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Alternative energy news, and information about renewable energy technologies.

May 05

Are Biofuels Marginalizing Rural Women?

Posted in Biofuels | Energy Economy | Energy Politics

Biofuels Women According to a study by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the recent and rapid increase in large-scale liquid biofuel production in third world countries could marginalize rural women by threatening their livelihoods. Traditionally, small farmers (women in particular) have had limited access to the large-scale plantations that are required for the production of biofuels like bioethanol and biodiesel. These include land and water, chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

“Unless policies are adopted in developing countries to strengthen the participation 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, co-author of the paper entitled Gender and Equity Issues in Liquid Biofuels Production – Minimizing the Risks to Maximize the Opportunities. “Biofuel production certainly offers opportunities for farmers – but they will only trickle down to the farm level, especially to women, if pro-poor policies are put in place that also empower women.”

This is contrary to last year’s article from biopact.

  • anna

    It is sad to see that NO ONE left a comment…but then again….it is another country and we tend not to care! I am sure if it was a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader losing her right to cheer, there would have been plenty of comments.

    What a sad, sick and TV driven America.

  • PeterG

    The real reason why there’s so little sympathy for rural women being marginalized as a result of the whole biofuels process, is that biofuels, by stealth, will marginalize the whole 3rd world – not just rural women.

    But the lack of education of 3rd world workers, and their despotic political/military leadership (propped up by our industrialized nations), results in their countries replacing food crops for fuel crops.

    Anyone with sufficient education can:
    1) add up the demand for fuel in India and China
    2) add up the demand for high energy food in China and India
    3) add up the impact of global warming on crops in general
    4) conclude that biofuel simply adds up to more starving 3rd world people, as India and China become fully industrialized.

    If the near-future biofuel technology were more efficient (which it is not) then these 3rd world countries might have had a chance to achieve economic independence – but there’s no such technology yet developed. There’s R&D – but that’s not going to result in anything which will save these nations from peril over the next 10-20 years.


    If the rural women want to access that kind of a future then it’s only because of their lack of education and their propped-up despot political/military leadership.

    The solution to the rural women’s problems is education (and all the things necessary to get them educated), not access to growing biofuel.

  • Bob Wallace

    I voted ‘not sure’.

    I think it’s going to depend on where these women farm, whether they will be pushed off their land by large operations. If they are farming small plots that aren’t convenient for large scale farming techniques then they might even benefit by the diverting of food to biofuel.

    As we use more food for fuel the price of food must increase. That would mean that these women might be able to get more for their produce when they take them to market.

  • PeterG

    You mention that we will be replacing food crops with fuel crops, and that the effect is that the women can get better prices for their food crops as a result.

    But is that sufficient to justify the fact that higher food prices means that those communities with the extra cash will have to pay that as “aid” to people in countries such as Haiti, and African nations who import most of their food – resulting in a zero-sum transaction ?

    In other words, are you prepared to solve one moral problem: carbon emissions, by creating another moral problem: more 3rd world hunger.

    Could you please address that ?

  • Bob Wallace

    Sure Peter, I’ll risk another exchange with you.

    Let’s go back and work through my post slowly.

    You notice that I said “might benefit” right there in the first paragraph? By using that qualifier I am introducing the thought that this situation could possibly play out in a different manner than previously discussed.

    I NOT say that the women WILL get better prices for their crops.

    Furthermore, in no place did I place any sort of good/bad judgment on any of the potential outcomes.

    I did make an assumption that we will continue, at least in the near term, divert some food to fuel production. Whether or not I approve of food to fuel is not addressed in my previous post.

    I will take one new step in this post and state that I don’t think diverting food crop to fuel is a wise practice.

    Now, please go try to pick a fight with someone else.

  • PeterG

    Thanks for being candid. I agree with your comments.

    But I suspect you see my mildly confrontational style as aggressive, which is not my intention. I am very aware that mild confrontation does invoke a transient stress response, and that some people misconstrue the trigger for that feeling of transient stress, as a form of aggression.

    FYI: running for the telephone also invokes a similar transient stress response to confrontation, and I am certain you recognize that running for the telephone is not a form of aggression.


    I occasionally use mild confrontation, and when I do use it, I use it consciously as a tool, and not as a form of aggression.

    When mild confrontation is used successfully it stimulates reflexive responses rather than slow calculated responses – this is my objective, and it is beneficial to all parties participating in a “too-busy-for-details” blog-style forum.

    When aggression is used consciously as a tool, it is used to suppress dissension – which is never my objective.

    When aggression is used subconsciously it is used because “fleeing the scene” was not considered the best option in the milliseconds leading up to the decision. Subconscious aggression is mostly counter productive in today’s heavily populated planet as there is always someone capable of extracting calculated and measured retribution as a response to anyone’s aggressive behavior.


    The vast majority of people no longer have the time to provide each other with slowly compiled reflective responses. That’s why most blog-format responses are mostly short.

    The problem with short responses is that they cannot provide sufficient convincing information to anyone else reading the comments. All they can do is provide statements of conflicting opinion, without the details necessary to “convince” the other party.

    A person reading someone else’s short format opinion (the vast majority) has two options to learn more about that opinion:

    1) enter into discussion with the person who made the opinion statement

    2) research the opinion independently.

