14/04/2010 07:09

THE FACTS RIGHT AND KILL THE MYTHSGiven the ongoing debate on ethanol benefits, it is                             



important to distinguish fallacious myths from

honest facts





Brazilian sugarcane ethanol leads to deforestation in the Amazon

Rainforest and other sensitive biomes




Almost 90% of sugarcane production for ethanol is harvested in South-Central Brazil,

over 2,500 km (1,550 miles) from the Amazon. The remainder is grown in Northeastern

Brazil, about the same distance from the Amazon’s easternmost fringe. That is roughly

the distance between New York City and Dallas, or Paris and Moscow. There is very little

production of sugarcane in the Amazon region (less than 0.2% of Brazil’s total production)

that is processed at three mills, out of more than 400 industrial plants throughout

Brazil that were built in the early 1980s, at a time when the military government provided

fiscal incentives to set up industrial facilities in this region to supply local markets. Without

subsidies, these mills would not have been economically viable since the Amazon

region does not offer favorable conditions for commercial sugarcane production. Current

and future expansion is anticipated to continue in South-Central Brazil, primarily on

degraded pastures. The sugarcane industry strongly condemns any sugarcane expansion

on sensitive biomes such as the Amazon rainforest or wetlands, and supports President

Lula’s proposed legislation to establish an agro-ecological zoning for sugarcane,

prohibiting any future sugarcane production in the Amazon, Pantanal (Brazilian Wetlands)

or in any type of native vegetation, including native Cerrado. This bill establishes

92.5% of Brazil’s national territory off-limits for sugarcane farming and processing.




Sugarcane expansion displaces other agricultural

activities into the Rainforest




According to the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE), about 65% of

recent sugarcane expansion took place on pastures, mostly degraded, in South-Central

Brazil. As such, growing sugarcane in these areas does not increase competition for

new land or displace other crops; instead it leads to cattle intensification. According to a

2008 report by the Dutch University of Wageningen, 5.4 million hectares of pasture land

were released for other uses between 2002 and 2006, while the cattle herd increased by

18,383 heads. Brazil has a total pasture area of 159 million ha, 33 times more than the

area currently used to produce sugarcane ethanol. Amazon deforestation, which has

been going on for many decades, has been caused by an unfortunate and complex set

of social and economic factors completely unrelated to the expansion of Brazil’s sugarcane

industry. One of the main issues is the absence of clear land titles, which leaves

the region exposed to rampant land speculation and squatting. Forty-three percent of

the Amazon is officially protected, while the rest is divided between areas that are supposed

to be public (21%) and private (32%). But the truth is that only 4% of the private

areas have legal titles. As a result of the lack of clear property rights and enforcement of

the law, illegal logging is indeed the major “cash crop” of the rainforest. Finally, over 20

million people currently live in the Amazon region. Tragically, to most of them, the standing

forest has no value for their immediate well-being or economic survival.




Brazil is being overrun by sugarcane plantations in

detriment of food production and prices




In 2008, sugarcane for ethanol production in Brazil occupied 4.8 million hectares, or

roughly 1.5 % of the country’s 330 million hectares of arable farmland. The area cultivated

for sugarcane and used for ethanol is less than one-fourth of Brazil’s corn acreage,

one-eighth of soybean fields, and one-thirty fifth of the land used for cattle ranching.

With only 1.5 % of its arable land dedicated to sugarcane for ethanol production, Brazil

has been able to replace half of its gasoline needs with sugarcane ethanol, and still

increasingly generate additional volumes for export. In addition, while cane production

has increased steadily in recent years, food production in Brazil has grown dramatically.

The 2008 harvest for grain and oilseed reached 135 million metric tons, approximately

twice that of ten years ago. Brazil is widely recognized for its diversified and highly efficient

agricultural sector – it is the world’s leading exporter of beef, coffee, orange juice,

poultry, soybeans and sugar, just to name a few of the top commodities.




