Gender and Biofuels in Mozambique—
Good or Bad News for Women?
Unripe fruits of Jatropha seeds hang from a tree at Sun Biofuels company in Manica province of Mozambique. Jatropha enthusiasts say the plant can grow almost anywhere, yielding high outputs of cleaner, renewable energy.
This timely study looks carefully at the current growth of biofuels production and processing in Mozambique—both sugarcane for ethanol and jatropha for biodiesel. By 2009, requests for land exceeded 20 million hectares in Mozambique—the equivalent of two thirds of the total arable land in the country, and four times the land currently cultivated.
The study uses a gendered CGE model to simulate different scenarios for the expansion of biofuels production and processing.
A fifth of Mozambique’s population live in households headed by women, and of these most tend to earn their income from female labor. Female-headed households are more reliant on unskilled workers’ earnings, reflecting the general scarcity of higher-skilled female labor.
Food consumption shares and poverty rates are both significantly higher for female-headed households, which reflects their reliance on lower-paying farm employment and confirms their vulnerable status. Barriers-to-entry for women in cash crops include skills deficits, technology, and limited access to, and control of, resources (i.e., land, labor and finance).
Gender matters because biofuels expansion implies rapid growth in cash-export crop production, an area where men tend to dominate.
On the flip side, food crop production, where women tend to provide the majority of labor, will be negatively affected. This effect will be indirect, via resource competition and exchange rate effects, which are likely to make imported foods more attractive.
Investing in biofuels can help reduce Mozambique’s poverty, especially when female workers are better educated and when agricultural productivity is supported by policy.
Education is Key
Biofuels could offer an opportunity for women in Mozambique to substantially increase their income, since at present they are predominantly involved in subsistence agriculture. What is more, the extra income generated through biofuel production could have many positive knock-on effects, such as reducing household vulnerability and poverty levels. However there are significant constraints that prevent women from tapping in to this new opportunity.
To help women improve their chances of generating more income through cash-crop production, the study emphasizes the need for education. The authors estimate that increasing the number of years of schooling for unskilled female workers would not only increase the overall gains in economic growth from biofuels, but also give women greater access to skill-intensive jobs in agriculture. There is one caveat in this scenario however: the trade-off between food production and cash-crop production. If women are no longer producing food, it is imperative that food crop productivity be increased to avoid shortages. This can be achieved through technical assistance and other policy measures; allowing Mozambique to simultaneously boost GDP through biofuels production and produce locally grown crops for household consumption.
*This study was funded by the GAP and by IFPRI's Biofuels and the Poor Project, and the UNU-WIDER Climate Change Project.
Read More on Gender and Agriculture
After the Tsunami: Women and Land Reforms in Aceh | April 2011
A Small but Bright Light in a Terrible Year for Haiti | October 2010
Gender and Biofuels in Mozambique—Good or Bad News for Women | October 2010
Ethiopian Women Gain Status Through Land Holding | October 2010