Apparently I am easily fooled. I always assumed when I saw the prefix “bio” attached to a product that I could feel good about using it. When I buy bio-friendly toilet paper I feel like I am wiping with leaves. When I use reusable bio-bags at grocery stores I feel as if I am chaining myself to a tree. Finally, when I use the gas mixed with bio-fuels at the gas station I feel like I am putting it to Big Oil.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I saw that “A Conversation with George Bush” was being sponsored by a bio-fuels company. What was this? In my head I tried to rationalize why an environmental company would sponsor a speech by a man notoriously noncommittal to environmental protection efforts? Obviously, something was amiss.
The truth is that western bio-fuel companies are exploiting the global South. Bio-fuels, more appropriately deemed agro-fuels, have a scarily ingenious scheme going on.
Massive areas of land in the developing world are bought and converted into plantations for agro-fuel monocultures. Agro-fuel companies then receive large subsidies from Western governments for producing “environmentally friendly” resources and, in turn, earn huge profits.
Meanwhile, agro-fuel companies are exploiting the level of poverty in the developing world. They replace fields that feed local populations with crops to ship to the West to be used as fuel. Localities are robbed of their own sources of nutrition and food sovereignty is forgotten. Furthermore, the spread of these plantations has led to displacement, harassment and eviction of some of the world’s poorest farmers.
Of course, it is important to reduce our dependence on non-renewable resources. However, there is no excuse for why our addiction to consumption should rob the global South of the opportunity to produce its own food. Agro-fuel companies will try and tell you that this type of production provides jobs and alternative sources of income. In reality, the result has been increased conflict over diminishing land resources, a steep reduction in job opportunities and the exploitation of workers.
When the sponsoring bio-fuels company was introduced at the George Bush presentation, the audience was impressed when they learned that the company was working in several African countries. It’s unfortunate that we are so ill-informed that we associate businesses working in developing regions with positive social impact. In reality, these agro-fuel companies seek to exploit poverty, drive out local farmers and win government subsidies for doing “environmentally friendly” work.
Let’s face it, we need to find alternative sources of energy, but in doing so we can’t rob people in the developing world of the opportunity to produce their own food.