This ought to be an old story. It should not count as news.
When governments choose, as a matter of policy, to turn a significant part of the worldwide corn crop into biofuels, the price of corn will rise. When the price of corn rises, corn-based foods become more expensive. Then, poor people who depend on corn for much of their diet can no longer afford to eat. They suffer malnourishment and/or starvation.
But, since it’s all happening in the name of a good green cause, no one cares.
Sacrificing a few Guatemalan peasants to save the planet: sounds worthwhile.
Only the most extreme greens really believe that human beings are a planetary scourge whose impact needs to be severely circumscribed. Yet, their well-meaning fellow travelers institute policies that do just that.
A few days ago New York Times reporter Elizabeth Rosenthal filed this:
In the tiny tortillerias of this city, people complain ceaselessly about the high price of corn. Just three years ago, one quetzal — about 15 cents — bought eight tortillas; today it buys only four. And eggs have tripled in price because chickens eat corn feed.
Rosenthal clearly identifies the cause of the problem: government interference in the marketplace.
In a globalized world, the expansion of the biofuels industry has contributed to spikes in food prices and a shortage of land for food-based agriculture in poor corners of Asia, Africa and Latin America because the raw material is grown wherever it is cheapest.
Nowhere, perhaps, is that squeeze more obvious than in Guatemala, which is “getting hit from both sides of the Atlantic,” in its fields and at its markets, said Timothy Wise, a Tufts University development expert who is studying the problem globally with Actionaid, a policy group based in Washington that focuses on poverty.
With its corn-based diet and proximity to the United States, Central America has long been vulnerable to economic riptides related to the United States’ corn policy. Now that the United States is using 40 percent of its crop to make biofuel, it is not surprising that tortilla prices have doubled in Guatemala, which imports nearly half of its corn.
But, then, corn is not the most profitable biofuels crop. As long as there is an artificial demand for the raw materials for biofuels, farmers will plant crops that will yield more profits on the biofuels market.
At the same time, Guatemala’s lush land, owned by a handful of families, has proved ideal for producing raw materials for biofuels. Suchitepéquez Province, a major corn-producing region five years ago, is now carpeted with sugar cane and African palm. The field Mr. Alvarado used to rent for his personal corn crop now grows sugar cane for a company that exports bioethanol to Europe.