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Basics Land Use for

Basics Land Use for Bioplastics Article contributed by Michael Carus and Stephan Piotrowski, nova-Institut GmbH, Hürth, Germany There is an ongoing public, political and industrial debate, with wide-reaching implications, on the competition between food, animal feeds and industrial markets for agricultural raw materials. This has created a lot of confusion and insecurity within the bioplastics industry. The German automotive industry in particular has decided not to use bioplastics based on potential foodstuffs such as sugar, starch or edible oil. This article offers some basic facts for this debate, which will be back on the agenda as soon as the world economy recovers and food prices rise again. The bioplastics industry should be well prepared for this debate. Should we use food crops for bioplastics when people are starving? This question is really misleading. People have been using agricultural raw materials for energy and materials as long as mankind has been on the earth. It is quite common to use agricultural feedstock for biomaterials and this has been done on a large scale for decades. The additional impact of bioplastics is extremely small. The reason for hunger is not a shortage of land for food or animal feed production. We have more than enough space to produce sufficient food to feed everybody. And we are producing the food already. The main reasons for hunger are distribution, logistics and financial resources. Or in other words, mankind is producing enough food and there are still huge areas free or unused. These areas can be used for energy and industrial raw material production without any harm, without any impact on food and animal feed production. Using these areas for energy and industrial materials will provide additional income to many farmers, who will be able to buy food for their families. After all, three out of four poor people in developing countries live in rural areas. Deciding which crops are cultivated for fuel or industrial use on free agricultural areas should only be questions of efficiency, economy, ecology, sustainability etc. – but not a question of whether this crop could be also used as food or animal feed. This is the wrong question. Very often food crops are the most efficient industrial crops too, because they have been optimised by selective breeding over the last 50 years. Using less efficient, non-food crops for fuel or industrial materials would mean the inefficient use of farmland. There is no real reason not to use food crops to produce fuel or industrial materials, especially if they are the most efficient crops for these applications. 46 bioplastics MAGAZINE [04/09] Vol. 4

100 Residential area; road and rail (ca. 3%) Basics Available rainfed arable land (cropland) 1.500 Cropland today “Free” agricultural area in 2006 800 Potential forest land Fig 1: ‘Free’ potential agricultural area in 2006 and the global demand for agricultural land in 2020 3.300 570 570 in Mio. ha Source FAO 2008, OECD 2007, OECD-FAO 2007, FAPRI 2007, nova 2007, FAO 2000 330 Protected area (ca. 10%) year 2006 year 2020 The global demand on land in 2020: 1. Increasing demand of food per capita due to an ca. 96 Mio. ha increase in purchasing power (more meat, ...) 2. Increasing demand of food due to population growth ca. 64 Mio. ha 3. Residential area, road and rail ca. 32 Mio. ha 4. Biofuel in the most important Biofuel countries ca. 18 Mio. ha ∑ 210 Mio. ha Availability and use of arable land There are 3,300 million hectares of naturally irrigated potential arable land available on this planet. They are used for crop cultivation (1,500 million hectares), residential areas, road and rail (100 million hectares), protected areas (330 million hectares) and potential forest land (800 million hectares), so there are still 570 million hectares left. Those areas are in Russia, Kazakhstan, Africa and South America – often far away from any agricultural infrastructure. Until 2020 further huge areas will be put into production for crops, but still 360 million hectares are expected to remain ‘free‘ for other agricultural uses (see Figure 1). To activate this potential, huge investments and reform in rural areas will be necessary. Even in the European Union about 8 million hectares are free and could be used for bioenergy or biomaterials. Most of this land is located in the new member states in Eastern Europe. Even more important than activating new agricultural areas is to increase productivity on areas already in use. Modern agricultural processing can increase the productivity up to ten times compared to traditional farming. Even in the European Union there is still much scope for productivity increases. In Romania, for example, yields for most crops are less than 50% of the corresponding yields in the EU-15, despite good quality soils. As the OECD and FAO state: “Finally, over the longer term, agricultural supply is facing increased uncertainties and limitations on the amount of new land that can be taken into cultivation. Public and private investments in innovation and increasing agricultural productivity, particularly in developing countries, would greatly improve supply prospects by helping to broaden the production base and lessen the chance of recurring commodity price spikes” [1] In July 2009 the world leaders pledged to commit billion over three years for a ‘food security initiative‘ to develop sustainable agriculture in poor countries. Addressing the G8, FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said, “I am convinced that you will ‘walk the talk’ not only for natural ethical considerations but also for sound economic reasons and, last but not least, to ensure peace and security in the world” [2]. This commitment will trigger further investment in agriculture and will ease the supply situation. Some facts about biofuels and bioplastics From a mass flow perspective, the amount of raw materials used for the production of bioplastics is very small compared to the amount of raw materials used for biofuels. Different estimates by the nova-Institute show that the impact of biofuels was about 250 times more significant than the impact of bioplastics on food markets, agricultural prices and land competition in 2008. 92% of the cultivated land in the world is used for food and animal feed production, 6% for industrial materials and 2% for biofuels. That means that even the impact of biofuels is very limited. Agricultural land used for bioplastics is less than 0.1%. Some facts about food prices and recent food price increases Compared to other raw materials the price increase for agricultural raw materials has been moderate over the last six years (see Figure 2). In inflation-adjusted terms, price levels in 2008 were even much lower than in the 1970s (see Figure 3). bioplastics MAGAZINE [04/09] Vol. 4 47

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