In a country where most families must spend about two thirds of their income on food, “the average Guatemalan is now hungrier because of biofuel development,” said Katja Winkler, a researcher at Idear, a Guatemalan nonprofit organization that studies rural issues. Roughly 50 percent of the nation’s children are chronically malnourished, the fourth-highest rate in the world, according to the United Nations.
The American renewable fuel standard mandates that an increasing volume of biofuel be blended into the nation’s vehicle fuel supply each year to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and to bolster the nation’s energy security. Similarly, by 2020, transportation fuels in Europe will have to contain 10 percent biofuel.
Large companies like Pantaleon Sugar Holdings, Guatemala’s leading sugar producer, are profiting from that new demand, with recent annual growth of more than 30 percent. The Inter-American Development Bank says the new industry could bring an infusion of cash and jobs to Guatemala’s rural economy if developed properly. For now, the sugar industry directly provides 60,000 jobs and the palm industry 17,000, although the plantations are not labor-intensive.