The UN food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has warned governments of the negative effects of large-scale production of biofuels, cautioning that rapid increases in production of the liquid in developing countries could exacerbate the marginalisation of women in rural areas.
The warning is contained in a recent study by the FAO that notes that large-scale plantations for the production of liquid biofuels such as bioethanol and biodiesel require "an intensive use of resources and inputs to which small farmers, particularly women, traditionally have limited access". The resources include land and water, chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
"Unless policies are adopted in developing countries to strengthen the participa tion of small farmers, especially women, in biofuel production by increasing their access to land, capital and technology - gender inequalities are likely to become more marked and women’s vulnerability to hunger and poverty further exacerbated," said Yianna Lambrou, a co-author of the report entitled Gender and Equity Issues in Liquid Biofuels Production - Minimising the Risks to Maximize the Opportunities.
"Biofuel production certainly offers opportunities to farmers - but they will only trickle down to the farm level, especially to women, if pro-poor policies are put in place that also empowers women," the report added.
The report also warned that the replacement of local crops with monoculture energy crop plantations could threaten agro-biodiversity as well as the extensive knowledge and the traditional skills of small-holder farmers in the management, selection and storage of local crops, all activities performed mainly by women.
The report stresses the need for further research and data on the socio-economic effects of liquid biofuel production on men and women. It calls for an environmentally sustainable and pro-poor biofuel development strategy, integrating energy crop plantations into existing local agri-food systems
in order to protect small-holder farmers’ traditional agricultural activities, skills and specialised knowledge, which are crucial to the food security and long- term resilience of rural communities.
Measures should be taken to ensure that women and female-headed households have the same opportunity as men to engage in and benefit from the sustainable production of liquid biofuels.
This is all the more important as the number of households headed by women is growing, with around 40 per cent of the total in Southern Africa and 35 per cent in the Caribbean, says the FAO.
On a positive note, the FAO report observes that the establishment of plantations for biofuel production may create new employment opportunities in the rural areas, targeting mainly to low-skilled agricultural workers. Panapress