JO - Jamaica urged to look at alternatives to imported corn for feedstock
Jamaica urged to look at alternatives to imported corn for feedstock
BY KIMONE THOMPSON
Sunday Observer senior reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
Sunday, November 16, 2008
CONCERNS are brewing in the local agricultural sector that food prices could skyrocket once Barack Obama takes up office as the 44th president of the United States and starts to enforce his energy plans.
The proposal promotes the development of alternative sources of energy and includes renewable sources such as solar, wind and geothermal energy as well as nuclear and clean coal technologies. Emphasis is also placed on the development of biofuels from feedstock.
"[Biofuels] offer tremendous potential to break our addiction to oil. Barack Obama and Joe Biden will work to ensure that these clean alternative fuels are developed and incorporated into our national supply as soon as possible," reads a section of Obama's proposal posted on his campaign website.
Inasmuch as the plan seeks to diversify America's energy portfolio and reduce toxic emissions into the atmosphere, local agriculturalists say the spinoff is that the price of corn and soya bean - the two main products that factor in the production of ethanol - could increase significantly.
"We import nearly 100 per cent of the corn that is used for feedstock and there's a feeling that the decision to focus on expanding corn usage for biofuel as opposed to its traditional use for feedstock and for human consumption will drive up the price of corn and will affect negatively the cost to us as consumers and as processors of corn for feedstock," Dr Christopher Tufton told the Sunday Observer.
Senator Norman Grant, who represents hundreds of farmers across the island as president of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) agrees, but said it should first be ascertained whether Obama's energy proposal provided for increased production of the staples. This, he said, could make all the difference.
"There's always an inherent threat to food security if production remains constant. I think one needs to look at the holistic plan and make a careful assessment. But I think that based on what has happened in recent time, the utilisation of corn as ethanol is one of the factors that contributes to the movement of food prices on the world market," Grant said.
"The use of food in general, but mostly corn and soya bean into fuel...will certainly mean there will be less of that product available for consumption whether by humans or animals unless one is going to look at new opportunities and grow specific varieties or specific quantities that are going to be used as biofuels," he said.
Corn currently costs US$3.80 per bushel on the world market, coming down from US$8 this summer when much of the crop in the US was affected by flooding.
"The increases in corn prices over the past year, it is said, was due to weather conditions in North America but also to a shift in the use of corn from feedstock to corn as biofuels. If that continues, it's not the only variable to impact prices, but it certainly would be one of the variables that impacts prices for us in terms of that particular product," Tufton said.
The minister said that although sugar cane is a much more efficient producer of ethanol, he doubted whether the US would switch from corn since it was more beneficial to them as the world's largest single producer of corn. He, however, pointed to potential benefits to be accrued under the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI).
"By focusing on alternative energy, I'm assuming that he (Obama) is going to be looking at other areas and, if the benefits that we have under the CBI to ship ethanol to that marketplace is maintained, it would allow us an opportunity to convert sugarcane into ethanol and to ship to that market - which would preserve our sugar cane industry.
"Similarly, if in protecting the corn farmers in America, there's a possibility that they will maintain the tariff structure on ethanol coming out of Brazil, which makes the Jamaican sugarcane converted to ethanol for the American market a lot more attractive because we don't have that restriction," Tufton said.And although both Tufton and Grant agreed that there is as yet no need to worry, they emphasised the need for Jamaica to look at alternatives to imported corn for feedstock.
"Cassava is emerging in the world as one of the critical sources of feedstock. Countries like Thailand grow cassava and convert in into feedstock for poultry. It is also commonly used for pork production and is a very good source of energy, so large producers of those products need to link with local primary producers to provide alternatives to the imports on which we are overly dependent," said Tufton.