The population of the Earth is set to reach 7 billion people this year, with a forecasted rise to 9 billion by 2050. With so many mouths to feed and the debate of Food Vs Fuel raging, does this spell the end for Biofuels?
The answer, in short, is no. First of all, despite populations rising, food production per head is up 30% since 1950. The current spike in demand for food is linked primarily to prosperity. When people get rich they tend to waste a lot more, so whilst it may look like a rise in consumption, in many cases the food ends up in landfill. Cut out the waste and suddenly there is a whole lot more food to go around.
Secondly, an argument against Biofuels is that they take land that could be used for edible crops. Not necessarily. Biofuels crops are not intended for human consumption, and so can be grown in areas deemed unsafe for consumable crops, such as beside roads, next to polluting industry or on contaminated land. Furthermore, Biofuels can take advantage of GM technology to increase yields, with no fear of people growing second heads somewhere down the line.
Biofuels can, in fact, add to the total area of food available for edible crops. The areas experiencing the highest population growth, and so requiring increased food production, are primarily in developing nations. In these regions, agricultural activity tends to be reliant on animals to carry out the energy intensive jobs such as ploughing. Animals, incidentally, run on Biofuels, and it takes a lot of food to keep your Donkey running, food that is grown on agricultural land. But if the donkey were to be replaced by a tractor that runs on Bio-Diesel, not only is that land freed for edible crop production but agricultural activity is enhanced, creating even more food.
So, if it is possible to produce both enough food and Biofuels, the problem ceases to be one of production and instead one of resources. In order to improve agricultural activities in those areas needing additional food, technology is the answer. Mechanised farm machinery can provide increased yields and faster crop turnover, but require fuel to operate. Biofuels therefore form part of the solution to the problem of world hunger, providing a domestic, reliable fuel source for life changing machinery. So, perhaps it is less Food Vs Fuel and more Fuel = Food.