Women's Environmental Network supports ActionAid's campaign to the end the biofuel boom, a 'green solution' that devastates the livelihoods of some of the world's poorest people.

Only a few years ago, biofuels were being hailed as an answer to climate change, energy security and rural development. But after this first flush of enthusiasm, the reality of biofuels is starting to sink in and more and more evidence is revealing a very different picture.

Biofuels grown on an industrial scale were a major cause of the food and hunger crisis that began in 2008, pushing a further 100 million people into poverty and 30 million more into hunger. As the demand for biofuels has shot up, so have food prices, a catastrophe in the developing world where a family can spend as much as 80% of their income on food. In an already hungry world, it doesn’t take much to realise the inverse logic of using food crops such as maize, wheat, and sugar cane to fill up our cars. Robert Zoellick, President of the World Bank, said that “while many worry about filling their gas tanks, many others around the world are struggling to fill their stomachs”.

It is not only food prices that have affected the world’s most vulnerable people. Biofuels are also having disastrous impacts on local communities in the developing world as foreign companies scour the globe looking for cheap land. In just 5 African countries, ActionAid has found that 1.1 million hectares have been given over to industrial biofuels – an area the size of Belgium. Much of this land is taken without consultation or compensation. For example, Matilde Ngoene, mother and farmer from Mozambique (pictured above), told ActionAid, “They actually took the land when it was already tilled…They haven’t paid us anything, they haven’t told us anything… What we want is to get our farms back, because that is what our livelihood is dependent on… We are dying of hunger and there is nothing that we have that is actually our own.”

The impacts of land grabbing for biofuels fall most heavily on women, who are responsible for 60-80% of food production in developing countries yet own less than 10% of the land. And as food prices rise, women reduce their nutritional intake sharply to feed the rest of the family.

But what about the need for finding greener fuel solutions? We all know that we need to reduce our transport emissions for our own sake but also for the benefit of people in poor countries who are already suffering the consequences of climate change. In fact, largely thanks to deforestation, most biofuels release more greenhouse gasses than fossil fuels and overall biofuels will actually make climate change worse!

ActionAid has therefore been fighting to put the brakes on this so called ‘green solution’. The UK government have now woken up to the fact that there might be a problem, and will be holding a consultation in early 2011 to decide whether to more than treble the amount of biofuel in UK petrol and diesel. This is a perfect moment to put pressure on them to demand that they scrap the UK’s biofuel target and instead invest in genuine solutions to our climate crisis that won’t hurt the world’s poor. 

To find out more about ActionAid's biofuel campaign, check out their Food Not Fuel campaign.

For further context surrounding women and climate change, check out WEN’s ‘Gender and the Climate Change Agenda’ report, or our shorter campaign briefing, both of which are also available on our resources page.