Agronomy and Horticulture Department


Date of this Version



Published in the November 2007 issue of Environment. Volume 49, Number 9, pages 30–43. Posted with permission. © Heldref Publications, 2007.


The integration of the agricultural and energy sectors caused by rapid growth in the biofuels market signals a new era in food policy and sustainable development. For the first time in decades, agricultural commodity markets could experience a sustained increase in prices, breaking the long-term price decline that has benefited food consumers worldwide. Whether this transition occurs—and how it will affect global hunger and poverty—remain to be seen. Will food markets begin to track the volatile energy market in terms of price and availability? Will changes in agricultural commodity markets benefit net food producers and raise farm incomes in poor countries? How will biofuels-induced changes in agricultural commodity markets affect net consumers of food? At risk are more than 800 million food-insecure people—mostly in rural areas and dependent to some extent on agriculture for incomes—who live on less than $1 per day and spend the majority of their incomes on food. An additional 2–2.5 billion people living on $1 to $2 per day are also at risk, as rising commodity prices could pull them swiftly into a food-insecure state.

The potential impact of a large global expansion of biofuels production capacity on net food producers and consumers in low-income countries presents challenges for food policy planners and raises the question of whether sustainable development targets at a more general level can be reached. Achieving the 2015 Millennium Development Goals adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2000, which include halving the world’s undernourished and impoverished, lies at the core of global initiatives to improve human well-being and equity, yet today, virtually no progress has been made toward achieving the dual goals of alleviating global hunger and poverty. The record varies on a regional basis: Gains have been made in many Asia-Pacific and Latin American-Caribbean countries, but progress has been mixed in South Asia, and setbacks have occurred in numerous sub-Saharan African countries. Whether the biofuels boom will move extremely poor countries closer to or further from the Millennium Development Goals remains uncertain.