding the economic character of the land, it is intended to make people believe that large and small producers and owners enjoyed an idyllic relationship around biofuels. On the contrary, Carlos León (2008), President of the CIOEC, has declared: "When these large companies invade us, they will require large tracts of land and products, ... small producers will be subjected ... employed, exploited." It is the voice of experience. The relationship between large and small already existed in Santa Cruz several decades ago, in a system where houses that import inputs and equipment and oil factories finance small producers of soybeans and sugarcane; These obtained their product and discharged the risks of production and the social costs that would correspond if they were wage earners. This system works for transnational companies in the sector.

In Brazil, this system of financing crops and controlling distribution logistics has put the grain market in the hands of multinationals. National soybean companies and also cooperatives, such as those of family farmers in the southern region, depend on negotiations with these transnationals to access the market. (Ortíz, 2008). As noted above, when considering working conditions, as a result of their disadvantageous situation, small producers become a kind of employees of the finance companies, working self-exploited ”, under conditions in which –for something– the finance companies do not invest directly , and in the long run, they go bankrupt and run out of land.

In Bolivia, the latifundistas do not hide their desire to monopolize the lands of small owners (12); and IBCE (CAINCO & IBCE, 2008) proposes land legislation “without prejudice to its free disposal by the owner”. (13)

Security and sovereignty

Given the impact of agrofuels on food security, it is argued that food security is simply the availability of money to buy food, which is guaranteed with the employment generated by agrofuels.

This coincides with Lula's speech, but not with the reality of the sugarcane harvesters in Brazil. In the 80s, they cut 4 tons, for R $ 9.09 / day, and now they cut 15 tons, for R $ 6.88 / day. In the case of transgenic sugarcane, they must cut an area three times larger, because it weighs three times less. Since the zafrero wins by cut weight, before he obtained 10 t by macheting 100 m2, now he must machete 300 m2 to obtain the same weight. (CPT & RSJDH, 2007) To give an idea of ​​the purchasing power of that sum, a regular quality lunch in São Paulo costs $ R9, that is, the income from the harvest does not guarantee food.

The concept of food security managed by the IBCE excludes national sovereignty over food, which is justified, among other things, because food dependency constitutes an effective instrument of pressure by rich countries on poor ones.

"The best of everything": Jobs for Bolivians

The best of all, they tell us, in the campaign, are the jobs. For the supposed case of Bolivian participation in 1% of the world agrofuel market, a total of 138,368 jobs corresponding to 219,632 hectares is expected for the year 2019 (14), assuming a 6% growth in demand; and if it were 14%, 272,136 jobs (431,962 has) are expected. The problem is that this calculation is based on 0.63 jobs / ha that is applied to non-mechanized crops, as if sugarcane cultivation was not going to be mechanized even in 10 years. If it were, we would apply 0.3 jobs / ha; then we would have 142,547 fewer jobs. This is just to give an idea of ​​the possible difference, because the introduction of machinery depends in part on how much harvest workers can withstand the exploitation so as not to be “fired” by the machines (15). In Brazil, they have endured so much that their active life in the cane fields has been inferior to that of the slaves (Zafalon, 2007, in Corina, 2008). However, between 1970 and 2000, São Paulo agriculture, the main sugarcane center, eliminated approximately 700,000 jobs (Schlesinger et al, 2008); this, speaking of cane; and worse, in the case of soybeans, for every 300 hectares only 1 to 4 jobs are created. Those are the real "best of everything" prospects.

