Food Security

Biofuel feedstock has to be grown and there is only so much suitable land in the world for growing plants. Very little, for instance, is going to grow in the Sahara Desert. The problem with growing crops for fuel is that they take up land that could be used for growing food. In a world with a population approaching 9 billion and that is already short on food, there will necessarily be a tradeoff between food crop and biofuel feedstock. Every effort is made to grow feedstock that uses "none agricultural land." This means crops like corn and soybeans are out of the running.

Now, the impact on the food supply may not be quite as great as initially estimated for the simple reason that land classified as "agricultural," isn't necessarily being actively planted. This has occurred as advances in crop technology have led to the production of larger harvests on less land. Estimates in 2008 suggested that the following regions could grow biofuel on abandoned agricultural land.


Biofuel Production

(millions of tonnes/yr)


88 - 245


139 - 293


95 - 321


144 - 364

North America

211 - 697

South America

154 - 480

The problem is as difficult to ascertain as it is to solve. Some estimates suggest that if biofuel production doubles from its 2006 production, then by the year 2020 there will be an additional 90 million people at risk of hunger on top of those already at risk. This should indicate that even though farmland sits unused, that does not mean that there is abundant food across the planet. The truth may be closer to the fact that unused farmland is not profitable for food production, even though tens of millions of people are at risk of hunger right now. The vast majority of the increase in "at risk for hunger" individuals, if biofuel production increases, will occur in Eastern Asia, but there will still be 20 million people in "developed" countries who will be additionally put at risk. The major driver of this increase in hunger risk comes from increases in food prices that will result from the fact that agricultural land can "earn more" if it is planted with biofuels. That means farmers will demand higher prices for food to offset what they lose by not planting biofuel feedstock.

World map of people at risk of hunger by 2020