The geopolitics of agrofuels

The geopolitics of agrofuels

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By Global South

We understand that the only way to overcome the climate and energy crisis that definitely threatens the continuity of all Life on the planet is the overcoming of capitalism. The transition towards a post-oil society and a new sense of "development", in the construction of a Way of overcoming capitalism, will be on ecological bases; or it may not be.

Global South Position Paper on Food Sovereignty, Energy Sovereignty and the Transition to a Post-Oil Society

Convened to the first working meeting to discuss agrofuels and the challenge of "development" in a post-oil society, the organizations gathered in Ecuador, latitude 0, from June 27 to July 1, 2007, invited the debate from the Global South in the following terms:

Appropriately named by social movements as AGROFUELS, the so-called “biofuels” and all energy generation through biomass as it has been promoted by governments, corporations, aid agencies, the United Nations, international financial institutions and other agents. interested in their large-scale production and international trade - they DO NOT change, but PERPETUATE the model of production and consumption of modern, urban and industrial civilization.

The ecological and energy crisis that is imposed on the entire planet, together with the inescapable urgency to stop global warming and give way to a transition towards a post-oil society and economy, oblige us to a deeper analysis and generate political changes truly transformative.

Recognizing that we have a necessary task of looking for alternative energies, it is essential to outline the global strategy currently underway for the feverish promotion of agro-energy in its structural terms.

Hydrocarbons are the main driving force in the globalized economy, where the extraction and control of fossil fuels has an intrinsic relationship with the power networks that control the world through the control of energy. Furthermore, we can confirm that in this oil civilization the main misfortunes, climatic catastrophes, wars, famines, forced displacements and slavery are linked precisely to the military control of the territory and of fossil energy.

The energy / industrial matrix based on fossil fuels, which sustains the current urban industrial civilization and the state of development is in crisis. We live in a time when these energy sources are running out, so capitalism imperatively seeks new forms of energy generation, including agrofuels. From our perspective as agro-exporting countries of the South, subject to this condition under the logic of foreign debt and our colonial history, agrofuels deepen the model of agribusiness and industrial agriculture, understood as the sum of monocultures, biotechnology, pesticides and financial capital and export.

Agrofuels mean the installation of a new global geopolitics

1. Background and axes of resistance: Food Sovereignty

The industrial agriculture model started with the Green Revolution is petro-dependent on energy and inputs, and the end of one means the decline of the other. Furthermore, the historical roots of today's industrial monocultures were plantations, a colonial invention that today reproduces and multiplies its rationality and corresponding productive logic.

Control of the world agri-food system is one of the main components of globalization. The effects of neoliberal policies in the countryside, the expansion of agro-biotechnology, the proliferation of free trade agreements, including the fight against an Agreement on Agriculture in the WTO, were the catalytic force of an international peasant movement ( La Via Campesina). In the same way, the resistance of the Indigenous Peoples has been strengthening in the face of the privatization of natural resources and ecosystems in indigenous territories.

The political proposal of these movements is the “Defense of Food Sovereignty”, which is expressed in the right of the peoples to decide and control their policies for the production, distribution and consumption of food, and the commercialization or not of surpluses, only after having guaranteed the needs of the population with the resources of their territory and in a culturally and environmentally appropriate pattern. This is a radical proposal that requires the transformation of the agro-exporting economies of the South and the pattern of consumption in the North.

As the protection of natural resources such as land and water is inseparable from the practice of agriculture, decisions about their use and management cannot be made by individual producers based on private ownership of the land. Therefore, Food Sovereignty as a political principle proposes that the self-determination of the peoples be guaranteed by the collective decision on food production, and agricultural, pastoral, fishing or collecting activities, emphasizing it as a fundamental principle.

Taking into account the richness of the collective political debate developed by social movements, we raise the issue of agrofuels - which we already define as a deepening of agribusiness - in the terms of Food Sovereignty.

The industrialization of agriculture is inherent to the expulsion of the peasantry and configures agriculture without farmers, affecting all of society from the countryside. It implies the dispossession of communities and their territories, the concentration and privatization of land and water sources, the erosion of biodiversity, the destruction of natural ecosystems, and violence and militarization based on the control of natural resources.

This process of marginalization that begins in the countryside exacerbates the unsustainable circuit of accelerated urbanization, which gives rise to the crisis of energy, infrastructure, housing, food, health and other basic services, jobs and access to food in the cities. Urban poverty generates violence, conflicts and the social unrest that characterizes the big cities of the South.

