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India Plans to Increase Use of Bio-Fuel

Next month, India will unveil a national policy to increase the use of bio-fuel. But, as Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, there is growing concern that increased demand for bio-fuel is contributing to global food shortages.

Officials say the national policy on bio-fuels will aim at meeting about 10 percent of India's needs for transport fuels with bio-diesel by 2017. This will involve bringing 10 million hectares of land under crops to produce bio-fuel.

But controversy surrounds the increased demand for bio-fuel. Some experts say the diversion of crops for fuel is one of the factors that has triggered food shortages and driven global food prices sky high.

United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization Director-General Jacques Diouf is visiting India. He says the use of land for bio-fuel needs to be reassessed.

"We have to look at the economics of it. We have to look at the implications, social and others, food security implication vis a vis other solutions that are holistic," he said. "Not look to just one aspect, how much money I can make in doing this?"

Indian critics say the country should use its limited land resources to grow crops for its billion-plus people and to ensure food security.

India says it plans to adopt safeguards. Only wastelands will be used to cultivate non-edible crops for production of fuel.

But farm analyst Devender Sharma - with New-Delhi's Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security - says the land being brought under crops for bio-diesel could be used to grow other crops.

"Even if you are growing it in the wasteland, you need irrigation," said Sharma. "So irrigation, if it was there in the wasteland, there would have been no wasteland, which means these crops are ultimately going to be cultivated in the irrigated areas. "

India is no longer self-sufficient in food and has been importing wheat, edible oils and lentils in recent years.

However, Indian officials point to the country's need for alternate sources of fuel. India imports 70 percent of its oil needs and has been competing with China to secure oil and gas assets in places like Kazakhstan and Africa.