Le Bio-éthanol ruine les aliments

Le programme alimentaire Philippin est sous pression

Manila - Herculano “Joji“ Co, president of the Philippine Confederation of Grains Associations (Philcongrains), has urged government to look into the problem posed by the inroads of bioethanol production into prime agricultural land. Co said reports about tens of thousands of hectares of prime agricultural land being transformed into sugar plantations for the production of bioethanol in Isabela and Cavite would tell on the country's food security. “Hindi ako palo sa ganyan (I don't subscribe to that),“ he stressed in an interview.

Alarm about the conversion of land for biofuel production has been raised in Africa as well since China has been aggressively working to cut deals in several countries to produce bioethanol to feed its growing energy needs. The demand would surely rise as China has surpassed Japan and has become the world's second biggest economy.

Last week, the Rural Poor Institute for Land and Human Rights Services, Inc. (RIGHTS) warned that biofuel production under the Biofuel Act of 2007 (RA 9367) has already undermined the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) and said corporations producing bioethanol feedstock had al ready succeeded in securing leases from beneficiaries in Isabela.

Instead of being smallholder farmers, these tillers are now transformed into wage laborers for the large firms producing bioethanol for China and Japan, RIGHTS' Danilo T. Carranza said.

Many of these farmers, he added, do not even have copies of the lease agreements that they have signed with the corporations, he noted, “and the farmers had been told they would secure copies of these contracts later.“ As a rice miller, Co is concerned about the reduction of palay output since about 11,000 hectares in Isabela are being transformed into sugar plantations.

The same concern covers the 6,500 hectares producing rice and vegetables in Cavite that will be transformed into sugar farms.

Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano also noted the latest form of land conversion would ring alarm bells for the country's food security since it would further reduce the 4 million hectares currently planted to rice. All told, 40 percent of agricultural land in the country is planted to rice.

Roman Sanchez of the National Food Authority Employees Association (NFAEA) stressed the Japanese, Brazilians and other foreign businessmen have been trying to secure land for the same purpose. Failing in this, NFAEA spokes man Larry Tan said, they are cutting joint venture agreements with local business groups to engage in bioethanol production.

In Isabela, a separate company, Ecofuel Land Development, Inc. (Ecofuel), will grow the sugarcane and supply the bioethanol feedstock from land described as ”idle,” “grasslands” and “marginal.” The towns covered are San Mariano, Benito Soliven, Naguilian, Ilagan, Gamu and Cauayan, which comprise the forest region in the province.

As in the case of Cavite, the land was leased from agrarian reform beneficiaries from three to 10 years at a price ranging from P3,000 to P5,000 per hectare, with the lease paid in lump sum for the first three years and a signing bonus of P500 per hectare.

In Cavite, land use arrangements also involve land lease at a rate of P5,000 per hectare per year but for a longer period of 25 years. Farms under lease will be managed directly by CBPI,” Carranza said.

In Quezon, a total of 10,000 hectares of land is being tapped for jatropha production, with the Tagkawayan town having a production area of 1,500 hectares, using mainly areas covered by an integrated social forestry (ISF) program, as the base by the Jatropha Farmers Multipurpose Cooperative. “The Quezon case is unusual in that a reforestation area is being used mainly for biofuel feedstock production. The cooperative will sell seedlings at P3 each to the members while the seeds will be sold to the Philippine National Oil Co.-Alternative Fuels Corp. (PNOC-AFC) at P450 a kilo,“ Carranza said.

Manila Bulletin, Marvyn N. Benaning