An Australian professor says the push to grow crops for biofuels rather than food has worsened the plight of cyclone victims in Myanmar.
Back in 2005, Myanmar's ruling junta required every farmer with an acre of land to plant Jatropha trees on their property. The oil squeezed from the non-edible crop boasts greater yields of oil per acre than other biofuels, with one-fifth the carbon emissions of petroleum-based products. The junta hoped biofuel exports would replace Myanmar's 40,000 barrels per day of petroleum imports and help an economy on the verge of collapse.
Production of biofuels in developing countries has been vigorously supported by industrialized countries. In fact, the International Herald Tribune reports that venture capital investment in biofuels has increased by 800 percent over the past four years.
But in Myanmar, otherwise known as Burma, the junta failed to build a refining plant, leaving its citizens with a useless Jatropha crop, setting off a chain reaction that increased food insecurity and fuel prices. Then the cyclone wiped out much of Myanmar's mid-year rice harvest.
Given Myanmar's political, social and economic idiosyncracies, it's certainly not the ideal case study for jatropha or biofuel. But plans to invest billions of dollars in biofuel refineries in neighboring countries have been put on hold, leading to questions about how sustainable the current equilibrium between food and fuel production really is.