Biofuels as a future source of energy for women in rural settlements in South Africa

Aug 2006

Gender issues continue to play a vital role in the development of policy for energy. Energy poverty creates a set of social problems that impact on the home and its occupants, with differing degrees depending on the circumstances. But no matter what the circumstances, energy poverty has an impact on the ability of home to be run affordably and efficiently and for the residents of the home to be able to use the home space as a place for local economic activity. Energy is a basic need for all people and the hardships of energy poverty need to be addressed through a number of the Millennium Development Goals.
This paper looks at a particular energy supply which comes from biofuels. The needs of the rural poor in terms of energy supply is examined and biofuels are looked at terms of how this energy supply could become part of a pro-poor strategy particularly among women. The issue of increasing oil prices is analysed and it is noted that South Africa, like the rest of the world is looking for alternatives. Biofuels seem an obvious one as they substitute directly for liquid fuels while still using the same machines/equipment that utilise liquid fossil fuels. There is an opportunity now to make the biofuels industry a pro poor process, if it is done correctly. However, if the biofuels sector is driven in the wrong way it could cause greater poverty, through competition for land and thus rising food prices, or through the increase in industrial agricultural processes in the quest for more liquid energy to fuel SUVs and to keep unsustainable lifestyles afloat. Recognizing that there are potential issues around the biofuels industry and working on a number of assumptions contained within this paper, EcoSasa has developed a proposal for how to develop the biofuels industry in a way that creates jobs in rural settlements, protects land from erosion and the impacts of poor industrial agricultural practice, stimulates additional local economic development within rural areas, as well as bringing energy to the most energy poor of the country, the rural communities and thus rural women. All of this can take place while at the same time making available the surplus biofuel product to other non rural areas, thus improving the energy security of South Africa. EcoSasa’s proposal is that perennial crops be favoured over annual crops not only because they can be grown sustainably on non arable and marginal land, but also because their energy inputs/output ratio is far better over the lifetime of the crop than annual crops. Monocropping is discouraged to favour a food forest approach that enables small scale subsistence farmers to maintain household level food security as well as to develop other economic activities that contribute to sustainable livelihoods within these poor communities.

By: A. Sugrue (CURES Southern Africa/EcoCity)

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