A groundbreaking programme in Costa Rica is promoting the creation of financial instruments for women and nature – working to both close the gender gap and support a nature positive future. Already three financial instruments worth around USD$30 million per year have been launched, with many more in the pipeline.

The +Women +Nature Programme, launched by the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE) and UNDP’s Biodiversity Finance Initiative (BIOFIN), includes three financial mechanisms that boost women’s access to financial instruments in biodiversity-related activities such as tourism, forestry, agriculture and fishing – activities traditionally disproportionally undertaken by men.

Women Natura Credit developed by the Foundation for Development (Fundecooperacion para el Desarrollo) with endorsement of the National Institute for Social Welfare´s Trust Fund (FIDEIMAS): this private capital instrument will allocate USD$800 to USD$16,000 credits, with an interest rate between 8% and 15% per year, with mortgage guarantee, movable, pledge, fiduciary and guarantee of FIDEIMAS (for population in poverty), with a term of up to 60 months (5 years).  Although many women prefer not to acquire loans for fear of uncertainty due to the pandemic, an allocation of 22 credits for rural women for 105,000 USD was delivered between 2020 and 2021. https://delfino.cr/2021/03/anuncian-linea-de-credito-especial-para-emprendimientos-de-mujeres

FONAFIFO at your side / Rural Woman Credit:  with the purpose of promoting economic democratization for economic development and improving the quality of life of rural women, especially in the forest sector, the National Forestry Fund (FONAFIFO) launched this public based credit instrument that provides working capital, infrastructure, purchase of equipment and innovative projects related to forest conservation and/or sustainable use, with an interest of 4% to 7% per year, with mortgage, fiduciary and organizational guarantees and with a term of up to 10 years. In 2020, a total of   98 credits for rural women for almost USD$1,300,000: https://www.fonafifo.go.cr/es/servicios/credito-forestal/#overview-tab-0

PSA Mujeres de FONAFIFO: women have structural barriers to access incentives to protect and restore forests and integrate trees into their farms such as those provided by the Payment for Environmental Services Program (PES),  of the National Forestry Fund (FONAFIFO). Within the framework of the +Women+Nature Program, the Funds board introduced measures to favor women requests overall score to join the PES Program. This effort opens the Funds availability USD $ 26 M to be accessed by Women.  By 2020, 603 PES contracts were formalized, of which 98 are in the hands of women: https://www.fonafifo.go.cr/es/servicios/estadisticas-de-psa/. It is worth mentioning that MINAE, FONAFIFO and BIOFIN continue to discuss means to transform structural gender barriers, such as land tenure, in the design of a next generation of PES schemes.

Mind the gap

Such an initiative comes at a critical time. Even before the pandemic, women’s access to financial instruments were limited.

In Costa Rica, women’s access accounts only from 17% and 23% of total credits for agriculture, livestock and related service activities; there are about 12,5981 women producers who own 106,564 hectares of land in different regions of the country,  representing only 15.6% of all farms, where only 9.1% of the farms of the producers received financing, and for the year 2017, only 29% of the projects that received a Payment for Environmental Services (PSA) belonged to women owners.

Another gap that persists is related to the participation of women in decision-making spaces linked to nature, women represent only 28% of the National Council of Protected Areas, only 32% in local Councils of Conservation Areas of marine areas and there was no representation of women in the local Forest Councils.

However, evidence shows that the COVID-19 crisis has only deepened this divide, especially in their contributions to biodiversity conservation.

According to estimates by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the sharp economic contraction is negatively affecting employment and increasing the precariousness of working conditions in the region, which in the case of women represents a decrease of more than ten years in their participation in the labor market (ECLAC, 2021).

In Costa Rica, women’s unemployment now stands at 26.1% and they experience a sharp decline in demand and supply in their productive activities, especially in biodiversity related activities: tourism, agriculture and fishing.

Women play a critical role in reducing the financing gap for nature, and conservation efforts flourish when the gender gap is closed. This is why BIOFIN is working to create solutions that are strengthening the economic autonomy of women.

Strong support

The +Women +Nature Programme is an unprecedented instrument both in Costa Rica and in the region, led by the Ministry of Energy and Environment and BIOFIN-UNDP with support from First Vice-President of the Republic, and the signature of adhesion of the National Institute of Women (INAMU), the National Institute for Social Welfare (IMAS) and Fundecooperación for Development.

The Programs efforts continue, and we are enhancing public institutions capacities related to biodiversity (CONAGEBIO, SINAC, FONAFIFO) to address gender gaps within the institutions and to beneficiaries through transforming efforts such as the Gender Equality Seal.  Also, the Programme is supporting the Gender Equality Award for Productive Units (GIGUP) of FONAFIFO (ENREDD+) to reward local productive units that promote equality for women, their economic autonomy and their efforts to conserve nature.

Multiple events have been held to recognize and strengthen the leading role and role of women in the conservation and integrated management of natural resources, from park rangers, indigenous women to rural women in the country, which reached  more than 300 women. Also, it has been possible to strengthen capacities in more than 150 civil servants of BIOFIN partners.

We hope that current financial mechanisms under the Program extend to more women beneficiaries mobilizing additional funding for the existing or new mechanisms, for example blended finance could lower interest rates for the private financed mechanism, FONAFIFO’s credit could also be scaled up with more resources as demand for this credit is higher than the available resources, and we are also analyzing development of new mechanisms such as innovation through Fintech, that address and consider the structural and historical barriers that limit women’s economic autonomy in nature-based solutions promoted by BIOFIN Costa Rica.