BRASILIA, Brazil: Germany's environment minister is convinced Brazil's biofuel production does not harm the environment or cause high food prices as some critics maintain.
Sigmar Gabriel made his remarks after meeting with his Brazilian counterpart in the capital of Brasilia.
Brazilian Environment Minister Marina Silva says that only 1 percent of Brazil's 300 million hectares (741 million acres) of arable land is used to plant sugarcane for the production of ethanol.
Silva told a news conference attended by the two officials Monday that Brazil will not allow sugarcane to be grown in the Amazon.
Gabriel says if Brazil continues to demonstrate no harm is being done, the European Union will have "no problem" continuing to import its ethanol.
By DENIS D. GRAY, Associated Press Writer
The rice fields that blanketed this remote mountain village for generations are gone. In their place rise neat rows of young rubber trees — their sap destined for China.
All 60 families in this dirt-poor, mud-caked village of gaunt men and hunched women are now growing rubber, like thousands of others across the rugged mountains of northern Laos. They hope in coming years to reap huge profits from the tremendous demand for rubber just across the frontier in China.
As Beijing scrambles to feed its galloping economy, it has already scoured the world for mining and logging concessions. Now it is turning to crops to feed its people and industries. Chinese enterprises are snapping up vast tracts of land abroad and forging contract farming deals.
This quest raises both hope and criticism.
Laos' communist regime touts rubber as a miracle crop that will help lift the country from the ranks of the world's poorest nations. China is expected to consume a third of the world's rubber by 2020, become its largest car market and put 200 million vehicles on the road.
But some Laotian farmers are losing their ancestral lands or being forced to become wage workers on what were once their fields. Chinese companies are accused of getting rubber concessions from officials and not compensating farmers. They are also accused of violating laws, human rights and the environment, under conditions described by experts as "anarchic."
"The Chinese companies in the north are a bunch of thugs," says Charles Alton, a consultant in agronomy for international agencies in Laos. However, Alton says, the "unpoliced, unregulated situation" in northern Laos is ripe for exploitation.
The Chinese deny or don't comment on such allegations.
"I haven't heard of the bad behavior of Chinese companies abroad, but Chinese companies which intend to expand abroad must know it is important to have a good relationship with the local people," says Ju Hongzhen, president of the China Rubber Industry Association.
China's State Forestry Administration last year issued guidelines for Chinese firms running overseas plantations. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization is also scrambling to put out guidelines for a fast-moving global scenario.
From Southeast Asia to Africa, the Chinese are farming oil palm, eucalyptus, teak, corn, cassava, sugar cane, rubber and other crops. As in Laos, the industrial-size farms are variously viewed as an ecological nightmare or a big step toward slashing poverty.
In Congo, a Chinese telecommunications giant, ZTE International, has bought more than 7 million acres of forest to plant oil palms. In Zimbabwe, state-owned China International Water and Electric Corp. reportedly received rights from the government to farm 250,000 acres of corn in the south.
Indonesia is moving to develop biofuel plantations with The China National Overseas Oil Corporation. The London-based Environmental Investigation Agency, an advocacy group, believes other deals are in the works, often through proxy companies because of long-running anti-Chinese sentiment in the country. The group says the project would destroy natural forest.
In Myanmar, rubber concessions have gone to at least two Chinese companies, Ho Nan Ching and Yunnan Hongyu. Refugees fleeing Myanmar's military regime say troops are forcibly evicting farmers to make way for rubber plantations, including some run by Chinese enterprises.
A Chinese-Cambodian joint venture, Pheapimex-Wuzhishan, converted land of the Phong tribal people into a tree plantation 20 times larger than allowed by law in Cambodia, according to the environmental group Global Witness. The group says the concession in Mondulkiri province encroached on grazing grounds, destroyed sacred sites and used toxic herbicides.
Another Chinese enterprise in Kratie province circumvented the size restriction by registering as three separate companies, Global Witness says.
In Beijing, the Commerce Ministry declined to answer written questions about China's global reach in agriculture or operations of Chinese enterprises abroad except in Laos, where it said companies had a "very strong awareness for environmental protection." Local residents welcome the new developments because incomes have increased by as much as five times, a ministry statement said.