Not everything is positive, the IBCE consultants acknowledge; There is a risk that the small producer will be subject to predetermined purchasing conditions, forced indebtedness, and become an employee without labor or social rights (Solares & Solares, 2008). Su solución es simple: elaboración de normas legales apropiadas. Pero la verdad es que este “riesgo”, es también una vieja realidad, como lo certifica un estudio de la OIT el 2005 (Bedoya & Bedoya, 2005). El trabajo en la zafra de la caña, según otro estudio, es una de las peores formas de trabajo infantil; los niños desde los 6 años, trabajan con sus padres (Flores, 2008). Los grupos de migrantes llegan a la zafra en familia. Viven amontonados en carpas de plástico, sus condiciones de salud son deplorables y deben correr con los gastos de atención ellos mismos. El 32% de la mano de obra en las agroindustrias del norte cruceño, tiene una edad inferior a los catorce años (CEDLA, 2003, en Flores, 2008). Los contratos de trabajo están tercerizados (Bedoya & Bedoya, 2005), y la jornada laboral es de 12 a 14 horas.; la paga es por producción, y es común que se engañe en el pesaje. La situación es similar en la cosecha de algodón, pero se basa en el trabajo infantil, adolescente y de mujeres mayores (Flores, 2008).

Vemos así, que los abusos laborales los comete justamente el sector que ahora promociona los agrocombustibles y plantea la elaboración de una normativa para impedir esos abusos en la producción de agrocombustibles. Parte de esta estrategia para acceder a mercados acaudalados y “consientes” es la pretendida certificación “libre de trabajo infantil” para tapar un hueco y ocultar 10, porque los niños son una de las víctimas humanas y ambientales de este sistema. La experiencia de Bolivia con las certificaciones es elocuente: ocupa el primer lugar del mundo en área forestal certificada, pero solo un 5,7% del total corresponde a comunidades, el resto a empresas privadas. Esto ha empeorado porque en 1999, correspondía a las comunidades, un 9% de la extensión certificada (Villegas, 1999). Ahí vemos quienes se benefician; los grandes exportadores y sus acaudalados clientes del mundo desarrollado.

Connotaciones políticas de la campaña por los agrocombustibles

La campaña por los agrocombustibles, no es un objetivo económico aislado; es parte de una estrategia mayor manifiesta en el “Decálogo”: una serie de directivas que se envía al gobierno boliviano, que surge de más de 20 Foros de Diálogo con la Sociedad Civil realizados desde el año 2006 (IBCE, 2008b) financiados por USAID.

Sintéticamente, el Decálogo se refiere sobre todo a cuestiones de mercado de exportación; exige al gobierno la firma de un TLC con los EEUU y censura el acercamiento al MERCOSUR, ALBA, TCP y a Irán; exige que el gobierno aplique las demandas de los “actores productivos” y le critica su “fuerte orientación hacia un Estado Socialista-Comunitario, subsidiador y paternalista” (16); cuestiona su política de tierras (17) y, como anticipamos, abriga el tema de los agrocombustibles.

Otro aspecto de importancia es que la Directiva del IBCE es exclusivamente regional. La integran representantes de la Cámara Agropecuaria del Oriente (CAO), la Cámara Forestal de Bolivia, la Cámara de Exportadores de Santa Cruz, y la Cámara de Industria, Comercio, Servicios y Turismo de Santa Cruz (CAINCO). La participación de estos sectores en el movimiento separatista es un hecho público. Como es sabido, los separatistas, debido al sufragio popular, quedaron en minoría en la Asamblea Constituyente, pero lograron por otros medios, introducir cambios sustanciales en la nueva Constitución.

Con todo, la Constitución aprobada por la Constituyente y el Estatuto Autonómico (EA) de Santa Cruz compartían su interés por los agrocombustibles, pero el EA se atribuía una competencia exclusiva sobre el tema. Ahora la Constitución reformada en el parlamento les ha reconocido esa competencia. El EA está a favor de los transgénicos (Arts: 97-II; 98; 97-III); la Constitución parlamentaria también los ha aceptado. Con esto se han abierto las puertas, más que ha cierta tecnología, a un modelo de producción que no solo es anti ecológico sino que por su vinculación estrecha con el capital transnacional pone en riesgo la soberanía nacional. Un elemento clave de la influencia del EA en la nueva constitución es que se ha eliminado la posibilidad del monopolio de Estado (Art. 316;4), de su intervención directa en la producción (Art. 316;3), y conducción de la economía (Art. 316;2) (Villegas, 2009). Por lo demás, allá donde este modelo se establece, socaba seriamente los derechos laborales y humanos, y genera un ambiente de violencia y, en Bolivia, ha hecho carne en los sectores que buscan implantar un régimen fascista.

