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A rejoinder to: Land grab at Kpachaa – One more bad example in Ghana

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The story refered to and published in the Daily Graphic issue of November 2, 2010 was also published by ghanabusinessnews.com under the title ” Land grab at Kpachaa – One more bad example in Ghana”. We are therefore carrying this rejoinder for that reason.

Solar Harvest (former name Biofuel Africa) is a Norwegian biofuel company that gained the approval of the Environmental Protection Agency for jatropha biodiesel project in the Yendi districts of Northern Ghana in 2008. The jatropha plantation was surrounded by peasant villages including Kpachaa, Tuya, Jaashie and Jimle. The company has suffered series of negative publicity from the Ghanaian media and NGOs on the grounds of perceived destruction of livelihoods in the surrounding villages.

The propaganda has continued even after the project came to a standstill.

The Tuesday November 2, 2010 edition of the Daily Graphic published an article titled Kpachaa – An example of the effect of losing land authored by their journalist Daniel Darling & Steffen Stubager who published an article full of lies aimed to bring the image of the company into disrepute.  The story referred to above is very damaging to our company.

Lack of professional ethics among most media practitioners

It is time responsible people taught media practitioners some professional ethics.

We can hardly believe that this article have been checked by the editor because usually if the paper has an ethical standard they would have contacted our company and got our side of the story before the article went in print.
Chief Sumani Amidu of Kpachaa village claimed to have been dragged into a time of hardship his village resident bitterly described in the report as “captain of a sinking ship” has denied the pathetic title dedicated to him by the Daily Graphic.

During a meeting with chief Sumani to probe the validity of the statements referred to him, he (Chief Sumani) explained that, Daily Graphic came with two white men and one black man who interpreted the conversation. They (Daily Graphic) also claimed that they were going to give us a loan and just wanted to talk to the chief.

The chief denied the reports that we (Solar Harvest Ltd) took any land and paid him GH¢100. Chief Sumani Amidu continues farming on the same land that he has been cultivating for years.

Chief Sumani denied saying that he cried when he passed the former land, since we never take anyone’s land. In the course of the conversation, Chief Sumani Amidu angrily remarked that he was willing to swear his statement in court.

When I called the Daily Graphic after I read this article and demanded to talk with the two journalists, I was then told that these journalists were students from Europe and Australia. Convenient for them, they have already flown back home unable to answer any questions. I then asked myself when I read: In Ghana alone, 37% of the farmland, an area the size of Denmark, is owned by foreign biofuel companies?

So how did these so-called journalists come up with this number? Denmark is 43,094 square kilometers (4.3 million hectare) in area.

According to the CIA World Fact Book Ghana has 3.99 million hectares (39,900 sq. km) arable land with 2.075 million hectare (20,750 square km) under permanent crops.

According to the article, if the simple math equation should be valid, 2 times or 208% the area being cultivated here in Ghana must be biofuel crops.

I even doubt that the stated 37% of the 3.99 million hectares which equals to 1.48 million hectares could be used for biofuel.

Our 400 hectares farm a Kpachaa is one of the largest jatropha farms in Ghana. There are still more than 10,000 hectares where local farmers are free to cultivate. Why should Daniel Darling & Steffen Stubager plainly deceive the Ghanaian public with misleading information?

Contribution of Solar Harvest Ltd to development in the project villages

Water dams and maize mill

To undertake socially responsible project, Solar Harvest Ltd suggested the formation of a central consultative committee comprising representatives of the chiefs and residents of the project villages as well as members of the company. The committee served the purpose of creating an enabling environment that considers the interest of the villages as well as the company. Immediately after the inception of the project, the company asked the Kpachaa and other nearby villages to present their priorities. The answer they gave was water.

Solar Harvest Ltd constructed three dams, two of serving the people whilst one served the livestock.

The dam reduced the acute water problems which climaxed during the long dry seasons. Maize mill was also provided by the company to grind maize and dried cassava for village residents at a cheaper price compared to the price of maize mill services in the nearby villages.

The company even paid for a school teacher for more than 2 years to raise the level of basic education at Kpachaa and the nearby villages.

Land preparation for local farmers

The company cleared more land areas 200 hectares (500 acres) for the local farmers in 2008 and 2009.

Similarly in this year (2010), large land areas have been cleared for the local farmers, but 80 hectares (200 acres) were not cultivated.

