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« Bug » de l’éco-industrie : bioéthanol versus tortillas ?

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D’après article source : Lester Brown, Earth Policy Institute , 21 mars 2007

     La réaffectation de la production céréalière américaine vers les biocarburants tire vers le haut les prix mondiaux de la nourriture. Les prix du maïs ont doublé l’an dernier. Les contrats à terme sur le blé sont échangés à leur cours le plus haut depuis dix ans. Le prix du riz est en hausse. La hausse du prix des céréales implique nécessairement un renchérissement de la nourriture (+60% sur les tortillas mexicaines). Un peu partout dans le monde, le prix de la nourriture est en croissance.

D’après le Département de l’agriculture américain, aux USA :

  • prix de gros du poulet en hausse de 10% sur 2007 par rapport à 2006 ;
  • prix de la douzaine d’œufs en hausse de 21%;
  • prix du litre de lait en hausse de 14%;

En Chine :

  • prix du porc en hausse de 20% sur 2007 par rapport à 2006 ;
  • prix de la douzaine d’œufs en hausse de 16%;

En Inde:

  • prix du blé en hausse de 11%;

     Dans le passé la hausse des prix agricoles était toujours temporaire, largement liée aux conditions climatiques affectant les cultures. Or cette situation est aujourd’hui différente comme de plus en plus de distilleries d’éthanol affectées à la production de biocarburant sont construites pour palier à la raréfaction de la ressource pétrolière.

Face à la flambée des prix du pétrole, les USA se sont lancés avec une certaine frénésie dans la production de biocarburant à base de maïs, céréale dont ils sont l’un des plus gros producteurs et exportateurs mondiaux. En conséquence, la spéculation sur la céréale s’intensifie dangereusement, les prix flambent et il est à craindre que, très vite, la quantité de maïs disponible pour l’alimentation humaine et animale ne diminue dramatiquement par rapport à celle consacrée à la production d’éthanol à des fins de carburant. En conséquence les prix mondiaux commencent à monter vers des valeurs équivalent-pétrole, dans ce qui nous apparaît comme le début d’une hausse structurelle des prix agricoles sur le long terme.

Un rapport officiel américain estime que la filière éthanol aura besoin d’environ 139 millions de tonnes de maïs d’ici à la récolte de 2008. Or le ministère de l’Agriculture ne prévoyant qu’une production de 60 millions de tonnes, il faudra donc trouver 79 millions de tonnes nécessaires ailleurs. Au moindre coût, donc en priorité au Mexique.

Corn Use for Ethanol 1980-2006 with Projection to 2008 by Earth Policy Institute

     Vers 2008, presque un tiers de la récolte de céréale américaine ira vers la filière de production d’éthanol. Réduisant ainsi les quantités disponibles en interne comme les surplus à l’export. Le grenier à céréale mondial deviendra ainsi assez rapidement la citerne d’essence américaine. A moins que Washington ne réduise les quantités de céréales utilisées comme biocarburant, celui-ci devra faire face, non seulement au mécontentement des consommateurs américains, et à une instabilité politique et économique dangereusement accrue dans les pays à faibles revenus (Mexique) et/ou largement dépendant de leurs importations agricoles (les pays à fort stress hydrique d’Afrique et du Moyen-Orient).

image0028 dans Energie

     Or un chaos sur le marché mondial des céréales est tout à fait inutile quand on sait qu’augmenter l’efficacité de la consommation automobile de 20%  réduirait la consommation de carburant d’un montant identique à celui obtenu en convertissant l’intégralité de la récolte américaine en éthanol. De plus, d’après les journalistes du Chicago Sun-Times ayant mené une enquête sur la filière éthanol de maïs, celle-ci est en réalité, « très cher et inutile », et qu’en aucun cas il ne sera possible que ce biocarburant permette aux USA d’accéder à l’indépendance énergétique: « même si tout le maïs produit aux Etats-Unis en 2007 était réservé à la production d’éthanol, la consommation de pétrole ne baisserait que de 12 % ».

Voir l’article éthanol contre tortillas : les Mexicains crient famine

***

Complément et/ou correction d’information d’après topic du forum effets de terre, traduction d’un article de La Jornada de Mexico.

