Biofuels, Development and Patriarchy

From the May 6, 2008 issue of New Scientist:

The image of biofuels is rapidly tarnishing. Already under fire for displacing food production and tropical forests, they are now charged with marginalising poor rural women.

In a report published on 21 April, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization concludes that women subsistence farmers will be evicted to make way for huge biofuel plantations. The most vulnerable women already suffer extreme inequalities in African, Asian and Caribbean countries. These same countries are now hoping to cash in on the growing demand for biofuels in rich western countries.

“These women don’t have access to land, or the land they do occupy is owned by men,” says report author, Yianna Lambrou. “So if the men decide to set up a biofuel plant, the women would simply be evicted.” That would push them onto marginal land barely capable of supporting crops, and also deny them easy access to water, as biofuel production would have first claim on the supply.

Even if jobs are on offer at a biofuel plant, they’ll go mainly to men, and any women employed will receive lower wages for the same job, Lambrou says.

He believes that governments need to plan in advance to prevent these problems either by helping women form cooperatives to raise capital for their own biofuel plantations, or by experimenting with combining smaller-scale biofuel production with the methods of subsistence farming already in use in the area.

The patriarchal consequences of biofuel development seem no different than the consequences of any capitalist development of land use – on this same subject for instance, see Butch Lee’s 2003 essay There’s Fighting in Iraq but the Real Women’s War is in Afrika.


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