However, the central government in Laos last May ordered a moratorium on concessions over 100 hectares (247 acres), in part because it had become clear many were covers for logging.
Entire hills in the north have been scalped of green cover, and rubber trees penetrate into the tangled natural forests. Also being cleared are secondary forests, sources of medicinal herbs and edible plants that tribal people have depended on for generations.
The government edict against concessions appears to have been ignored in the north, where local officials often a make the rules in an environment of corruption, ill-defined land laws, vague agreements and conflicting agencies.
"The Chinese companies do everything in their power to take advantage but they are also taken advantage of. The system is corrupt and there are loopholes and sometimes it works in their favor and sometimes against them," says Weiyi Shi, an American economist who recently completed a study on the rubber industry.
The study found that when the China-Lao Ruifeng Rubber Company moved in, the frontier village of Changee lost most of its rice fields and grazing land and its burial grounds were desecrated. The pleas of villagers got no result and some protesters were reportedly held at gunpoint, with the Chinese using coercion through local authorities.
A company executive, Zheng Fengqi, contacted in China, denied there were any protests on the concession granted by the military.
"The local people also liked the project because they could earn more money and lead a life of better quality," he says.
Many independent farmers do indeed embrace the Chinese with enthusiasm, hoping to replicate an earlier rubber bonanza in China's neighboring Yunnan province. Some have personal contacts, even relatives, living in China and set up informal business arrangements with them.
Some villagers even torch their surrounding forests, hoping the Chinese will come in and offer them rubber trees.
"They see what is in China, where people have gone from wooden houses to concrete, walking or bikes to motorbikes and cars, buffaloes to hand tractors and kerosene to electricity," says Michael Dwyer, a natural resources researcher from the University of California, Berkeley. "They want the same."
Farmers can hope to take home up to $1,200 from an acre of rubber — roughly seven times more than from growing rice. But it will be another six to seven years before latex begins to ooze from most trees in the north.
"If the price is high we will prosper," says Chan Phoung, one of the villagers at Chaleunsouk, inhabited by the Khmu ethnic minority. "If it's low we don't know what we will do."
A friend adds: "It's like raising a pig for profit — it may die before you can sell it at the market."
Associated Press Writers Michelle Faul in Johannesburg, South Africa, Alan Clendenning in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Ian James in Caracas, Venezuela, Monte Hayes in Lima, Peru, Angus Shaw in Harare, Zimbabwe, and Ker Munthit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, contributed to this report.
More than £10 billion worth of food is thrown away every year in the UK, a study has found.
According to the Waste and Resources Action Programme (Wrap), the average household throws out a third of all the food it buys, wasting £420 each year or £610 for those with children.
The total figure is £2 billion higher than previously estimated and the Government has described it as "staggering" and "shocking".
Researchers found that more than half the discarded food - worth £6 billion a year - was bought but left untouched.
Each day householders throw out 1.3 million unopened yoghurt pots, 5,500 whole chickens and 440,000 ready meals, according to the report.
It found £1 billion worth of discarded products were still "in date", and that local authorities were spending the same amount each year disposing of food waste.
Wrap chief executive Liz Goodwin said: "Food waste has a significant environmental impact. This research confirms that it is an issue for us all, whether as consumers, retailers, local or central government.
"I believe it will spark a major debate about the way food is packaged, sold, stored at home, cooked and then collected when it is thrown out.
"What shocked me the most was the cost of our food waste at a time of rising food bills, and generally a tighter pull on our purse strings.
"It highlights that this is an economic and social issue, as well as about how much we understand the value of our food."
Researchers interviewed 2,715 households in England and Wales and analysed waste from 2,138 of them.
Environment minister Joan Ruddock said: "These findings are staggering in their own right, but at a time when global food shortages are in the headlines this kind of wastefulness becomes even more shocking.
"This is costing consumers three times over. Not only do they pay hard-earned money for food they don't eat, there is also the cost of dealing with the waste this creates. And there are climate change costs to all of us of growing, processing, packaging, transporting, and refrigerating food that only ends up in the bin.
