Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The speech I gave at the official launch of

Mr. Chairman, Special Guest of Honour, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, today marks a defining moment in the media landscape of Ghana – the medium we are launching today, is a pacesetter in new media or online journalism.

Even though the site has been in operation only for a year, it has made such remarkable impacts that its visitor profile keeps growing everyday.

But that’s not the whole story. Indeed, starting any business in Ghana is like starting a war. While, the usual response one gets is the “no one has done it before and succeeded” remark, you are also likely to have some people dedicate time, energy and resources to work at ensuring that you do not succeed. Only few indeed wish you well, and go beyond the wishes to give you a hand.

To be set for success therefore, one must be prepared to take a firm posture and be prepared to fight on at any cost. The media business terrain is indeed not for the faint-hearted.

In as much as these are worrying – especially when you are starting a news medium – what is more disturbing is the present media landscape one has to operate in Ghana today.

Journalism has long been held as the Fourth Estate of the Realm because of its prestigious position and importance to the good of the wider society. But activities of some of our colleagues have slipped this dignified institution into disrepute and scorn.

Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, permit me to draw your mind back to some unfortunate events in our not too distant history.

Some 20 years ago, to be a journalist in Ghana was a criminal endeavour just like being labeled a terrorist today in some parts of the world. Only few journalists dared to be critical. The situation was so bad that draconian newspaper laws were passed targeting specific journalists and media. This made it impossible to practice the kind of critical journalism that promotes a progressive, pluralistic society.

Some of the country’s journalists had to go in and out of prison for merely writing the news. There were some casualties. John Kugblenu, of the Free Press, and the newspaper publisher, Tommy Thompson were among the losses of this tyranny. These two gallant men stood up to the tyranny of the era, but they paid the ultimate price for serving society to the best of their abilities. They will always be remembered.

Against this background, it becomes unacceptable to have the kind of journalism that the good people of this country are being subjected to these days.

Journalism in Ghana appears to have been reduced to a pedestrian vocation that is open for mass participation as though there are no rules or values guiding the practice.

We all know for a fact that the general quality and depth of journalism in Ghana today leaves much to be desired.

It is evident that not only have charlatans and pretenders, with the unflinching backing of their sponsors, found it easy to hijack the noble profession for their own parochial interests, but they have also succeeded in carving a certain image for the profession. This has effectively distorted the true image of journalism in the country.

Indeed, a number of studies have shown that the media in Ghana is covering mostly what is not news at all, but ordinary everyday gossip; publishing stories in a manner that defies journalistic principles.

A recent study published by the Ghana Anti-Corruption Coalition which was done by Dr. Audrey Gadzekpo of the School of Communication Studies, Legon, shows that important news and information receive very little coverage, and where they are covered they are buried somewhere in the inside pages.

Indeed, the study also found that stories that should have made the headlines were given poor treatment; with most of the stories being one sided. Another indictment on Ghanaian journalism as found by this particular study is the fact that most stories lack in-depth analysis.

At the height of this rather unacceptable situation is the blatant abuse of the copyright laws of Ghana and intellectual property rights of others, even by so called leading media organizations.

Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, the copyright laws of Ghana and international conventions make it explicitly clear on how to use intellectual works of others. In using the works of others, the least one could do is at least to attribute or credit the sources. But some journalists in Ghana deliberately copy material from other sources and put these up as their own. I have had occasion to raise issues on this subject right here in this hall some few months ago, but the situation since then has not changed – it has worsened.

The challenges are not only internal, there are also external factors that stand in the way of practitioners. A typical example is the refusal of public officials to provide very simple and basic information for news and analysis.

Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, I had to quit my job with a good pay packet by Ghanaian standards to set up I did this because at one point, I was told that if I wanted to do professional journalism I should go and establish my own medium. Well, here I come!

I did not start because it is fun; I had to invest literally what was my life’s savings, and indeed modify my lifestyle in great detail to be able to manage the website over the last couple of months.

I did this, motivated by the conviction that Ghana deserves better, and so if I have what it takes to give this great country what it deserves in line with a profession I have lived my life for in the last 20 years, well why not?

