Biofuels: The Five Myths of the Agro-fuels Transition
The agro-fuel transition closes a 200-year chapter in the relation between agriculture and industry that began with the Industrial Revolution. Then, the invention of the steam engine promised an end to drudgery. However, industry’s take-off lagged until governments privatized common lands, driving the poorest peasants out of agriculture and into urban factories. Peasant agriculture effectively subsidized industry with both cheap food and cheap labor. Over the next 100 years, as industry grew, so did the urban percentage of the world’s population: from 3% to 13%. Cheap oil and petroleum-based fertilizers opened up agriculture itself to industrial capital. Mechanization intensified production, keeping food prices low and industry booming. The next hundred years saw a three-fold global shift to urban living. Today, the world has as many people living in cities as in the countryside.  The massive transfer of wealth from agriculture to industry, the industrialization of agriculture, and the rural-urban shift are all part of the “Agrarian Transition,” the lesser-known twin of the Industrial Revolution. The Agrarian/Industrial twins transformed most of the world’s fuel and food systems and established non-renewable petroleum as the foundation of today’s multi-trillion dollar agri-foods complex.
The pillars of the agri-foods industry are the great grain corporations, e.g., ADM, Cargill and Bunge. They are surrounded by an equally formidable phalanx of food processors, distributors, and supermarket chains on one hand, and agro-chemical, seed, and machinery companies on the other. Together, these industries consume four of every five food dollars. For some time, the production side of the agri-foods complex has suffered from agricultural “involution” in which increasing rates of investment (chemical inputs, genetic engineering, and machinery) have not increased the rates of agricultural productivity—the agri-foods complex is paying more and reaping less.
Agro-fuels are the perfect answer to involution because they’re subsidized, grow as oil shrinks, and facilitate the concentration of market power in the hands of the most powerful players in the food and fuel industries. Like the original Agrarian Transition, the present Agro-fuels Transition will “enclose the commons” by industrializing the remaining forests and prairies of the world. It will drive the planet’s remaining smallholders, family farmers, and indigenous peoples to the cities. It will funnel rural resources to urban centers in the form of fuel, and will generate massive amounts of industrial wealth.
ind blog posts, photos, events and more off-site about:
Canada, agriculture, wheat, Canadian Wheat Board, farmers, Western-Canada, barley, wheat, Strahl, Government, Conservatives, Harper, Elizabeth May, corn MexicoUSA, Bush, ADM, ethanol, biofuels, primates, organutan, , ADM, ArcherDaniels Midland, , bio-fuels, Canada Wheat Board, , capitalism, Cargill, , ecology, , Environment, , Green, green capitalism, Indonesia, Kyoto, palm oil, , socialism, sustainable, workers control