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Volume:8, Number:02
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Nation In The News

From Crops to Fuel

Experts contest government decision to produce ethanol from food grains, cautioning that it will jeopardize food security in Bangladesh

| Manik Chowdhury |

To ensure the eco-friendly organic fuel, Bangladesh government is planning to produce ethanol from grains. Experts fear that it might put country’s food security in danger because a substantial portion of grains is imported from abroad. Thomson Reuters Foundation published a report on this with reference to economists and experts.

Earlier in 2017, the Ministry of Energy issued a notice on Green Energy Production. The notice said ethanol can be produced in Bangladesh using grains, crushed rice, and molasses which will be mixed with patrol at the five percent rate. The report by Thompson Reuters Foundation cited the cautionary statements of economists, businessmen, and environmentalists. According to them, the carbon emission rate by Bangladesh is negligible in comparison to the world climate change. Moreover, Bangladesh has to import corns and other grains from abroad. If they produce ethanol using these grains, then it may cause a food crisis, especially for the poor.

Moshiur Rahman, spokesperson of Bangladesh Poultry Industry, termed this decision 'suicidal'. He said that corns are used in poultry feed. However, almost half of the corns are imported from the US and Brazil. If it is used in producing ethanol, the cost will increase, which eventually will have an impact on everything. He said, "If use of corn starts in ethanol production, then the cost of it will increase by a large margin. As a result, eggs and chicken prices will also go up, which might go beyond the purchasing range of common people." According to a research of the energy ministry, almost 10.80 million liter ethanol can be produced in Bangladesh. For that it needs 60,000 tons of crushed rice, which is almost 3.5 percent of total production.

As a replacement of rice, there will be 62,000 tons of corn needed, which is 2.8 percent of gross production. Also, 97,000 tons of molasses will be needed, which is equal to the total production. However, in the report of the energy ministry it has been warned that if the use of grains crosses this limit to produce more fuel, then it might put the food security at risk. However, state minister for the energy ministry Nasrul Hamid told Thompson Reuters Foundation, "Bangladesh has to follow the trail of other countries to produce green and alternative energy. We want to explore the production of organic fuel besides other fuels. We are going to give permission to launch the production of organic energy soon. Let us see what happens. We will consider the issue of food security after that." However, experts are saying that government is planning to produce ethanol by burning grains without thinking about the food security of the 160 million people of the country, that too, when the country is facing the threat of climate change. Bangladesh faces storms, floods, droughts, salinity, and loss of crops at regular intervals. Besides, the country is at the risk of sea-level rise.

According to the Global Hunger Index, Bangladesh stands 25th among the hungriest countries in the world where many people do not get the chance to have a full course meal everyday. Apart from the cattle food, many people regularly eat corn as their meal. Especially, corn is used with wheat to produce biscuit and other bakery food items. The price of grains is increasing in Bangladesh. According to Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB), in last one year, the price of the cheaper quality rice climbed up to BDT42 per kilogram, which is a 25 percent increase. The price hike of food items is a real concern. People have to spend a large portion of their income on food. In February, the inflation rate in Bangladesh was 6.8 percent. According to World Bank, almost 13 percent of Bangladeshis live under the poverty line.

According to the food ministry, Bangladesh produces more paddy than required. However, 45 tons of corns are imported from abroad every year. The executive director of the first company to bid for ethanol production, Shunipun Organic Limited, Khan Mohammad Aftab Uddin, does not think it will create any kind of threat for food security. He said that the byproduct of organic fuel can be used as fish and poultry feed. He told Thompson Reuters Foundation, "If necessary, we will cultivate corns on islands to collect our raw materials." However, Mohammad Asaduzzaman, a Fellow of Bangladesh Development Study Institute, believes the decision to produce organic fuel from grains is a wrong one. He told Thompson Reuters Foundation, "We still have problems regarding the nutrition of our cattle. Now if corns are used in producing ethanol, then these cattle will suffer from malnutrition even more. This decision is a big mistake." Golam Moazzem, a research director at the Center for Policy Dialogue, said, "If the production of ethanol starts, then it will have growing demand in the market. Especially, if the oil price rises, then it will have even higher demand. As a result, more grains will be needed. But since Bangladesh has scarcity of agricultural land, the production of primary corps will be affected. He said, as long as we cannot meet our basic nutrition demand, we should not bother to think about green energy."

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