    I choose both options, but I have to seize the moment in order to enter into a discussion with the person who made the opinion statement.


    People have so little time to share with anonymous members in any blog-style discussion – no matter how interested the parties are. That’s a function of the competition which arises from over-crowding, which we know is not going to be reduced for decades, if at all.

    The concept of guaranteeing a “relaxed erudite discussion” between anonymous members via a blog-style format is impossible. The blog-format could only be used to send out the invitations, to a scheduled meeting place, and people only play that game when they have very serious intentions.

    After the anonymity has been breached (somehow) then the parties may wish to pursue a relaxed format erudite discussions using an alternative venue – so be it.


    So how can two anonymous parties breach the anonymity barrier, via a blog-style format, in minimum time, yet achieve educational goals ?

    That best method is mild confrontation, but never aggression.

    Mild confrontation results in the exchange of reflexive views.

    A person’s reflexive responses are those which come fastest to mind, and if the person has been researching the subject for a significant duration, then the person’s reflexive responses will be highly filtered towards the topic, with very little waffle.

    If a person has researched a topic very little, but still has a very specific opinion, then that person’s reflexive responses will always be short, as there’s only a trivial amount of supporting detail.


    My point is that I use mild confrontation as a tool to invoke a transient stress response (nowhere near the response to aggression), in order to motivate parties to act, and to act quickly, and then if people a motivate to act then I will provide my own cool and calculated views, so that we can all learn more about the subject in as little time as possible, so that we can all get back to researching the less-well-understood issues for which we haven’t yet formulated an opinion.

  • Bob Wallace

    I didn’t take the time to read through all your last post.

    Did you discuss the fact that you might just be rationalizing acting like a jerk?

  • PeterG

    You’re playing the man again, not the ball.

    That’s when you don’t have anything educational to say, and your reflex response is to use aggression to terminate a discussion and suppress an opinion.

    That only works against someone who doesn’t already understand the technique.


    I know you’ll read the above.

    Keep trying. But you’ll need to use a different tool from your toolbox of tricks.

  • GreenEnergyTV

    I think it is somewhat ridiculous to direct this only toward woman. This should be directed to the entire third world not just the women within it. Situation depending, they might even benefit by producing the fuel instead of the cash crop!

  • Bob Wallace

    That’s correct, Green.

    Switchgrass shows good possibilities for biofuel and grows well on used up cotton land in the US ‘Deep South’.

    Finding a new crop that would thrive in this area on land (which will not support food crops) could bring money into an area that is hurting.

    And perhaps you recall a few years back when it was reported that Mexican farmers were being forced off their land (forced to give up farming) due to the low cost of “industrialized” corn. Rising corn prices would mean that some of those people could start farming their land once more.

    I can’t say that the net result of biofuels will be positive. I’m afraid that it won’t. But that does not mean that everyone will be hurt. Some small scale, marginalized people might benefit.

  • GreenEnergyTV

    But Bob do you think that with the marginalized people switching over to the biofuel crops, it will cause insane price increases in our national produce prices? Yes I do remember the “industrialized” corn incident and I just hope the government wont try to step in like that in the U.S. if the biofuel deal goes mainstream.

  • Bob Wallace

    If people start sticking corn, soybeans, sugarcane, sugar beets, peaches in their gas tanks we will pay for it at the grocery store.

    I’ve no doubt about that. (But I’m not sure that biofuels are playing a significant role in current food price increases.)

    What I think we can rationally do is find plants (switchgrass, algae, fast growing alder/cottonwood trees, whatever) that can be grown where we can’t grow food.

    Ever see that movie “Return to Bountiful”? Old lady struggles to go back to see her old home before she dies. The town ‘Bountiful’ has disappeared. Everyone has moved away because decades of growing cotton degraded the soil so much and no one can make a living there any longer.

    If we find plants that grow in Bountiful and other burned out places then using them for fuel would seem to work for me.

    We’ve got a lot of land where ‘King Cotton’ ruled. And lots of poor quality sandy soil in places such as Oklahoma where corn fields would blow away rather than thrive.

    Give this page a read and see how it strikes you. I haven’t bought into biofuels 100% and would welcome having any flaws pointed out if they exist.

  • Jay D

    There are real solutions starting, such as algae grown from the sea and using no pesticides and fertilizers that can become a new industry and give these women real jobs and careers. They need something right now because we (industrialized nations) have put these women and most of the children of all the developing nations in a very bad place. They cant afford to buy food in most places unless they are fishermen or can grow on small plots enough to feed a family with high fuel and energy costs- meaning higher fertilizer and higher pesticide costs to add to their new affordability problems.

    We created these problems at the same moment we have directly cut their aid effectively in half or a third because the same money only buys 1/3rd the beans as last year. Yest we still only give the same amounts.

    These politicians who forgot to consult with real scientists when they made these bio fuels mandates are directly responsible now for starving these women in Africa and other countries. The global warming is only partly created also by us- which has led directly to the desertification of much of the third world. We have to step up our aid efforts or else face a starving world.

    The technologies to get us out of this mess that are being created today like bio fuels and bio mass conversion technologies are only transitional technologies. What are these scientists waiting for — an invitation? We have to invent whole new energy systems and cars — or we will have a lot of blood on our hands!

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