Link of the Day 012308: Ethanol Demand, Chinese Sprawl and Food Protests

From the NYTimes:

American farmers have been planting more corn and less soy because demand for corn-based ethanol has pushed up corn prices. American soybean acreage plunged 19 percent last year, producing a drop in soybean oil output and inventories.

Chinese farmers also cut back soybean acreage last year, as urban sprawl covered prime farmland and the Chinese government provided more incentives for grain.

Yet people in China are also consuming more oils. China not only was the world’s biggest palm oil importer last year, holding steady at 5.2 million tons in the first 11 months of the year, but it also doubled its soybean oil imports to 2.9 million tons, forcing buyers elsewhere to switch to palm oil.

From Financial Times [Soaring soyabean price stirs anger among poor]:

“On Monday, 10,000 Indonesians demonstrated outside the presidential palace in Jakarta after soyabean prices soared more than 50 per cent in the past month and 125 per cent over the past year, leaving huge shortages in markets.
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From tofu in China to miso, or soyabean paste, in Japan, soya products are an essential ingredient in Asian cuisine as well as staple food for the region’s poor.

For many Indonesians, a piece of tempeh, or fermented soyabean cake, is often their only source of protein, and last year soya products accounted for 22 per cent of Indonesians’ protein intake, excluding rice, according to government data.
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World soyabean prices climbed to a record this week, partly because ­farmers in the US and Asia have instead been growing corn, palm oil and other crops to supply the biofuel industry. Bad harvests in Latin America and rising Chinese demand have added to the price pressure.

“It’s finally a trade-off between filling stomachs and filling diesel tanks in cars and trucks,” says Ashok Gulati, director at the International Food Policy Research Institute.

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