"Preventing waste in the first place has to remain a top priority."
By FRANCES D'EMILIO and ARIEL DAVID, Associated Press Writers
World food production must rise by 50 percent by 2030 to meet increasing demand, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon told world leaders Tuesday at a summit grappling with hunger and civil unrest caused by food price hikes.
The secretary-general told the Rome summit that nations must minimize export restrictions and import tariffs during the food price crisis and quickly resolve world trade talks.
"The world needs to produce more food," Ban said.
The Rome-based U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization is hosting the three-day summit to try to solve the short-term emergency of increased hunger caused by soaring prices and to help poor countries grow enough food to feed their own.
In a message read to the delegates, Pope Benedict XVI said "hunger and malnutrition are unacceptable in a world which, in reality, has sufficient production levels, the resources, and the know-how to put an end to these tragedies and their consequences."
The Pope told the world leaders that millions of people at threat in countries with security concerns were looking to them for solutions.
Ban said a U.N. task force he set up to deal with the crisis is recommending the nations "improve vulnerable people's access to food and take immediate steps to increase food availability in their communities."
That means increasing food aid, supplying small farmers with seed and fertilizer in time for this year's planting seasons, and reducing trade restrictions to help the free flow of agricultural goods.
"Some countries have taken action by limiting exports or by imposing price controls," Ban said. "They only distort markets and force prices even higher."
The increasing diversion of food and animal feed to produce biofuel, and sharply higher fuel costs have also helped to shoot prices upward, experts say.
The United Nations is encouraging summit participants to start undoing a decades-long legacy of agricultural and trade policies that many blame for the failure of small farmers in poor countries to feed their own people.
Wealthy nations' subsidizing their own farmers makes it harder for small farmers in poor countries to compete in global markets, critics of such subsidies say. Jim Butler, the FAO's deputy director-general, said in an interview ahead of the gathering that a draft document that could be the basis for a final summit declaration doesn't promise to overhaul subsidy policy.
Congress last month passed a five-year farm bill heavy on subsidies, bucking White House objections that such aid in the middle of a global food crisis wasn't warranted.
The head of the summit's U.S. delegation, Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer, insisted on Monday that biofuels will contribute only 2 or 3 percent to a predicted 43 percent rise in prices this year.
Figures by other international organizations, including the International Monetary Fund, show that the increased demand for biofuels is contributing by 15-30 percent to food price increases, said Frederic Mousseau, a policy adviser at Oxfam, a British aid group.
"Food stocks are at their lowest in 25 years, so the market is very vulnerable to any policy changes" such as U.S. or European Union subsidizing biofuels or mandating greater use of this energy source, Mousseau said.
Brazil is another large exporter of biofuels, and President Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva was expected to defend biofuels at the summit.
Several participants won't even be talking to each other at the summit.
Australia's foreign minister decried as "obscene" Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's participation in the summit. The longtime African leader has presided over the virtual transformation of his country from former breadbasket to agricultural basket case.
Zimbabweans increasingly are unable to afford food and other essentials with agriculture paralyzed by land reform and the world's highest rate of inflation.
The Dutch ministry for overseas development pledged to "ignore" Mugabe during the summit.
EU sanctions against Mugabe because of Zimbabwe's poor human rights record forbid him from setting foot in the bloc's 27 nations, but those restrictions don't apply to U.N. forums.
Jewish leaders and some Italian politicians were among those denouncing Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's attendance at the meeting. On Monday, Ahmadinejad repeated his call for the destruction of Israel, which is also participating in the summit.
Ahmadinejad was scheduled to give a summit news conference Tuesday afternoon.
Schafer, asked about the presence of the Zimbabwean and Iranian leaders, told reporters in Rome that the two were welcome to attend the summit, but that U.S. delegates would not be meeting with them.
