Brazil’s new agricultural zoning just elaborated by the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture is going to inhibit the advance of sugarcane in areas of the country where food is planted and in ecosystems considered sensitive, like the Amazon, the Pantanal and the Atlantic Forest.
“The new agroecological zoning of sugarcane blocks expansion in areas we consider inadequate,” said the chief of staff of Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Dilma Roussef. She represented Lula at the opening of the National Biofuels Conference, in São Paulo. “Biofuels cannot and should not compete with food,” she said.
To the government of Brazil, zoning comes to provide an answer to international public opinion. The production of biofuel in Brazil has already been accused of causing deforestation and occupying the space of crops.
“The study was well done so as to show the world that we work correctly in the area of biofuels,” stated the minister of Agriculture, Reinhold Stephanes, pointing out that the organization of the study took one and a half years.
Initially, the government planned to officially disclose the zoning during the conference in São Paulo, but, according to Stephanes, it was decided to postpone the date to the end of the year so as to discuss the theme with the states concerned, with civil organizations and with environmental organizations within the government itself.
“In the definition of the areas there is no environmental problem, and where there are food crops, the government is only going to finance the cultivation of sugarcane in grazing ground and in degraded areas,” said the minister. Specialists at the ministry believe that it is possible to use 20% of the grazing ground for crops without this affecting livestock farming.
Although the government cannot oblige the producer to plant this or that product on his land, the idea is not to stimulate replacement of other crops for sugarcane. This should be done by reducing the supply of fiscal and credit incentives. The new zoning plan shows that Brazil has over 40 million hectares appropriate for sugarcane without having to use areas of other crops and deforesting.
“In Brazil, there is no conflict between production of food and energy,” said Stephanes. “With each year the country produces more surplus food for export, and to avoid accusation, we have been careful to make it clear that there is no conflict in the zoning. It is more rigorous as it is an emblematic discussion,” he added.
“Our biofuel policy takes into consideration food safety, global warming and international conventions to avoid the emission of gasses that cause greenhouse gas,” stated Dilma. She pointed out that from 1973 to date the production of ethanol has risen more than the area in which sugarcane is grown, and the same took place in other agricultural products, especially grain.
Production of fuel alcohol rose from 3,200 liters per hectares to 6,600 liters now. Furthermore, the grain crop grew 142%, whereas the area used rose just 24%.
The minister added that the ethanol productive chain as a whole represents 90% less harmful gas emission when compared to the oil industry. From 1973 to date, according to Dilma, the broad use of alcohol resulted in an 800-million-tonne reduction of CO2 emissions.
The minister pointed out the Brazilian intention of seeing biofuels transformed into a real alternative for the diversification of the global energy matrix, especially in the transportation sector, which is dominated by oil products. “Unavoidably the world is going to change from an economy based on carbon to one in the post-carbon era, based on hydrogen, maybe,” he said.
“But hydrogen should only come in the decade from 2020 to 2030 and, in this transition period, one of the bridges to reduce emissions of gasses is expansion of the presence of biofuels in the transport energy matrix,” she said. She also pointed out that Brazil is prepared to share its knowledge of three decades of broad use of ethanol with other countries interested.
“This route should be followed surely and continuously, despite Brazil being a future producer and exporter of oil,” said Dilma. “We are not doing this due to lack of oil,” she added. According to her, the objective is to guarantee safety in the global supply of a renewable energy, reduce the environmental impact due to the burning of fuels and produce positive social and economic effects, especially in developing countries. The government of Brazil sees in biofuels an opportunity to promote energy safety and sustainable development in nations in Latin America, Africa and Asia.
To the minister, more than ever the transformation of ethanol into a commodity produced in different countries has become more important. The implementation of the productive chain in other nations may be considered an anticyclic policy to face the effects of the international financial crisis. The adoption of developmental measures by governments is one of the recommendations of the G20, the group that includes the 20 main economies of the world.
Dilma pointed out that Brazil continues investing heavily in research in the area, now starting to focus mainly on the so-called second generation biofuels, like ethanol made from cellulose, which may be obtained from sugarcane bagasse and from the remains of crops. “We are celebrating the arrival of a new economy, the economy of bioenergy,” he added.
The governor of the state of São Paulo, José Serra, pointed out that the State of São Paulo Research Foundation (Fapesp) turned 83 million Brazilian reais (US$ 36.2 million) this year to sector research and added that three state universities (USP, Unicamp and Unesp) are going to turn 100 million reais (US$ 43.6 million) to the area over the next two years.
These initiatives, according to him, take place in partnership with the federal government and private companies, like Dedini, which produces mills for sugar and alcohol, and Braskem, a petrochemical producer that started producing plastic from ethanol. The state in the Southeast is by far the main producer of sugar and alcohol in Brazil.
Although the ethanol market in Brazil and abroad should continue growing, sector producers are suffering the effects of the financial crisis, especially due to the lack of credit, which has caused the suspension of announced investment. According to the president of the São Paulo Sugarcane Agroindustry Union (Única), Marcos Jank, the US$ 30 billion in sector investment that had been forecasted to 2012 should be reanalyzed. He pointed out, however, that the total estimated between 2005 and 2008, US$ 20 billion, will be reached.
The main problem, according to Jank, is the lack of financing of working capital for companies. Unica has been talking to the government to grant greater liquidity to the sector. In the case of suppliers of equipment for the industry, the minister of Development, Industry and Foreign Trade, Miguel Jorge, stated that a specific line of credit should be established by the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES).
In the first panel of the conference, which discussed the theme of energy safety, the North American Paul Roberts, a specialist in energy and food, said that the future of the international biofuel market should depend greatly on the price of oil. He pointed out, however, that although the price of the commodity is now at around US$ 55 per barrel, the tendency is for it to return to US$ 100 per barrel over the next two years. To Jank, at this level Brazilian ethanol is more competitive.
“Despite the lower price of oil, our ethanol is still competitive,” said Petrobras Biofuel president Alan Kardec Pinto. “The main emerging markets may supply the renewable energy of the world,” he added.
The joint executive director at the International Energy Agency (IEA), Richard Jones, said that the current tendency in use of fossil fuels is “unsustainable”, but pointed out that it is possible to promote economic growth with lower price policies and lower emission of pollutants. He added that biofuels are an important alternative in this respect.
The German Cristoph Berg, director general at F.O Licht, an agency specialized in information and analysis of the commodity market, said that nowadays the global average of ethanol mixed into petrol is between 3% and 4%, but in 20 years this percentage should rise to 10%. In Brazil the volume of anhydrous alcohol in petrol is 25%.
One of the complaints of the private sector in Brazil is the surcharge that the United States places on ethanol imported from Brazil. Alan Kardec Pinto pointed out that barriers and subsidies inhibit the production in developing nations. Richard Jones added that the alcohol produced in the US cannot compete with the Brazilian product.
The former prime minister of Niger and executive director of NGO HUBRural, Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, pointed out that the success of biofuels in Africa depends on the formation of a regional market.
The conference ends on Friday, November 21. The event includes delegations from 92 countries and around 3,000 people registered to participate in the debates.
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