This is a global, hegemonic and dialectical process, which has led to an unquestionable ecological and energy crisis. For this reason, technological responses such as transgenic seeds, offered as a solution to “hunger” are not acceptable, when their final purpose is the control of agricultural production, the imposition of intellectual property rights, and the commodification of life and nature. Not biofuels, promoted to solve a possible energy crisis, or as a false solution to climate change, without taking into account structural issues that have generated large urban conglomerates that are supplied by goods transported from different parts of the planet, and that force people to move ever greater distances, generating endless demand for energy.

Nor can the solution be through commercial instruments such as carbon trading, the sale of environmental services, green certifications, "sustainable" round tables, the insertion of carbon plantations in the projects of the Clean Development Mechanism of the Protocol. of Kyoto and other creations promoted by market environmentalism, instruments that generate more problems than they solve, and whose proposals and positions we radically oppose.

The ideology of "development", elaborated after the Second World War as a way to spread colonialism, hides the continuity and deepening of the looting logic. Practices, institutions and structures were created around this ideology that, in the name of development, prolonged and diversified the forms of looting in the South. At the end of the 20th century, development was dressed in green and the term "sustainable development" was coined, which what it actually does is "support" colonial domination and supply.

The points presented above are the result of the debate held during our meeting and express the set and complexity of the reflections we made on the subject. We consider these items to be non-negotiable. If you share our vision, we invite you to continue reading.

2. The geopolitics of agrofuels

The submission of local agricultural systems to the industrial model and to an exogenous energy demand is a political issue that implies power relations over ecosystems and peoples. This power manifests itself on two well-defined levels:

First.- The current world dependence on fossil fuels is satisfied through a geopolitics of war.

To guarantee control of hydrocarbon resources, and now biofuels, industrialized countries and their transnational corporations have developed both economic and financial mechanisms as well as political and military ones. In this sense, international trade agreements have been designed that allow free access to resources through market laws. These commercial treaties, bilateral or multilateral, go hand in hand with the expansion of infrastructure projects (pipelines to transport gas, oil, minerals and today biofuels such as ethanol or biodiesel; roads, waterways, ports, processing infrastructure, storage and sale of fuels, power lines, etc.). International financial institutions, through various strategies and mechanisms, trap countries in a spiral of dependency and death, for example through debt. When a government or its people consider breaking with this dependency, they run the risk of economic, political or military retaliation. The geopolitics of oil is designed not only to gain access to hydrocarbons, but to control their distribution. This explains many of the armed conflicts in the Middle East, Afghanistan and the Caucasus, where control of the transportation routes of Caspian crude is at stake by US, European and Russian companies and their governments.

Just as a new geopolitics was configured to ensure access to fossil fuels, in the same way a new correlation of forces is being configured around the world. The clearest example is the Lula-Bush alliance (Brazil and the United States) for the creation of a world market for agro-energy commodities, which is already translating into a rearrangement of global power. This is how the announcement made by Brazil about the restart of its nuclear program and the uranium enrichment cycle did not generate the opposition that countries such as Iran or North Korea have faced, since today Brazil is one of the countries that make up the circle. of friends of Bush and the power of American interests.

We clarify categorically and without any ambiguity, that nuclear energy is unacceptable, this position is non-negotiable, regardless of the reason for which nuclear energy is promoted. Humanity and the environment have already experienced enough impacts and suffering from its consequences.

Second.- The geopolitics of agrofuels imposes a territorial reorganization at a global level.

This rearrangement means, in this first moment, the deterritorialization of food crops for the production of energy inputs, with chain impacts on the entire economy and costs, due to the obvious price competition with food (as already observed in the rise in prices of corn and oils in different parts of the world, and whose most paradigmatic example was the tortilla war in Mexico, at the beginning of 2007).

On a broader level, and already related to the second generation of biofuels from non-food species (eucalyptus, switch grass, miscanthus, among others), the occupation of land on an increasing and progressive scale to 'replace' oil, will impact more seriously to the rural population, generating strong migratory flows, in addition to a drastic reduction in the production and supply of food species with the consequent rise in prices and fewer possibilities of access to food.

This pressure on the territories is going to be accentuated, as a result of the motto repeated by its promoters who maintain that agrofuels are going to settle in the so-called "marginal lands" or "arid", which are actually lands beyond the current agroindustrial frontier and which are precisely those that feed the vast majority of the poor and peasant population, and the indigenous peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America with non-commercial crops such as various species of tubers and vegetables. It is in these marginal lands that millions of hectares are being introduced to Jatropha crops, which is being promoted as a miracle crop in arid regions of India, the Sahel and West Africa.

In short, the reproduction of capitalism in a society in transition towards the post-oil era depends at this time on the incorporation and control, even military, of gigantic extensions of territory. Thus, the axis of resistance is to ensure the integrity of sovereignty over the territories, guaranteeing food and local energy: building energy and food sovereignty; and redefining political sovereignty.