General Editor: Mark Duckenfield
Volume Editors: Gordon Bannerman, Anthony Howe and Cheryl Schonhardt-Bailey
I recommend the sample pages linked on the above page.
| Mr Brown wants to
see African production of key food stuffs increase
Britons must stop wasting food in an effort to help combat rising living costs, Gordon Brown has said as world leaders discuss rising prices
The PM said "unnecessary" purchases were contributing to price rises, and urged people to plan meals in advance and store food properly.
A government study says the UK wastes 4m tonnes of food every year, adding £420 to a family's shopping bills.
Food prices and the world economy are to dominate the G8 summit in Japan.
The gathering also gave Mr Brown a chance to hold his first bilateral meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and raise recent "difficult issues" between the two nations.
The Cabinet Office report claims that up to 40% of food harvested in developing countries can be lost before it is consumed, due to the inadequacies of processing, storage and transport.
The food policy study also says the average UK household throws away £8 of leftovers a week, yet spends 9% of its income on food.
But there is a significant gap between the poorest tenth of the population, who spend 15% and the wealthiest, who pay out 7%.
| It is right to remind people
that about £8 a week is wasted in our food consumption
Prime Minister Gordon Brown
Those on lower incomes also spend proportionally more on basics such as milk, eggs and bread - foods that have seen the biggest price rises in recent months.
According to the 10-month study, British families are throwing away a total of 4.1m tonnes of perfectly good food every year, costing each about £420 annually.
It also concludes more research is needed into whether the production of biofuels will cause food prices to increase further.
Speaking to reporters, Gordon Brown said the G8 needed to agree a "global plan" to tackle the issue.
"People recognise that the high food prices in Britain - the price of bread, the price of eggs, the price of milk - this is happening all over the world and we have got to have a global solution to what is a global problem," he said.
"We have got to get the price of food down through cutting the tariffs and subsidies in Europe and America, so we need a world trade deal.
"We have proposed that we double food production in Africa so that they can sell to the rest of the world as well.
"It is right to remind people that about £8 a week is wasted in our food consumption and we could do better at home as well."
| Has Prudence left the Treasury
to move into the nation's kitchens?
BBC political editor
Food will feature highly on a G8 agenda of issues including global economic turbulence, record oil prices, climate change and international aid.
African leaders will join talks with G8 counterparts amid efforts to get previous G8 pledges to double aid by 2050 - notably to Africa - back on track.
UK Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said: "What we are trying to get across is there is this complex relationship between what we buy, the amount, waste, the impact on climate change and the impact on our health."
Friends of the Earth food campaigner Kirtana Chandrasekaran said tackling food waste was important, but only part of the solution. She called instead for changes to policies on biofuels and international trade.
She said there was "more and more evidence" that biofuels were bad for the environment, worsening climate change and leading to deforestation.
UK minister Hilary Benn on food waste
And Sustain, an alliance of organisations working for better food and farming, urged supermarkets to stop promoting unnecessary purchases, which they say results in a lot of food "going to waste".
Shadow environment secretary Peter Ainsworth said government departments should set a better example.
"The amount of untouched food that ends up in our bins is staggering but also financially and environmentally wasteful," he said.
"But while the government is telling households to reduce food waste it has no idea how much food it is throwing away itself. This is yet again a clear case of the government saying 'do as we say not as we do'."
"The government must also face up to its role in stimulating demand for unsustainable biofuels which mounting evidence suggests is contributing to escalating world food prices."
Steve Webb, the Lib Dem environment spokesman, said: "The problem of food waste has been made worse by the government's failure to get tough with supermarkets. Its cosy relationship with the big chains has stalled effective action.
"Supermarkets make it harder for householders to avoid food waste, while throwing away large quantities of edible food through poor stock management.
"They refuse to stock small portions, which are essential for the growing number of one-person households, and offer too many buy-one-get-one-free deals on perishable goods."
UK'S MOST WASTED FOOD
|Tonnes wasted every year
|% weight of all avoidable food waste
|Meat or fish mixed meals
|World breads (e.g. naan, tortilla)
|Vegetable mixed meals
|Pasta mixed meals
|Rice mixed meals
|Based on analysis of avoidable household food waste, regardless of disposal method. Source: Wrap, The food we waste, April 2008