Ethanol production and use cause more damage to the

environment than fossil fuels




Ethanol can be produced from a wide variety of feedstocks, with different environmental

impacts depending on how each type is produced and processed. Claims that sugarcane

ethanol production could actually increase carbon emissions are flawed. According

to a recent report published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP),

Brazilian sugarcane ethanol reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 75% to 143% when

compared to gasoline, a reduction unmatched by any other biofuel produced with existing

technology and comparable to what would be attained with second-generation biofuels.

In fact, when compared to crops such as corn or soybeans, sugarcane captures

more carbon because it is a unique semi-perennial crop only replanted every six years.

In addition, the use of degraded pastures – the expansion area of choice for sugarcane

in Brazil – actually generates a carbon credit, as sugarcane captures significantly larger

amounts of carbon than the quantities originally stocked in this type of land. Sugarcane

by-products (bagasse and straw) are used to produce clean, renewable electricity. Official

government data indicates that in 2008 sugarcane mills produced approximately

1,800 average MW of electricity, of which one third was surplus electricity. Bioelectricity

will expand from 3% to 15% of Brazil’s electricity demand by 2020 and will obviate the

need to increase the number of fossil-based thermal power plants.




Ethanol production consumes more energy than it generates




The energy balance ratio of a given fuel is the ratio between the energy content in the

fuel to the energy spent to produce it. When the entire process is considered, from the

planting of sugarcane to the use of ethanol as a motor vehicle fuel in what is known as

a well-to-wheel analysis, sugarcane ethanol has an energy balance ratio of 9.3 units of

clean, renewable energy for every unit of fossil energy spent in its production and transportation

stages. On the other hand, ethanol produced from other feedstocks has significantly

lower energy ratios. Lifecycle studies conducted by the U.S. Argonne National

Laboratory have shown that dwindling fossil fuels have a sharply lower energy balance

ratio than any biofuel, but especially sugarcane ethanol.




Sugarcane ethanol is a unique solution from which

only Brazil can benefit




Over 100 countries grow sugarcane and most could produce and use ethanol, repeating

Brazil’s successful experience. The potential for global expansion is impressive.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), only 10% of the world’s 200

million hectares (excluding forests and protected areas) available and suitable for sugarcane

production are actually used. Most sugarcane producing countries are emerging

markets in tropical regions that would benefit tremendously from an opportunity

for significant economic rural development. Ethanol production and use create jobs,

foster development of new technologies, allow for the introduction of cheap renewable

electricity in rural areas, cut down on oil imports and provide new export opportunities.

Ethanol production in 100 countries would also enhance energy security by reducing

world reliance on only 20 oil producing countries.




Brazilian sugarcane ethanol is cheap because the

industry uses slave labor




Brazilian law prohibits any form of degrading labor condition, not just slave labor. UNICA

and its members have united to fight any labor rights violation. In 2009, the Brazilian

government, industry leaders and workers’ unions launched the “National Commitment

for the Enhancement of Labor Conditions in Sugarcane Production.” The sugarcane

industry has voluntarily committed to abide by a set of thirty best practices, which will

be audited by an independent third party. In many cases these practices go beyond

the text of the law. These recognized best practices include the direct hiring of workers

for manual planting and harvesting of sugarcane, thus eliminating intermediaries

that have been identified as a source of concerns by labor unions. Other key points

are improvements in employee transportation, added transparency in compensation

calculations, support for migrants hired from other regions, enhanced health and safety

practices, and additional support for collective bargaining. For its part, the government

will introduce a package of specific public policies for education, retraining and job

placement. This is a gradual process of evolving standard practices, inspired on the

simple and groundbreaking idea that the market itself should recognize the value of this

commitment, fostering effective changes in the sector’s labor practices. The sugarcane

industry already ranks second in terms of the highest average salaries paid in Brazilian

agriculture, second only to soybean farming, which is highly mechanized.



The information provided in this

document was accurate on November, 2009.


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