Parte central de la campaña por los agrocombustibles, es el enfoque en los pequeños propietarios y el empleo, y su argumentación pobre desde el punto de vista económico y en frecuentemente encubierta por una jerga izquierdista, hace evidente que su objetivo no es el declarado sino el ablandamiento de la resistencia social a los agrocombustibles y la seducción de los intelectuales, las ONGs y la gente del gobierno. En todo esto, el rol de cierta cooperación internacional es por demás claro.

A manera de conclusión

Hemos podido constatar hasta aquí que los agrocombustibles constituyen una respuesta cuando menos inadecuada ante problemáticas globales como el calentamiento global y el hambre. En efecto, la producción de estos carburantes a gran escala no representa ningún deslinde frente a los combustibles fósiles, que son requeridos para su elaboración y transporte. Además, implica una intensificación del modelo agrícola industrial, responsable de manera sustancial de la actual crisis ambiental y del empeoramiento de las condiciones de vida de las poblaciones más empobrecidas. Los únicos beneficiarios de esta propuesta resultan ser conglomerados de grandes grupos empresariales, varios de los cuales han contribuido de hecho en la generación del cambio climático y de una deuda ecológica no asumida, mediante su participación en la industria petrolera, automovilística, agroalimentaria y constructora. A partir de todos los elementos considerados, pensando también en la obsesión por el crecimiento sostenido –y no sostenible-, pilar de la lógica capitalista, la propuesta de la FAO nos sitúa ante una ecuación imposible de resolver. Además, parte de una consideración simplista tanto del medio ambiente como de las poblaciones afectadas.

Esto se debe a que desdeña un parámetro clave: los seres humanos todavía no somos autómatas. Los millones de personas empobrecidas en todo el planeta no pueden ser consideradas como máquinas que requieren una fuente de energía adecuada. Por ejemplo, las comunidades andinas pugnan por la introducción en la naciente Constitución boliviana, del Suma Qamaña, entendido como el “vivir bien”, en un territorio que para ellos es sagrado y donde la diversidad de la naturaleza y sus divinidades conviven con la especie humana. Tras años de estudio de diversas culturas indígenas en América Latina, la antropóloga Alicia Barabas señala que las representaciones sobre el espacio y las pautas culturales de construcción constituyen categorías estructurantes en una cultura puesto que sus significados y orientaciones resultan claves para la reproducción social (Barabas, 2003). Por tanto, es a partir del reconocimiento de la complejidad y diversidad cultural de los seres humanos que podemos acercarnos a dilemas como el cambio climático y a las contradicciones generadas por el sistema capitalista. Ante ello, las posibilidades de actuar son múltiples. Las organizaciones indígenas y campesinas han plasmado sus reivindicaciones en el concepto abarcador e integral de la soberanía alimentaria y más recientemente de la soberanía energética. Existen también campañas populares que demandan que sea detenida la plantación de cultivos energéticos y piden una moratoria frente a las políticas de la UE de incentivos a los agrocombustibles, importaciones de agrocombustibles y monocultivos agroenergéticos de la UE o que trabajan sobre la deuda ecológica y la soberanía alimentaria (18).

Es a partir de este tipo de iniciativas, y en un esfuerzo de empatía, escucha y colaboración entre las diferentes resistencias al sistema capitalista que podremos sin duda encarar de manera responsable los actuales problemas globales y recuperar la posibilidad de una vida digna para todos los pobladores del planeta.