 » Mexico is the fourth largest corn producer in the world. Last hear, it harvested 22 million tons, mostly – although not exclusively – white conn. The volume is much lower than the United States: 280 million tons in 2005, though most is yellow corn. That county controls 70% of the world market. One difference between the other major producers and Mexico, which is important in Latin America, is that Mexican corn is grown for human consumption. We are a culture born from corn. 
The fall of Mexican corn
For decades Conasupo ( Compañía Nacional de Subsistencias Populares ) played a fundamental role in regulating the national market, stockpiling, importing and distributing grain. As a result of signing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the program was terminated.
Between 1994 and 1998, Conasupo was the seller of last resort. In 1998, Eresto Zedillo said that the major corporate sellers (Maseca, connected with ADM; MINSA, associated with Corn Products International, Arancia and Cargill, and merged with Continental) were in charge of the national market. The former state monopoly,which despite corruption functioned reasonably well, was transferred to private monopolies which had the objective of making rapid returns on their investments.
Dismantling Conasupo was an essential step in privatizing the corn and tortilla market. Other government measures were freeing the price of tortillas in 1999 and closing down Fidelist, a a subsidy program which provided food for 1.2 million families in poor urban areas. c
Another major change in production was to modify the form in which corn was processed. For many years, tortillas were made though a process of nixtamalization [mixing "cal" - limestone, which frees essential amino acids in the corn - in with the grain] which was an key process in milling producing tortillas. This started to change during Carlos Salinas de Gortari’s administration (1988-1994), when tortillas made with processed wheat flour were substituted for nixtamal.
Changing the method of production provoked a strong conflict between the economic actors involved, and was known as « the tortilla war. » Legal battles drastically reduced the importance of the mill and tortilleria owners. In 2003, 49% of tortillas were produced by the major industrial producer. Grupo Maseca had control of 70% of this market. An alliance of the major producers has, in the last five years, grown their market share significantly.
From a national to international price
Commercial producers in Mexico were simultaneously storing local grain and importing it. My controlling inventory, they could demand that prices be lowered or raised according to their needs. They acquired a substantial part of the spring and fall Sinaloa harvest (by far the most important in the Republic, accounting for almost 10 tons in the last spring and fall cycle) at a price of $350 pesos ($30 US Dollars) per ton per ton. They could already count on having nearly a million tons of corn, enough on hand to get into speculation, hold back supplies to articificially raise the prise. Those same ten tons from Sinaloa, sold for 3,500 pesos a ton (US$320) in Mexico City: 2,150 pesos (US$197) over what was paid.
True, the price of corn in the world market had risen in recent months, as a result of the use of corn for distillng ethanol But those increases had no relation to the price of corn in Mexico. On the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, bids reached almost US$ 144 a ton, but this is less than half the price corn was sold for in Mexcico City.
The costs of diesel, gasoline and electricity, the overhead costs for transport and processing, rose during the last months of the Vicente Fox administration. This affected the consumer price of tortillas, but overhead only accounts for 30% of the cost of production.
There was absolutely no justification for the jump in the price of tortillas. Neither rising energy costs, nor the jump in prices on the international market justified the consumer price. The central problem was speculation by the elevator owners.
Speculation is the favored market model of those that believe in fully bringing in the NAFTA regulations, dismantling the state development agencies and businesses though savage privatization. The result is a clearly inefficient market, for all intents and purposes, a speculative monopoly. Thanks to politicians like Luis Téllez y Santiago Levy, the Mexican government has cut off its hands when it comes to intervening to create order in the market.
Cargill can’t lose in México
When the price of tortillas goes sky-high, the multinational Carill wins. IF they import corn from the United States, they benefit. If, on the other hand, they export to other countries, they receive subsidies. When they seek approval for the use and explotation of grain terminals in ports, they maintain their profit margin.
Cargill, a 140 year old company, is the second largest privat ecompany in the world, and has 149,000 employees in 72 countries. Fortune magazine lists it as the 20th most important company on the planet. It buys, processes and distributes grain and other agricultural products, describing itself in its literature as: « the flour in your bread, the wheat in your noodles, the salt in your la harina en su pan, el trigo en sus tallarines, la flavor in your food. We are the corn in your tortillas, the chocolate in your dessert, the additives in your gasoline. We are the oil in your salad dressing, and the meat, pork or chicken you have at dinner. We are the cotton in your clothes, the stuffing in your sofa and the fertilizer in your field. »
The multinational has had a presence in Mexico for more than 80 years, beginning with forestry operations in the Northeast. In 1972 it opened it’s first office in the country with six employees. When NAFTA came in and after Conasupo ceased operations, there was a huge gap in the Mexican market, which the international giant was poised to fill. It’s presence in Mexican agriculture is overwhelming.
