Miriam Leitao at PostGlobal

Miriam Leitao

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Miriam Leitao is a reporter and columnist for O Globo and Radio CBN in Brazil. She is also a commentator on Globo TV Network and runs her own blog, www.miriamleitao.com, hosted at Globo online at www.oglobo.com.br. She was awarded Columbia University’s Maria Moors Cabot Prize in 2005. Close.

Miriam Leitao

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Miriam Leitao is a reporter and columnist for O Globo and Radio CBN in Brazil. more »

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Stop Wasting Corn on Ethanol

Let's start with good news. One part of the problem is that more people have gotten used to eating. The sustainable growth in many countries such as China, India, many African countries and throughout Latin America has increased income levels. This has delivered food security to millions of human beings who have never had it -- and, of course, has had the consequence of higher prices.

If rising demand and prices for food were the only problem, the simple solution would be to increase production. However, there are other factors at play. Two of them are climate change and the attempt to mitigate it.

Climate change is spreading extreme events all over the world, like serial droughts in Australia, flooding in other countries, a variety of problems in Canada and desertification in China. These events reduce both crop yields and agricultural lands.

Moreover, attempts to mitigate climate change by the use of biofuels have made the problem worse because the United States took the wrong path in this field. The choice of corn as the raw material for biofuel is stupid to say the least. It is inefficient, and means that less corn is available for animal feed and human consumption. Using corn to produce biofuel is in fact only taxing the land.

Let's end with some good news: Brazil can be part of the solution, and I promise that I am not thinking of destroying the Amazon to produce sugar cane and food. Brazil is a top exporter of soy, corn, bovine meat, chicken, oranges, coffee, sugar and an important producer of many other products. It is using only 100 million acres for agriculture. It has another 200 million acres in fallow land, and another 400 million to inefficiently raise cattle.

More modern ways of production can convert part of this land to be used to grow food -- and more biofuels. Making ethanol from sugar cane is far more efficient than making it from corn, and the result is that Brazil uses less than 15 million acres of sugar cane plantations to produce 55% of our transport fuel.

Unfortunately, Brazilian producers have a terrible track record in respecting the environment and protecting workers rights. The consumers have to demand certification of production standards for the products they consume. Otherwise, the world will create another vicious circle that will further aggravate climate change risks and therefore the food supply.


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