Pablo Villegas es Investigador en antropología y salud pública y Mónica Vargas es Investigadora en el Observatorio de la Deuda en la Globalización, Cátedra UNESCO de Sostenibilidad (Universidad Politécnica de Cataluña).


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1 -Una parte de este artículo fue publicada inicialmente en el libro: Agrocombustibles. Llenando tanques, vaciando territorios, 2008, Censat Agua-Viva y Proceso de Comunidades Negras en Colombia, Bogotá, pp. 59-79.

2 -No utilizaremos aquí la denominación “biocombustible” ni “biocarburante”. Adoptamos la postura de cientos de organizaciones campesinas reunidas en el Foro Social Mundial sobre Soberanía Alimentaria de Nyeleni, según las cuales se trata de una industria que constituye una agresión para el medio ambiente.

3 -Se trata esencialmente de los agrocombustibles de segunda generación, que serán considerados más adelante.

4 -Por ejemplo, el término B30 indica que el diesel contiene 30% de biodiesel (GRAIN, 2007)

5 -Para una exhaustiva explicación de este fenómeno véase: García, F., Rivera-Ferre, M. y Ortega M. (2008).

6 -Para más información véase: García, F., Rivera-Ferre, M. (2008) y Ribeiro, S. (2008).

7 -Francesco Zaratti, cuando era delegado presidencial para la revisión y mejora de la capitalización, se movilizaba con viáticos pagados por Petrobras y Total. (Bolpress, 2004). Así, no extraña que declarara que: “No se puede obligar a las empresas a abastecer primero el mercado interno porque por precios y volúmenes es marginal con relación al mercado externo”, y que “No son empresas de caridad”. (Bolpress, 2008)

8 -Ante recientes restricciones de la UE a la importación de agrocombustibles, la informalmente llamada "OPEP de los Biocombustibles" integrada por Brasil, Argentina, Colombia, Malawi, Mozambique, Sierra Leona, Indonesia y Malasia tuvo que iniciar una campaña para que la UE revise sus exigencias ambientales para las importaciones de etanol, argumentando que estas congelarían la expansión de la producción de etanol en Sudamérica y en África ( Newsletter Nº 2, 14-11-2008). Esta situación muestra la extrema sensibilidad de los agrocombustibles al capricho de sus clientes, que no se guía, como queda claro de la decisión de la UE, por cuestiones de mercado. Como dice la tal “OPEP”, esto puede congelar nada menos que dos continentes, mientras la UE puede tranquilamente seguir viviendo sin agrocombustibles. Lula también se ha visto obligado a reclamar: “Hemos dicho que si queremos tener éxito en la ronda de Doha es preciso que los países ricos flexibilicen los precios agrícolas para que los productos de los países pobres entren a ese mercado. Entonces, dejen la
hipocresía y comiencen a comprar biocombustible” (La Razón Abril 28 de 2008).

9 -La disponibilidad física de tierras puede ser alterada, como ya ocurre en países como Argentina y Brasil, por la magnitud de capital volcado, en este caso, en cultivos para agrocombustibles, lo cual desalienta otro tipo de cultivos, genera demanda de tierras y produce un incremento de su precio y la especulación, que puede tornarse más importante que la producción misma. Por otra parte, para los pequeños propietarios pobres, no basta tener la tierra. Sin dinero para hacerla producir estos terminan de jornaleros, como ocurre con los guaraní en el Chaco boliviano, según constata Ormachea (2008).

10 -Los datos del INE muestran una baja de productividad generalizada entre los años 1993-1995.

11 -En general, los productos, tradicionales, es decir alimenticios y forrajeros, han aumentado su productividad y su extensión aunque todos han retrocedido en su participación relativa frente a los cultivos industriales que ya llegan al 50% del total cultivado.

