In threat to food security, B'desh moves to burn grain for fuel
Bangladesh plans to begin turning some of the grain it produces into ethanol to make its fuel greener – but economists and experts warn the move could hurt food security in a country that is already a grain importer.
Energy ministry officials said in a gazette notification early this year that the country will begin using maize, broken rice grains and molasses to produce ethanol to mix with petrol fuel at a 5 percent ratio.
But in a heavily populated country that produces relatively little in the way of climate-changing emissions and that already relies on imports of maize and other grains, the result could be rising food prices, especially for the poor, economists, business leaders and environmental experts warned. Moshiur Rahman, who convenes the Bangladesh Poultry Industries Coordination Committee, called the move to begin using grain for fuel "suicidal". Much of Bangaldesh's maize is used to feed animals, including chickens. But the country grows only half of the maize it needs, importing the rest from the United States and Brazil, he said, which means rising demand could mean rising prices.
"Maize prices will go up if it is used for ethanol production. The price of eggs and chicken will go beyond the reach of common people," Rahman warned. He said growing concerns about food security have led other countries – including China – to stop giving permission for new biofuel projects.
According to a study by Bangladesh's energy ministry, the country could produce 18 million liters of ethanol a year, or about 75,000 liters each working day. That would require 60,000 tonnes of broken rice each year – about 3.5 percent of the country's total production. Alternately the county could produce the ethanol with 62,000 tonnes of maize (2.8 percent of production) or 97,000 tonnes of molasses (nearly all of the country's production). The study warned that if the government scales up ethanol production beyond those levels, it will raise demand for grain to the point that it could hurt food security. But junior energy minister Nasrul Hamid told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone that Bangladesh needs to go for greener and more varied fuels in the future, like other nations.
"So, we are exploring the possibility of using bio-ethanol with other fuels. You can't remain out from the global trend of energy use," he said. He confirmed the ministry plans to give permission for ethanol production, and then would judge from early experience whether to scale up the experiment. "Yes, we are going to give permission for bio-fuel soon. Let's see what happens first. Its impact on food security will be considered than," Hamid said. But others warn that Bangladesh has decided to burn food grains to produce ethanol without taking into consideration the food security of its 160 million people.
That is a particular worry in a low-lying country that faces severe climate change threats, including loss of crops and crop land to worsening salt-water intrusion, droughts, floods, storms, sea level rise and erosion.