News - February 12, 2009


During a state visit to Brazil in March, Prime Minister Balkenende will pay a visit to Wageningen UR’s Latin American Office near Sao Paulo. There he will be informed about biofuels by Dr. Peter Zuurbier and Dr. Jos van de Vooren.

In a preparatory memo, Zuurbier addresses the question of whether the production of biofuels in Brazil poses a threat to world food supplies and to the Amazon. He draws a distinction between sugar cane cultivation to produce ethanol and soya cultivation for biodiesel. Sugar cane cultivation doesn’t affect the Amazon, he concludes, as it takes place in the south of Brazil, two thousand kilometers away from the tropical rain forest. He expects that Brazil will expand sugar cane production over the next five years by about 4 million hectares – more or less the surface of the Netherlands. (There are currently about 7.5 million hectares under production.) The extra bioethanol produced is destined partly for domestic use and partly for export. This will not affect Brazil’s food supply, says Zuurbier. But he does point to a dilemma: through the mechanization of sugar cane production, which is good for the environment, 160 thousand sugar cane cutters will lose their jobs in the state of Sao Paulo.

For soya farming, which produces biodiesel among other things, it’s a different story. Soya is farmed on the edge of the Amazon region. Zuubier recommends joint research with Braziliam partners to identify other raw materials for biodiesel.