3. The great routes of agrofuels

At the moment we identify the following main central routes for the flow of agrofuels from the South:

to. The embrace of ethanol. Brazil and the United States and the Central American corridor.

The strategic and media alliance between Lula and Bush, the two world leaders in the production of ethanol (sugar cane and corn respectively) has a clear objective: to define a new geopolitics for Latin America (oil versus agrofuels) by promoting the creation of an international market for agro-energy commodities with the holding of an “International Conference on Biofuels”, sponsored by the UN in Brazil in July 2008.

In this context, Brazil has as a political project - to become the main supplier of biofuels and technology for ethanol. For this, President Lula is emerging as the new world leader and Brazil as the power of the South, for which strategic alliances have been established with China, India, South Africa, etc., aspiring to access the UN Security Council. On an economic level, Brazil's interest is to access the market of the United States and Europe, via the tariff advantages that Central American and Caribbean countries have. That is why it wants to expand sugarcane and oil palm production and processing plants to those countries.

The National Agroenergy Plan of Brazil estimates 200 million hectares as a potential area for expansion of energy crops, including the "recovery of degraded areas, conversion of pastures and‘ reforestation ’of the Amazon with palm." To implement the Plan, a network of Alcohol-pipelines, storage plants, processing, ports, highways and waterways must be built, which will increase the use of iron from the mines of Gran Carajás, the destruction of natural ecosystems and of the social fabric in this region of Amazonia, in addition to dramatically increasing the production of cement and concrete, one of the most energetic industries.

b. From the world's barn to a global refinery. Transgenic soy in Argentina and the Southern Cone.

Transforming the landscape of the Argentine countryside into a monoculture of 17 million hectares of transgenic soybeans only took 10 years - replacing the production of cereals, meat and other foods by that of only a commodity for export, concentrated in the hands of the main transnational companies of the International Trade. Now being the world's leading oil exporter, Argentina seeks to become the main supplier for the European demand for biodiesel, for which the Argentine government has already requested preferential tariffs from the European Union.

The agribusiness commitment to the export of agrofuels has put a biodiesel production gear into operation in association with national capitals such as Vicentín, AGD-Bunge SA and SACEIF - Louis Dreyfus, and the oil sector Repsol-YPF and the national ENARSA that participate in projects between 25 and 30 million dollars.

To meet the export demand for oils and grains, now added to that of soybean biodiesel, and also to meet the internal legislated requirements of obligatorily incorporating a percentage of agrofuel into fossil fuels - deforestation of between 4 and 7 million is programmed more than hectares of native forests to advance with the soybean frontier, the displacement of fruit trees and the cultivation of vegetables and crops under irrigation in Patagonia, as well as the import of 3 to 4 million tons of soybeans from Bolivia, Brazil , and especially Paraguay.

For this reason, the realization of the Paraguay-Paraná waterway has been accelerated, a way for the runoff of commodities produced in the interior territory to the port of Rosario (and refining area), projected within the framework of the Initiative for the Integration of South American Infrastructure (IIRSA), which includes the construction of highways, waterways and dams, with significant private sector investments in resource extraction and agribusiness.

This is the backbone that consolidates the political and territorial project of agribusiness in the Southern Cone, which transcends the borders of the States to establish an area of ​​expansion of the production and movement of commodities to export to the north, which is consolidated with the production of agrofuels.

c. The bitter history of palm oil. Palm plantations in natural ecosystems and indigenous territories.

At the moment, 88% of the world palm oil trade comes from Malaysia and Indonesia, which is due to an expansion of the area covered by this crop. In the last 20 years, production has doubled in Malaysia and tripled in Indonesia, at the cost of the disappearance of its tropical forests. The growth of palm plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia responds to the growing demand for palm oil especially for the European market.

Despite the official defense that the oil palm industry has not produced deforestation, the government of Sarawak, in Malaysian Borneo, accepted that 2.4 million hectares of forests have been concessioned for the palm and pulp industry and paper, an area that can reach 3 million hectares by the end of 2007, which constitutes a quarter of the total area of ​​Sarawak. Industrial palm plantations are often owned by transnational logging companies, which once they deforest an area for timber extraction, plant it with palm monocultures, transforming the forest into oil.

Even though these forests are claimed by indigenous communities as part of their traditional territories, and although many of these communities depend on the forest resources for their subsistence, neither the legislation nor the government have fully recognized their customary rights; And despite their ongoing protests, palm plantations continue to expand.