12 -El Estatuto Autonómico de Santa Cruz anuncia la reagrupación, distribución y redistribución de las tierras para evitar el minifundio improductivo (Art. 105). Esto amenaza con reeditar la política iniciada por Melgarejo en 1867, que con el pretexto de salvar la tierra de las “manos muertas” de los indios, (que en el Estatuto aparecen como “minifundio improductivo”), desató una guerra por la tierra que desangró el área rural por décadas. (Villegas, 2008).

13 -Juan Carlos Lijerón, Coordinador del Proyecto “Bolivia – Estudio de Caso para la Mesa Redonda Global sobre Biocombustibles Sostenibles”, por su parte, plantea recuperar tierras degradadas o abandonadas por la migración. Aquí se trata evidentemente de la propiedad del pequeño productor, ni una palabra sobre las tierras “degradadas o abandonadas” de los latifundistas.

14 -No tomamos el 2020 porque el autor cometió errores de cálculo.

15 -Una cosechadora mecánica de caña hace el trabajo de 100 personas

16 -Su fundamentación es digna de leerse: “dejando de lado el hecho que el Muro de Berlín se vino abajo el año 1989, y que la Unión Soviética no existe más…” “históricamente se demostró que (el Estado) es un mal administrador”.

17 -Christian Sattori Ivanovic, Presidente de CONFEAGRO, a tiempo de criticar ácidamente la Ley 3545 (“Reconducción Comunitaria”) y su Reglamentación que genera inseguridad jurídica para el factor productivo “tierra” advirtió que sin medidas de fondo para producir más alimentos, ello condenará a los pobres a morir de inanición, cuando lo lógico sería que Bolivia con todo el potencial productivo con que cuenta, se dé a la tarea, no de hacer política con la economía, sino a generar más producción para atender no solo el mercado interno, sino la creciente demanda mundial. (IBCE, 2008c)

18 -Véase;


Partiendo de una percepción, hoy cuestionada desde diferentes ámbitos, según la cual los agrocombustibles no aumentarían la concentración de CO2 en la atmósfera, varios países han legislado a favor de una implementación obligatoria de estos carburantes en el sector de los transportes, sin disponer de la capacidad de producción necesaria.

Únicamente en Brasil, 59% de las emisiones provienen de la deforestación debida a la expansión de los cultivos de soya y de caña de azúcar.

La agricultura y los cambios del uso del suelo (deforestación) representan respectivamente 14 y 18% de las emisiones de gases responsables del calentamiento global (Stern, 2006)

Cargill, ADM, ConAgra, Bunge y Dreyfus dominan más del 80% del comercio mundial de cereales, mientras que Monsanto es la principal empresa de semillas comerciales y la quinta en el sector de los agrotóxicos. Cargill, ADM, ConAgra, Bunge y Dreyfus dominan más del 80% del comercio mundial de cereales, mientras que Monsanto es la principal empresa de semillas comerciales y la quinta en el sector de los agrotóxicos.

En Paraguay, el avance de los monocultivos de soya transgénica y de caña de azúcar se expresa también en un compulsivo proceso de acaparamiento de las mejores tierras.

El Plan Puebla Panamá (PPP) y la Iniciativa para la Integración de las Infraestructuras Sudamericanas (IIRSA) son megaproyectos que consideran a la rebelde geografía latinoamericana como un obstáculo para la extracción de materias primas y el transporte de mercancías.

El monopolio impera también en la tenencia de la tierra y los agrocombustibles avanzan donde ya esta constituido. En Bolivia existen 14.000 productores de soya (, en Ribera, 2008), y un 70% de sus tierras está en manos de 300 grandes empresarios, sólo 30 de ellos bolivianos (Montes de Oca, 2005), esto es que la extranjerización es parte del monopolio.

El concepto de seguridad alimentaria manejado por el IBCE, excluye la soberanía nacional sobre la alimentación, que se justifica, entre otras cosas, porque la dependencia alimentaria constituye un efectivo instrumento de presión de los países ricos sobre los pobres.

Video: Thermochemical Conversion of Biomass to Biofuels via Gasification (May 2021).