More importantly, with ICT and the World Wide Web becoming the technology of the century I was even far more convinced that by getting into online journalism, at least I could attempt in my own little way to give the Ghanaian media a good face globally as well as promote businesses and good journalistic practice the best way possible.

I am not surprised therefore, that in this short period, which we are launching today has become the number one business news source on Ghana according to rankings by the world’s number one search engine, Google.

For instance, if you type the words, “Ghana business news” in Google search engine, out of 24.5 million results, appears as the first two pages. This is a good start ladies and gentlemen!

I want to thank the organizations and some of the individuals who have made this event possible.

I am grateful to the World Bank, Ghana Country office for the encouragement and support. I thank Accra Brewery Ltd., for providing the drinks to refresh us all and Voltic Ghana Ltd., also for refreshing us with water.

I also want to thank the distinguished chairman of the event, Prof. Kofi Oduro-Afriyie, Mr. Affail Monney, for standing on for Mr. Ransford Tetteh who couldn’t make it as planned for some very good reasons. I am also thankful to Mr. Bright Blewu for his encouragement and support in making this programmes a reality.

Ladies and Gentlemen: At, our goal is to practice journalism of the best quality that can match international standards. But above all fulfill the primary mission of the profession – to serve the public interest and do good to all persons and groups.

Thank you all for coming and God bless you.

Monday, November 30, 2009

One year of

On December 6, 2008 a Ghanaian journalist, Emmanuel K. Dogbevi started the first online business news source on Ghana, And come December 2009, the site will be one year old.

Mr. Dogbevi, an award winning journalist who also writes business plans found the need for a business news website following disappointing experiences in finding valuable and relevant information on businesses in Ghana. This disappointment led to the development of the website to meet the growing need for high quality business news and information on Ghana.

An experienced journalist himself with a background in web development and online journalism he took off hoping to grow the site into a viable business within two years. But within its first year since going online, has become the business news source of choice on Ghana all over the world.

The website covers general news, investment, ICT news, tourism, insurance, politics, sports and entertainment. It also has pages for editorials/opinion, feature articles and news from Africa and other parts of the world.

Apart from generating content, the website is also an aggregator of news and information from other sources.

“The entrance of into the online media scene in Ghana has certainly raised the stakes higher, because the news and information that we put up meet the highest standards in journalism anywhere,” Emmanuel K. Dogbevi, who is also the Managing Online Editor of the site said.

“The website is barely one year old and yet we have received overwhelming feedback from all over the world. We have once received a phone call from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, an enquiry from a unit of the United Nations and commendation letters from some individuals we do not even know both in Ghana and abroad. And for us, these are indicators that we are meeting the needs of the global online news market,” he said.

“This worldwide recognition also places on us a greater responsibility to do more, and we do hope to live up to expectations as we pursue the highest professional standards possible in meeting the needs of our visitors,” he added.

For more information, contact:

Emmanuel K. Dogbevi


Tel: 233-244 699845.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Mobile phone users in Ghana to reach 15 million by end of 2009 - Report

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

The number of Ghanaians using mobile phones is expected to reach 15 million by the end of 2009, the fourth quarter report on Ghana’s mobile phone market by London headquartered Business Monitor International (BMI) has said.

The report which was released last week indicated that the country’s mobile penetration is expected to “reach 60% penetration before the end of 2009. This will mean that it ends the year with close to 15 million mobile subscribers, which indicates a 27% expansion of the subscriber base during 2009. This is down from 57% in 2008, but this is very much a natural evolution thanks to a gradually maturing mobile market.”

It was however unhappy with the level of revenue earnings of some of the providers. The report said more worrying are Ghana’s (Average Revenue Per Users) ARPUs, which took something of a dive in the first quarter of 2009. This is a pattern that has been seen in many markets across Africa, exemplified by pan-African operator MTN’s results. ARPUs is how much the mobile phone companies make per each subscriber per month.

The report said MTN’s abridged results released during the period show that in every single one of the markets it operates in, ARPUs have gone down, some of them really dramatically.

