GENEVA (AFP) — Biofuels are not only hurting poor consumers in Asia by driving up crop prices, they are also failing to help the region's farmers who have not been able to adapt their production to cash in on the boom, a United Nations report said on Thursday.
"So far, poor rural farmers have not seen the benefits of biofuel production. They lack the wherewithal to extend their land and adapt to new crops. And the impetus for large-scale farming can push the poor off their land, excluding them from biofuels," it said.
"Small poor farmers in particular, have been left behind," UN Conference on Trade and Development economist Cape Kasahara told reporters in Geneva.
The rise of biofuels has come under fire, with Indian Finance Minister P. Chidambaram on Wednesday criticising countries like the United States for diverting farm products to produce biofuels, saying this had led to soaring global food prices.
Food giant Nestle's chief executive Peter Brabeck also said earlier that the growing use of crops such as wheat and corn to make biofuels is putting world food supplies in peril.
The UN report noted that the sector has the potential to lower oil prices as well as provide higher demand for farmers, but urged governments to "carefully consider the impact on the poor".
The report also called for a "revolution" in the agriculture sector, saying that it could lift 218 million people living across the Asia-Pacific region out of poverty.
Urging for fresh attention on the sector which employs 60 percent of the region's workers, the UN's report said that raising average agricultural labour productivity is needed.
"Decades of neglect have weakened the sector's capacity to cut poverty and inequality.
"Growth and productivity in agriculture have stalled, and the green revolution that boosted agricultural yields in the 1970s has bypassed millions," said the report.
If labour productivity was to rise by just one percent, some 2.37 million would be lifted from poverty, said the report.
And if it were to grow to the current benchmark of Thailand's productivity level, then 218 million people could escape poverty.
The report recommended a reform in policies to connect rural communities to their markets, as well as to provide skills or facilities that allow those who want to leave the sector to do so.
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