Palm oil is emerging as the main source for the production of biodiesel at the expense of natural ecosystems and indigenous territories also in other tropical countries, the most worrying case being that of Colombia, where palm plantations spread hand in hand with paramilitarism , displacing entire populations.

The expansion of palm cultivation in Malaysia, Indonesia and other tropical countries, respond to the increase in demand for palm oil in the world market, especially after the increase in the goals that have been imposed in the European Union to replace fuels fossils for agrofuels.

d. Africa: on the road to further looting

Of the colossal number of actors related to the promotion of agrofuels in Africa, Brazil is emerging as the most strategic and rapacious.

Brazil has turned to the African continent, which it sees as an important piece in its ambitions to create a global market for ethanol. This country has successfully obtained the support of several African countries, such as Senegal and Benin through bilateral and trilateral cooperation agreements, and has relied on the African Union, bypassing several United Nations agencies, to ensure the implementation of harmonized legal and economic instruments to sustain a viable agrofuel market. Through the International Biofuels Forum, Brazil with its partners China, India, South Africa, the United States and the European Union, will aggressively promote an international market for biofuels, regardless of the rest of the world, and thus ensure that ethanol becomes a commodity in the international market. To achieve these goals, silent and sterile sugarcane plantations will proliferate on African soils, once dedicated to growing food.

In this context, several energy transnationals such as BP, D1 Engrasa and Petrobras have started agrofuel projects in Africa, to indiscriminately produce either fossil fuels or agrofuels, in countries as small as Swaziland or oil powers such as Nigeria. These predatory companies will sustain any adventure, at any social and environmental cost, if it is to contribute to their overall strategy of prolonging peak oil. Countries like Ghana, the large Jatropha plantations are strongly related to the carbon market under the Kyoto Protocol.

The political scene in Africa is set for large-scale agrofuel production. Mozambique has been chosen as the leader in Southern Africa. Through the state oil company it is expected to have an investment of 55 million dollars for projects with sugar cane and Jatropha, and thus supply the regional and international ethanol and biodiesel market.

Manifesto for De-development: the path we propose from the south

Agrofuels and all energy generation through biomass as promoted by governments, corporations, aid agencies, the United Nations, international financial institutions and other agents interested in their large-scale production and international trade - They do not change, but rather perpetuate the model of production and consumption of modern, urban and industrial civilization that has generated inequity, war, and environmental destruction.

The decline of the oil civilization and the reproduction of capitalism

The reproduction of the current state of predatory Western civilization, whose form is globalized neoliberalism, is based on oil.

All the driving forces behind the global production, circulation and marketing of goods depend on hydrocarbons: the hydrocarbon industry itself, the agri-food industry, pharmaceutical companies, textile fiber companies, the industries involved in the production of detergents, cosmetics, explosives, celluloid, plastics in general, building materials, packaging, electrical appliances, etc. In the same way, the global transport of people and materials, the mobility and speed with which workers and products move and are exchanged around the globe, also depend on fossil fuels, either due to the dependency that has been created around the car; by the way in which the megalopolises have been designed, built and expanded, or by the form of occupation of urban space and other territories.

The demand for energy and raw materials to suppress and maintain the life pattern of Northern societies, translated daily into food, clothing, housing and mobility is what gives flesh and body to the universal ideal of lifestyle, well-being and "progress. Aggressively promoted through globalization as a universal standard for humanity.

In the current paradigm of "growth" oriented towards the integration of the global market and trade, agrofuels are promoted as gradual substitutes for oil to maintain environmentally unsustainable patterns of production and consumption in the North. Faced with this, we understood that the lifestyle promoted by the North and the elites of the South and which reaches its maximum expression in the so-called "American way of life" is what must be transformed. They are the main consumers of energy, the United States together with Western Europe and joined today by China and the minority elites of the South.

China, the world's great factory, reproduces the production and consumption model created by the North, while supplying the world market, especially the North, with everything that it consumes. We understand that China's growth model is not a model for the South.

The materiality of everything that is part of the daily life of the “developed” countries, promoted to the world as a universal model of material well-being, quality of life and human progress, depends entirely on an irrational energy and ecological demand, historically constructed through of the continuous looting of nature and the peoples of the South. For the South of the world, this "oil" model allowed the perpetuation of unequal exchange, technological dependence, indebtedness, the impoverishment of peoples, the dispossession of their territories and the desecration of their sacred places. We have experienced, from the SOUTH, that the pattern of life that the minority of the Planet enjoys, is maintained with the exploitation of Nature and human labor, to feed the flows of goods and services that have historically caused climate changes, warming global and colonial domination of the North over the South.