During the peak of activities in the jatropha plantation, the plantation workers and some farmers were encouraged to cultivate in the jatropha rows.

The company ploughed land areas for the chiefs of the surrounding villages including the chief of Kpachaa.
Solar Harvest Ltd has even made access roads for tractors to access the farmland areas.

In fact, honest residents have expressed the marked improvement in farming and social facilities in the Kpachaa and nearby villages since the implementation of the jatropha project.

Farmers also get inputs from Masara Narziki to plant maize. Masara Narziki’s program is open for any small-hold farmers. There must therefore be other reasons why farmers like Ibrahim Habibu and his family go hungry. In fact no one knows this Ibrahim Habibu and “Kpachaa tractors”.

He therefore fits in the line of other “ghost” farmers that claim they had land at Kpachaa but always fail to show up when we ask them to point out where they where farming! Solar Harvest Ltd has never displaced one single farmer in Kpachaa or any other village.

Interesting to notice is that he should have said that his tractors have been standing idle since 2007. We started our operation in March 2008, so how we could be responsible for his misfortune is a mystery.

Solar Harvest Ltd rented the land but did not buy

According to the national laws of Ghana, foreigners can only rent the land for maximum 50 years.
We comply with all the national laws and have never challenged these laws.

Taken into consideration that we also pay the rent for the land that local farmers are farming on without asking for any reimbursement, we have gone far beyond any other supporting scheme here in Ghana.

When the rent expires we are not leaving an empty oil-well or an empty mine but a sustainable biofuel and food producing farm for the next generations to come and which can be harvested even after the offshore wells have been pumped dry.

So why the journalist did intentionally overlooked all the good things that we did for the community which are used on a daily basis?

Even if the journalists observed anything negative about the project, it is an ethical indictment to deceive cherished readers with false information that conceals the goodwill of the company and magnify negative issues against the image of the company.

The hidden truth about propaganda against biofuels

Big oil producing countries are against biofuel because of the big money made from traditional fossil fuels and the incentives to protect the monopoly of fossil fuel.

Should the prices and the chemical properties of biofuels become competitive in the oil market, fossil fuel (oil) companies may lose huge sums of money.

To safeguard their business interest, some oil companies are covertly funding anti-biofuel NGOs and media to campaign against the rapid emerging biofuel industry. Currently, crude oil just passed $88 per barrel.

OPEC which is the biggest cartel in the world controls 42% of the world’s oil production and 18% of natural gas production.

These guys don’t want to see their monopoly being diluted.

That’s also the reason why Ali al-Naimi the Saudi minister of energy representing the largest OPEC member condemns biofuel.

The impact of oil in food production

The use of agric land for fuel is not a new idea.

Before the industrialization more than 20 per cent of the farmland in Northern Europe was used to feed horses for the use of transportation and cultivation of the land.

When cheap oil became available we could throw out the horses and replace them with tractors.
Highly effective fertilizers could be produced with cheap oil as input.

The situation today is that modern farming spends more calories in the form of oil then the calories actually produced as food.

Farming today is totally dependent on fossil crude oil and our global population of more than 6 billion peoples are dependent on cheap crude oil  to survive as an civilization.

Recommended reading on the topic: “Eating Fossil Fuels: Oil, Food and the Coming Crisis in Agriculture by Dale Allen Pfeiffer”.

Not only are the tractors dependant on oil, but also for the fertilizers, processing and transport to the consumer, cooling, freezing, and the list is ongoing.

Fuel for tractors is currently the second largest expense in farming after fertilizer.

Because we know that fertilizer is also made from a high degree of fossil fuels, we can safely state that the oil is the single most important cost factor in farming.

There is no way back from crude oil, unless you accept that billions of peoples will die of starvation!

But scarier, sometime in the near future the crude oil as we know it today will come to an end.

Recommended reading at the topic: “The End of Oil: On the Edge of a Perilous New World by Paul Roberts”.

Norway, my home country which is a net oil exporter, reached the peak production in 2005 and is now on the declining curve.

What will happen before the oil dries out is that the price will increase to a level where it effectively parks all types of transport.

And food which we all need can only be afforded by the richest peoples, leaving the rest in a huger situation we never have seen on this planet!

Readers must note that, the huge price hike on food seen in 2008 was NOT due to biofuel but rather the result of the high crude oil prices.

