Backed up by allies from the US Environmental Protection Agency, the Swedish Government (which buys its ethanol from Brazil), UNICA (the body representing sugar cane growers and producers), Brazilian scientists and an NGO promoting ethanol cooking stoves in Ethiopia, the Brazilian Government wanted there to be no doubt that ethanol was essential, not just for the survival of the project, but for African development and future progress on the Millennium Development Goals.
Brazil is eager to share its experience of developing ethanol with developing countries, especially those which share its vision of an ethanol-fuelled future. And it sees huge potential in Africa - which is perceived as having plenty of land available for growing crops for fuel.
Jose Miguez, head of Brazil’s Interministerial Commission on Globate Climate Change, told the session that concerns about food security were ill-founded. The major factor in the 2008 food price hike had been rising oil prices, he claimed, dismissing studies that had suggested otherwise.
Concerns that increased demand for fuel crops was leading to deforestation, as a result of cattle ranchers being forced off grazing land into the Amazon were also dismissed as mere speculation. Given the limited understanding of “indirect land use change” (ILUC) - apparently the economic models used do not reflect the realities of life in Brazil - it was “premature” to act at this stage.
Brazil has land available for biofuels, the panel claimed - the country just needs to switch to more intensive cattle rearing to free up some pasture.
Unfortunately the promised dialogue failed to materialise - there were just too many wonderful examples of how useful ethanol was to find the time for more than a handful of written questions from the audience. The panel seemed surprised that these were mainly sceptical of Brazil’s claims, leaving Jose Miguez to declare “you are being unfair!”