According to the report a certain amount of this decrease is down to devalued currencies against the dollar, and the rest is due to decreased spending on the home market. In Ghana’s case, MTN’s blended ARPU fell from US$12 in fourth quarter 2008 to US$8 in first quarter 2009. This 31% drop in US dollar terms, however, was backed up by a 15% drop in local currency terms, so there is evidence that mobile spending did noticeably drop as people started to feel the effects of economic concerns.

It is however hard to determine which statistics to believe as there are different figures being published on Ghana’s mobile penetration.

A recent report carried by the Ghana News Agency (GNA) citing documents in its possession say they reveal disparities in the number of active mobile phone subscriptions in the country.

It said according to the National Communications Authority (NCA), its first quarter report for 2009, placed wireless penetration at 55% of the 24 million Ghanaian mobile telephony market.

The GNA also pointed to information on Millicom Ghana’ website,, which says that wireless penetration in Ghana was 47%, citing interconnectivity activities between operators as its “authentic” source of information. Millicom Ghana is the operator of Tigo.

Other commentators believe that, the inefficient manner in which the NCA computes these figures is the source of the disparities. Despite the conflicting figures however, there is evidence that the mobile phone industry in Ghana is growing. With the eminent presence of Globacom in the country, there is optimism that the mobile market in Ghana would become even more exciting.


Saturday, September 19, 2009

Nearly 400 million Africans have mobile phones - Report

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

Africa’s mobile phone industry is seeing phenomenal growth despite the ripples of the global economic crisis.

The continent’s mobile phone market has grown up to 25% in 2008, a study conducted by Blycroft Publishing, a UK-based telecommunications publisher with a focus on mobile markets has found.

The report published Thursday September 17, 2009 in London says the mobile phone sector on the continent has seen the activation of 74 million new subscribers.

The report noted that at the end of March 2008 the African mobile market stood at 296 million subscribers.

“During 2008 the market grew by more than 74 million subscribers reaching 370 million mobile subscribers as of the fourth quarter of 2008, representing a remarkable 25% increase in the size of the market,” it said.

Some of the factors that contributed to this growth, the study found, included the launch of 11 new networks in Ghana, Benin, Botswana, Congo Brazzaville, Guinea-Conakry, Kenya, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan and Uganda.

In Ghana the newest network, Zain was launched in December 2008 and Orange launched both in Niger and Uganda.

Other factors attributed to the growth are most likely economic growth and proliferation of networks within Africa.

The report also indicated that as of May there were 163 mobile networks live across Africa spanning both GSM and CDMA technologies.

Meanwhile, in Ghana, there is a debate over the exact percentage of the country’s population actually using mobile phones.

While the National Communications Authority (NCA) says it is 55%, which accounts for some 12.1 million of Ghana’s about 22 million population, the figure was recently disputed by an official of Tigo. A GNA report quoted Ms. Lucy Quist, Tigo’s Head of Operations for Africa as saying the current wireless penetration in Ghana is 47%, which puts the figure at 10.34 million of the population.

In an interview however, CEO of Kasapa Telecom, Mr. Bob Palitz told that it is difficult to tell the exact number of mobile phone users in Ghana. He said there is a difference between the number of chips that people have bought and the actual number of people who are actively using their mobile phones.

He argues that there are people who have more than one mobile phone chip from different networks and might not necessarily be using all of them.

He told that the methodology of counting is problematic. He said, the counting is done every three months and within that three months, it is possible that a customer of one network could leave and connect to another network, and all the networks would count this subscriber. “This leads to duplication,” he said.

In spite of the conflicting figures, there is certainly growth in the mobile phone industry in Africa and for that matter Ghana, and there is evidence that it is driving economies and leading to growth.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Ghana's Information Minister shows up on Facebook

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

Believe it or not, Ghana’s Minister of Information is now on Facebook, the most successful social networking site so far.

Facebook was started about five years ago by a young man, Mark Zuckerberg with college students in mind. But in the five years since it started, the site has gained over 250 million users, and cuts across all groups. Someone had said elsewhere that if it was a country, Facebook would have been the third most populated country in the world!

