Biofuel Africa says ActionAid is wrong about biofuels in Ghana

JatrophaPart of the land where we are located was used 3-10 years ago, but was left because the land became degraded after years of cultivation without using fertilizers.

When we started in Mar. 2008 there were 25 local farmers that farmed on 22 hectares (55 acres) within the 400 hectares (988 acres) area where we have planted with jatropha trees in Kpachaa/Jimile. However the land where local farmers where farming was gradually becoming degraded.

Farmers were then offered one of two options: i) Either continue to farm on the same land, or ii) We could clear and prepare new land for them in the same area. There was never a re-location because the farmers already planned or had to clear new land anyway. The only difference was that we helped them with our farming machinery!

All farmers then took the offer we gave them and got new and fertile land in return. We also upgraded a road that makes it easier to access both our and their farmland. We are fully aware that some opportunistic people from Tamale (80 km driving distance) away came and asked us for economic compensation. However we do not pay money compensation. They can either continue to farm where they farmed, or we could clear new land for them at no cost. This was an easy way to sort out the legitimate farmers from those who where looking for some “fast cash”.

Also when it comes to farming, all farmers have to register with the chief of that area so it has been quite easy to sort our real farmers from those who are not.

In addition to the 22 ha we cultivated for the farmers within our planted area, we have so far cleared and ploughed a total of 220 ha (543 acres) for local farmers, an increase in area for food production of more than 880 percent!

So contrary to what ActionAid and FoodSPAN say, the locals says there has never been so large areas for food production in Kpachaa / Jimille. This is only possible because of BioFuel Africa.

In addition we have invested in maize mill (now operating by the locals) and three water-dams. We are now doing first test trials with bee-hives.

Unlike much of the food crops, jatropha is a perennial plant that grows a lot of biomass. This biomass and residue after oil extraction can be used as organic fertilizer for both food and jatropha.

We have already seen that degraded land, becomes more and more fertile when you grow jatropha because jatropha increases the biomass/humus in the soil and gives shade. The jatropha tree also works as a “nutrient pump”, where nutrients further down in the soil is taken up by the deep taproot and given back to the topsoil in the form of biomass and leaves.

We also have a fire brigade that not only protects our jatropha farm, but have saved a number of maize fields as well.

When it comes to the claim that we started with cultivation before EPA permit was granted, the reader should know that you can cultivate 40 ha (99 acres) without an EPA permit. We had a contract on dozers (before we got our own machinery) from November 2007 until December 31, 2007 when we stopped completely. It became clear that in one area: Alipe, the land we cleared was more than 40 ha, actually 67 ha. Of course that should never happen, and we really regret that mistake.

However, there is absolutely NO sense in the claims made from one of ActionAid’s partners: RAINS that we cleared 2,600 ha (6425 acres). We have the exact GPS positions of the area and it was definitely not a forest land. Actually part of it was already cleared because the road authorities used part of it to take out gravel when constructing the road.

An EPA process is quite a long process that started back in November 2007. The first EIS submission was sent to EPA on 5 February 2008, and the permit was granted February 28, 2008. Except for the testing of machinery there was no activity from January 1, 2008 until the work started fully March 3, 2008.

When it comes to economic trees, the reader should know that EPA has a special trained person who marks all trees which should be preserved. Not a single tree is cut without permission, and you will therefore see a lot of Shea-nut trees within our farm. The women’s have free and unobstructed access to all our farm. You will even see sheeps, goats and cattle grazing between the jatropha trees.

Finally we also have a tree planting program where we already have planted hundreds of trees already.

There is an ongoing global financial crisis. Investors are NOT lining up to invest in biofuel projects any longer. However good project will still get funding, and BioFuel Africa is the forefront when I comes to jatropha cultivation. However NGO’s should also put emphasis and care in providing correct information so they are not accidently destroying jobs by scaring off investments in sound and environmental friendly businesses.

The reader should also be aware of the fact that paid job opportunities in rural areas will also indirectly create more food production because the workers are already there and available to do farming on their spare time.

There has been an “anti biofuel” tide that some NGO’s have been trying to surf on. Some of the concerns are definitely serious like cutting rainforest for oil-palm plantations. Others accuse biofuel for the price hike on food.

However, the food price hike seems to have a much stronger correlation to oil prices. This is not so surprising when you take into account that modern farming needs more energy in terms of kcal than the numbers of kcal in the food produced. Anyone interested in this could read the book: “Eating Oil – Energy Use in Food Production” Westview Press, Boulder, CO. 1978. Biofuel production is therefore indeed an important tool for food security.

ActionAid was invited in 2008 as observers in the Central Company Community Committee that handles all issues between the company and involved communities. Maybe I was too naïve when I expected ActionAid to also include us when they are organizing biofuel workshops?

By Steinar Kolnes, BioFuel Africa Ltd.

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