Biofuel moratorium ‘would slash food prices’

A moratorium on grain and oilseed-based biofuels could slash food prices by up to 20% within the next two years, according to leading agricultural researchers.

Figures from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) suggest that suspension of production this year would reduce corn prices by about 20% and wheat by about 10% in 2009-10.

During a briefing on global food prices organised by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), a group of international experts backed the moratorium.

However, they argued that other crops, such as sugarcane, could still be a valuable source of biofuels.

Joachim von Braun, director general of the IFPRI, told reporters: “I am not advocating a general moratorium on all biofuels because there are biofuels and biofuels – there are good and bad ones.”

He added: “The waste-based and sugarcane-based biofuel production can be very good and the opportunities of agriculture being an energy producing sector should not be in principle discarded.”

His suggestion was backed by Robert Zeigler, director general of the International Rice Research Institute.

“If we are talking about biofuels derived from maize, soybean oil, palm oil, yes I think I would support a moratorium on that,” he said.

“If we are talking about biofuels generated from sugarcane or other non-consumable plant products I would not support a moratorium there.”

At a meeting in Switzerland held on the same day, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon announced that a task force would be set up to try to resolve the global food crisis.

The heads of United Nations agencies, funds and programmes, experts from within the UN and leading authorities from around the world will be involved.

“I am confident that we can deal with the global food crisis,” he said. “We have the resources, we have the knowledge, we know what to do.

“We should, therefore, consider this, not only as a problem, but also as an opportunity.”

Kate Martin

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