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Agrofuels and Food Sovereignty

by John Kinsman
Oaxaca City, Mexico

It is an honor for me to be here. I am a small organic dairy and forestry farmer from southwestern Wisconsin in the United States. We came to Oaxaca to be physically with you in solidarity. Over the past years I have met with many persons from Oaxaca and have been inspired by their dignity, their culture and their perseverance in their struggles. Your struggle is our struggle.

What is behind this mad rush to agrofuels? We use the term agrofuels rather than biofuels because bio is a Greek word which means "life." This is not just another technology, it is inseparably connected to agri-business, free trade, genetically modified organisms, and water issues. Transnational corporations such as Cargill, ADM, Monsanto and the giant oil companies are positioning themselves to lock in more power and profit for themselves. The global North has a huge appetite for fuel and is exploiting the resources of the South to feed that wasteful appetite. The U.S., in its empire building conquest, is relying primarily on Central and South America for its agrofuel needs.

A few random examples are as follows: The amount of corn needed to make enough ethanol to fill a 25 gallon tank of a large automobile would feed one person for one year. Every ton of palm oil produced emits 33 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. North American logging companies such as Weyerhauser are teaming up with oil companies such as Chevron to convert forests to fuel. Those of us with small family farms, as well as indigenous people and those with communal land, will be the losers.

At a recent international agrofuels conference in Berlin, we came to a near unanimous conclusion that diverting land from food crops to fuel crops is a crime of horrifying proportions when millions of people are hungry and starving. Representatives from Africa, Southeast Asia, Central, and South America told of massive hectares of jungle and cropland being diverted to agrofuels. Corn, soybeans, sugar cane and oil palm are the major crops being planted. The biodiversity of the regions is being seriously threatened by this type of cropping. Communal property and small private land holdings are being taken over by huge major human rights abuses. The slave like working life of sugarcane workers in Brazil is now 10 to 12 years - worse than the slave times in the U.S.

Even more alarming is the development of "second generation" agrofuels. The Monsantos and other transnationals are already genetically engineering trees, crops, bacteria, and other life forms specifically for agrofuel production. Huge quantities of water are needed to grow the crops and process them for agrofuel, and most of this is in areas where there are already serious water shortages.

In solidarity we in the North can unite with our sisters and brothers in the South to maintain our cultures by embracing the principles of Food Sovereignty. We in the North must stop our wasteful use of the world's fuel resources. We have won some battles. Arlene and Hiroshi Kanno are with us today. They are the first to win a major battle against water privatization by defeating Nestle's attempt to steal massive amounts of water in our area of Wisconsin, U.S.A. We are also winning the battle to stop Monsanto's unsafe rBGH product -- Posilac. Posilac was the first genetically modified product to enter the food chain. You have won major battles to stop human and environmental abuses in the State of Oaxaca.

The present government in the U.S. is using a culture of fear to divide people to prevent us from working together to preserve our culture and our dignity. Invasions of other countries, unjust agriculture and trade policies are crimes against humanity. Working together we can make a difference.

All acts against a people's culture are crimes against human rights. There are no human rights without culture!

About the author: John Kinsman is a dairy farmer and president of Family Farm Defenders, in Wisconsin.

This speech was presented at Cine Club El Pochote, Oaxaca City January 11, 2008

Published in In Motion Magazine March 21, 2008

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