In summary: the priority impulse of agrofuels as gradual substitutes for oil is to maintain the global circulation of goods and the environmentally unsustainable demand for energy and raw materials to promote as a universal ideal the standard of life of Northern societies, in its logic historical dependence and colonial exploitation on the ecosystems and peoples of the South.

Our response to the fallacy of the positive energy balance of agrofuels is the historical verification of the ecological and social devastation generated by the Green Revolution - petro-dependent - and with the effects attributed to industrial agriculture, which has resulted in the loss of 75% of biodiversity over the last century, according to FAO; in addition to having promoted the dismantling of local agriculture and markets to impose the global agri-food system through the corporations that control the production chain with the highest concentration of power in the world - agribusiness.

We understand that the only way to overcome the climate and energy crisis that definitely threatens the continuity of all Life on the planet is the overcoming of capitalism.

The transition towards a post-oil society and a new sense of "development", in the construction of a Way of overcoming capitalism, will be on ecological bases; or it may not be.

The energy issue, as well as food production, are the concrete and indivisible axes of resistance and construction of another project of society, and of new relations of exchange between the peoples of humanity, and of these with nature; and thus subvert - de facto - the colonial and subordination logic.

We agree that the political logic of the new global society in this transition route - and the strategy of autonomy of the peoples over their territories - should be guided by the central premise of guaranteeing Energy Sovereignty in agreement and complementarity with the radical defense of Food Sovereignty.

Therefore, the only consequent debate on agrofuels must be framed within a new paradigm of de-development that includes a radical structural transformation of the entire economy and of our way of life and the dismantling of the macro energy system that sustains and guarantees global power. .

The axes of de-development are:

* De-urbanize, to restore the existence of the population on a human scale, supplying the needs in the local market and with local energy sources.

* De-globalize trade and the transport of goods, especially agricultural and food, to attack the main source of consumption of liquid fuels: refrigerated trucks that transport the entire chain of meat and dairy products, airplanes that transport tropical flowers and fruits ; the gigantic grain ships powered by diesel to bring soybeans to Europe and China, etc .; that generate a flagrant negative energy balance, and that sustains the illusory discourse of “growth”.

* Des- tecnologizar la producción de alimentos, a partir de tomar a los sistemas productivos como agroecosistemas donde la biodiversidad y la nutrición adecuada de los suelos reemplacen a las tecnologías puntuales y contaminantes de derivadas del petróleo.

* Des-petrolizar la economía, la mejor política contra el cambio climático es la eliminación de los combustibles fósiles, dejando el petróleo y el gas en el subsuelo. Eso no debe confundirse con soluciones ficticias como el “descarbonizar la economía” o sea, promocionar el mercado de carbono, los mecanismos de desarrollo limpio y la implementación conjunta que perpetúan el modelo petrolero destructivo, bajo la lógica del mercado.

* Des-centralizar la generación y distribución de energía, a través de tecnologías que no recreen la dependencia, y que garanticen el abastecimiento de acuerdo a las necesidades de la población local, lo que se diferencia de promover la privatización de la energía, aun de fuentes “alternativas” bajo el argumento de “proveer acceso de energía para los pobres”. En otras palabras: recuperar y defender el principio de la energía como un servicio y no un negocio y una mercancía ofrecida en el mercado. En esta línea de argumentación debe construirse la Soberanía Energética.

Se trata de abrir esta agenda de debate en el seno de los sectores de “izquierda” en nuestras distintas regiones del globo, replanteando en estos términos radicales el entendido de una propuesta de enfrentamiento y superación del capitalismo en acuerdo con las contradicciones de la acumulación, en este momento histórico.

Por el rol estratégico de la región Latinoamericana en la promoción e instalación del modelo global de Agroenergía, y en vista a la Conferencia Internacional de Biocombustibles, auspiciada por la ONU, a ser realizada en Brasil en julio de 2008, reafirmamos nuestra tarea de cuestionar entre los gobiernos promotores del “Socialismo del Siglo XXI” cual será el modelo energético que sustentará esta propuesta, sin aceptar cooptaciones nacionales al modelo propuesto por el capital.

Para que esta visión sea el fundamento de un programa político de la era post-petrolera, los abajo firmantes nos comprometemos a replantear nuestros posicionamientos – sin concesiones – como lo impone la radicalidad de la crisis ecológica y energética

Siguen firmas

Video: Biomass pyrolysis process (June 2022).


  1. Kimo

    In my opinion, this is obvious. I will not talk about this topic.

  2. Wynston

    Thank you for choosing advice, how can I thank you?

  3. Tojakazahn

    and where is the logic with you?

  4. Burns

    Yes, really. So happens. Let's discuss this question.

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