Bangladesh 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 and environmental experts warned. 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. Moshiur Rahman, who convenes the Bangladesh Poultry Industries Coordination Committee, called the move to begin using grain for fuel “suicidal”. He said “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 growing concerns about food security have led other countries – including China – to stop giving permission for new biofuel projects.
Already many people face daily hunger and can manage meals only once or twice a day, experts say. Last year, Bangladesh ranked in the top 25 percent of the world’s most hungry countries, according to the Global Hunger Index of the International Food Policy Research Institute. Bangladesh today produces about 1.8 million tonnes of broken rice, about 100,000 tonnes of molasses and less than half the 6 million tonnes of maize it needs each year, according to the country’s Energy Ministry. The country produces about enough rice to meet demand but imported 4.5 million tonnes of wheat last year to meet demand for that grain, according to the country’s food ministry.
Besides being used as livestock food, maize is eaten by poorer people, mixed with flour as a cereal or made into biscuits. Lower-income people also eat broken rice for breakfast and make it into cakes. But prices for the grains are rising. A kilogram of coarse rice is now being sold at 42 taka (50 cents) in Dhaka, up 25 percent in price from a year ago, according to the government Trading Corporation of Bangladesh.
“We have tremendous difficulties in livestock nutrition. If maize is now used to produce ethanol, the cost of livestock production will go further up causing further animal protein deficiency,” said M. Asaduzzaman, a fellow of the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies and a member of the country’s climate change negotiations team and also a former vice chairman of the International Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change. Bangladesh’s per capita carbon emissions are tiny compared to those of more developed countries, and should not be as great a concern as protecting food security, he said. “When we can’t meet basic nutritional need, we don’t need to go for clean energy,” he said.
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