When the crude oil price dropped, so did the food prices, even though the biofuel production was steadily increasing.

The new increase in food prices just follows the oil price like a shadow.

Biofuel ensures food security

Tractors and heavy machinery cannot be replaced with battery technology and power from windmill and solar panels simply because the energy density is too low.

Approximately 25-30 kg of the most advanced Li-ion batteries is required to replace one liter of diesel!

A normal size tractor easily consumes 8-10 liter of diesel per hour. In high seasons when you run the tractor for 8-12 one needs a hefty battery pack of 3 tons instead of 100 liters diesel or biofuel for the same work. We have demonstrated that tractors can run on crude jatropha oil produced at the Kpachaa farm.

It is quite easy to drive a tractor or a diesel car on pure unrefined jatropha crude oil. Recommended reading on the topic: “SVO: Powering Your Vehicle With Straight Vegetable Oil by Forest Gregg”.

The goal of Solar Harvest Ltd is to be fully self-sufficient with biofuel for all our farming activities and transport.

Media reports must not forget their role to educate the public about the inseparable synergy between biofuel and food security instead of throwing dust into the eyes of readers about biofuels.

The prospects for Ghana as a biofuel nation

Ghana had the opportunity to become a net biofuel producer. In years with excess oil we could have exported for foreign currency.

In case the price on crude oil escalates we could use the locally produced oil as a safety net for our own food production and transport.

Biofuel Africa (now Solar Harvest Ltd) also demonstrated the first Jatropha harvester.

This was the first working jatropha harvester in the world. It is now sent back to Finland for an upgrade, and we hope we will get it back for further testing.

The problem as Daily Graphic and its allied NGO’s are part of the biased and faulty information put out in media scaring off any potential biofuel investor.

Instead prospective investors are investing in countries which they see as more “biofuel friendly” like Brazil.

Unfortunately, our company has been accused by number of Ghanaian NGOs to be the “Dragon itself”, “creating hunger”, “displacing farmers”, “corruption” and other ugly titles.

It is all lies but had the effect of scaring of our investors.

So instead of 460 workers, we now only have 30 left.

Media plays an important role to bring sanity to the table, not these biased, one side stories.

Africa has been a playground for some of the biggest NGO’s in the world.

Many of them are multimillion businesses where top executives are earning $1-2 million a year.

What they “export” to from Africa to Europe and the West is: disasters, hunger, poverty, political instability.

The only intention is to collect more donors’ moneys to buy and fuel their luxury SUV’s and Executives salaries.

Many of them do not want Africa to get out from its abject poverty trap because then they will be out of work.

This is not my words. Anyone who is interested in the topic should read: “Dead AID” by the African author Dambisa Moyo.

Solar Harvest Ltd wants to sell Africa and Ghana in particular as a good investment ground since only that can create real jobs and prosperity.

The  Good News for Ghana

There is still hope for both biofuel and food production in Ghana.

The Mills-led administration have put the agricultural sector high on the agenda and thereby brought to life an increasingly important sector.

New technology also makes it commercially attractive to produce biofuels from agricultural waste.

And vice-versa, Jatropha is no longer just a biofuel crop. In fact after the oil has been extracted the residue has up to 60% protein content.

New technology has made it possible to extract this high protein content into fodder for animals and fish.

A new industry trend is to build decentralized bio-refineries where the whole plant including waste is used to add value to high yield products like proteins, chemical products, biogas and bio-liquid fuels.

The end result will be less dependency on imported oil and more local employments.

As said earlier, Brazil is the world leader in biofuel production that did not happen by accident.

It took Brazil more than 50 years with dedication to achieve that position and they now see millions of jobs in the renewable fuel sector.

Ethanol from Brazil reduces CO2 emission by 90%.

Good news is that Ghana is not far behind.

After an audit of our farms, the well recognized SGS came to the conclusion that our Jatropha oil could reduce CO2 emissions with more than 78 per cent.

And that is just after two years. We believe we can reach the 90 per cent target in just another 2-3 years.

I therefore ask Ghanaians, does Solar Harvest Ltd deserve the kind of humiliation meted to it by selfish and naïve report writers?

I really hope that Daily Graphic, next time can do some due diligence before put flawed articles on print.
Promising investments thrive well in all other continents except one continent… A.F.R.I.C.A.

By Steinar Kolnes
CEO and Director

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