Agrofuels in Latin America Max Thomet is a member of the collective CET SUR, which has its headquarters in the south of Chile. Its mission is to contribute to the mobilisation for social and cultural transformation led by social movements, which are trying to build sustainable societies through the reinvigoration of traditional values and the territorial empowerment of people at local level (http://www.cetsur.org). Biofuels has become a big issue in Chile, just as in other countries in the region. We have the feeling that the importance given to it responds to another agenda, not Chile’s real needs. The peasant world has been largely destroyed. Land today is largely in the hands of businessmen, who are interested in the export of agricultural and cellulose products. So when people speak about agrofuels as an option for farmers, what they are really talking about is an activity that will further concentrate economic control in the hands of a very specific economic group. Moreover, Chile has a relatively small farming area compared with the rest of Latin America, just 5.1 million hectares, compared with 25 million hectares of native forest and forest plantations. What may well happen is that in the longer term forestry products will be used in Chile to produce agrofuels. Way back in 1974 a law was passed to encourage forest plantations. This law made it possible to change the use of land from arable farming to forestry. This led to a concentration of land and of production into the hands of two of the country’s most important economic groups: the Angellini group, which has invested through Forestal Arauco, Celulosa Arauco and the COPEC group; and the Matte group, which has invested through Forestal Mininco and Celulosa CMPC. Although the Angellini group believes that it is too early to invest in agrofuels, it is watching developments closely though its agrofuels subsidiary, Empresas Copec. A public–private consortium, called the Bio Bio Biotechnology Centre, has been formed and is working to “improve” the productive capacity of eucalyptus and pine species (resistance to disease, suitability for pulping, and resistance to cold). New varieties are being developed that will make it possible to push back the present ecological constraints so that a larger area can be turned into forest monoculture. Even before the development of agrofuels from cellulose, forest plantations are advancing strongly into agricultural land, destroying large areas belonging to Mapuche and peasant communities. Cases like Lumaco, where 70 per cent of the population is Mapuche but the communities occupy only 15 per cent of the land, with the rest covered with forest plantations, are becoming more and more common. The social movements and popular organisations in Chile are not well informed. They know very little about agrofuels, and what they have learnt has given them a rather idealised view of them. To give one example: the growing demand for grain from neighbouring countries has led to a 73 per cent increase in maize prices this year, which has led many small farmers to see agrofuels as part of the solution to the country’s environmental and agricultural crisis. We predict that the agrofuels craze will have a severe impact on our country. To mention just a few of the consequences we foresee: once agrofuels are being produced from cellulose, the new distilleries will demand a larger and larger forested area and, once land is forested, it can never again be used for arable farming; even though the forested areas will appear green, they will in fact become green deserts, for local ecosystems and water cycles will be severely affected and, with acute water shortages, local communities and peasant families will first be corralled into smaller and smaller areas and then evicted from the land; and with the surge in demand from the distilleries for wood and wood residues, firewood prices will increase, causing great hardship for families in the south of Chile, as firewood is their basic source of energy.