Under NAFTA, corn imports from the United States were subject to yearly caps, with imports over the yearly amount subject to tariffs. However, the Mexican government unilaterally eliminated this protection, permitting any amount of grain to come in without penalties. Between 1994 and 2001, the import quota rose to nearly 13 million tons. The two major agricultural corporations, Cargill and ADM sold most of the U.S. corn sold in Mexico, and benefited enormously from the end of tariffs. In addition, they also benefited from the indirect subsidy they received from Washington in the form of export credits.
Recources under the export credit program were for shareholder costs, storage, handling, transport and cabotage * for transporting Sinaloa grain, as permitted under the regulations of the time, were generous to Cargill. When, as it happened in 2006, the multinational exported hundreds of thousands of tons of grain to other countries, it received export subsidies from the government.
Commercial white corn producers in this country receive what is called an « objective price ». For most of the internatinonal market, the « indifferent price » is used, calculated on the international market by reference to the costs of storage and transport from grain elevators in New Orleans to the ultimate Mexican consumer. The difference between the « objective » and « indifferent » p[rice can fluctuate between 450 and 500 pesos (US$ 40-45) per ton, which is paid by the government, and not by the commercial enterprise, which only receives the « indifferent » price. Cargill, as one of the most important grain elevator operators, receives an important indirect subsidy this way.
En 2002 the Comisión Federal de Competencia [Mexican equivalent of the Federal Trade Commission] authorized Cargill to develop, use and exploit a private port in Guaymas, Sonora, together with Grupo Contri, whose main activity is buying, storing and selling other grains – mostly wheat, corn and sorghum. The giant company also controls the principal grain port in Veracruz.
Cargill was little known of in Mexico until in 2001 Congress approved a special tax on the production and importation of fructose, a corn-based sweetener. The multinational imports around 385,000 tons annually. The affair was a disaster in international commercial courts. Mexico lost their case for the tax.
Cargill is considered responsible for the rise in tortilla prices, having bought and stored 600,000 tones of Sinoloa corn for 650 pesos a ton (US$60) which it turned around months later at 3,500 pesos per ton (US$320). The response was to lift import caps on cereal grains, which is supposed to lower prices and bring benefits. Lorenzo Mejía, president of the Unión Nacional de Industriales de Molinos y Tortillerías (Milling and Tortilla Industrial Union) says, « the millers cannot import grain and use Cargill’s services:
The company has rejected the indignant wave of accusations it has faced. It denies being « the corn in your tortillas » – as it says in its consumer brochures – and, in a press release, claimed, like consumers, masa-produers and tortilla vendors, to be worried by the high price of corn. Cargill blames the price rise on the free market and tells the Mexican public that the rise is due to purchasing by pork producers.
La quiebra de un modelo
The rise in the price of tortillas has demonstrated the weakness of the Mexican state against the monopolies. They control the marketing and production of corn, and can set off a round of inflation without impunity. The Executive has no arms to fight this war.
The federal government’s response to the rise has been pathetic. It closed a few tortillerías, and made a media show of the offensive against abuse and blamed the vendors. It announced no measures to control the price of production, or to alter the basic rules. While the producers approve of the government’s response, claiming they are not responsible for the price jump.
The President has announced that it will allow white corn to be imported without tariffs. But those acquiring the cereal are the same ones responsible for the price increases, and who already control the inventory. And these imports are a blow to Mexican farmers, worried about the country being flooded with bad quality grain, likely to contaminate their seed with transgenetic varieties or seed infected with aflatoxina.
Of course, the Calderón administration has buried the information on the speculators. ASERCA 1 has a detailed report detailed. The present system, in which the federal government subsidizes commercial storage and sale of corn, requires accurate reporting and the ability to control reserves. In spite of this, we only hear of the governments inability to inject itself into the market. The President is not interested in the crisis, except that it gives his government a opening to project legitimacy to the poor. Or, to appear decisive if he steps in to control inflation.
Since the start of NAFTA in January 1994, tortilla prices have risen by 738%. The result has been less consumption, of worse quality.
Mexican food supply now depends much more on the United States. Native seeds have been infected with imported transgenetic varieties. Rural migration has left many rural communites deserted except for the old, woman and children. A substantial part of the cereal production region is at risk, or could be turned to other crops. These other crops will also face a price drop as corn fields are converted to more profitable harvests.
Today we are living through a new tortilla war, different than that in the 90s when different businesses faced off. Now, it is the big argo-businesses against the poor. In this war, the government of Felipe Calderón has clearly sided with the monopolies who helped him gain the Presidency
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