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Biofuels: Threat or opportunity for women?

Daniel Kammen's picture

In Africa, where two-thirds of farmers are women, the potential of biofuels as a low or lower-carbon alternative fuel, with applications at the household energy, community and village level, to a national resource or export commodity, has a critical gender dimension. The key question is: how will increased biofuel production affect women?

To look at the impacts on women, one logical approach is to use a computable general equilibrium model that tracks economic impacts of new crops and how patterns of trade and substitution will change. It’s important to account for the complexities involved, and rely not on a simple, traditional commodity model but one that tracks the impacts on women through changing prices and demands for crops to be sold on local and international markets. Who gains and who loses as prices change, and as the value of specific crops and of land changes?

In a detailed modeling effort based on the situation today in Mozambique, World Bank economist Rui Benfica and colleagues (Arndt, et al., 2011) found that even with significant land area available, the impacts of large increases in bio-fuels production — which are now under way — will do little to benefit women. This is largely because shifts to export-oriented and commercial agriculture, while they may raise export earnings, often exclude women. Women are often already far over-burdened by work and time commitments to subsistence farming, other income-generating activities and household work, including child care. The CGE model shows that financially profitable bio-fuel expansions may widen this gap, and reinforce this exclusion.