While it does not release its earnings, a recent stock buy-out option valued the site around $6.5 billion.

The Ministry announced her presence in a press statement released in Accra Tuesday September 1, 2009.

According to the release the Minister, Zita Okaikoi announced that she will be available for two hours every week to interact and answer questions on her Facebook page.

It added that the two deputies at the Ministry, James Agyenim-Boateng and Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa would also at different times be online to interact.

The news is immediately heartwarming and encouraging. It is encouraging in the sense that government machinery is waking up, albeit a bit late to the realities of the times. Despite an ambitious and forward looking ICT development agenda, government has consistently paid lip service to the actual implementation of ICT led programmes to bring about real transformation.

It is instructive to say however, that the ICT revolution taking place in Ghana currently is increasingly led by the private sector and individual initiatives.

A professor of computer science Prof. Clement Dzidonu had warned that Ghana as a country cannot make much progress by merely promoting Information Communication Technology (ICT).

He said, “ICT per se will not solve our problems, you need other resources like power and so on to make use of ICT. Buying electronics gadget without using them to solve your problems is a double loss.”

Prof. Dzidonu, who is also the President of Accra Institute of Technology, argues that while there is growing awareness of ICT in Ghana, the country is still at what he calls “the preliminary stages” of ICT. He said the country has not got to the stage where it could use ICT to transform the society and economy. That is the challenge the country is facing.

While the move by the Information Ministry is in the right direction, it is hard to see how the Ministry which has persistently performed one of its primary duties of media accreditation at below any standards elsewhere, could successfully use new media to effectively and efficiently engage the public.

Again it is curious to see how the Ministry which has an entrenched image as propaganda wing of government, would succeed in the virtual world of the World Wide Web.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Scientist warns against global rush into biofuel cultivation

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

A US scientist, Thomas R. Sinclair has warned countries that are rushing into cultivating biofuels in their efforts to reduce dependence on fossil fuels to take into consideration the multiple limits to plant production on earth.

In an article titled “Taking Measure of Biofuel Limits” published in the “American Scientist,” the magazine of Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society, he said, “before nations pin big hopes on biofuels, they must face some stark realities, however. Crop physiology research has documented multiple limits to plant production on Earth. To ramp up biofuel crop production, growers must adapt to those limits or find ways around them.”

Professor Sinclair who is a visiting professor in agronomy at the University of Florida and an adjunct professor in crop science at North Carolina State University was also raised on a farm in Indiana.

He writes “in a justified rush to cut fossil fuel consumption, some nations are embracing biofuels as a petroleum alternative at the gas pump. Using sugarcane, Brazil already produces 24.5 billion liters of ethanol a year to fuel car and truck engines.”

“In the United States, annual ethanol production has reached 40 billion liters, or 10 billion gallons. The U.S. Energy Independence and Security Act calls for 144 billion liters of ethanol per year in the U.S. transportation fuel pool by 2022. That equals 25 percent of U.S. gasoline consumption today. No more than about 40 percent is to be produced with maize, an important food and export crop. Non-grain feedstock is supposed to supply the rest,” he added.

In Professor Sinclair’s view there are no means by which humans could bypass the limits of crop production, arguing that “such advances may not be as simple as some predict. Plants and their evolutionary ancestors had hundreds of millions of years to optimize their biological machinery. If further improvements were easy, they would probably already exist.”

He insists that no matter what techniques are developed to expand biofuel feedstock, some basic physical and physiological limitations will still apply.

“Plants cannot be grown without three crucial resource inputs: light, water and nitrogen. Each of those inputs will be needed in substantial quantities, yet their availability in the field is limited. As important, so far plants make use of those resources only at established rates,” he says.

He further states that no matter what techniques are developed to expand biofuel feedstock, plants cannot be grown without three crucial resource inputs: light, water and nitrogen. Each of those inputs will be needed in substantial quantities, yet their availability in the field is limited. As important, so far plants make use of those resources only at established rates. In fact, the close relationship between the available amounts of these resources and the amount of plant mass they can produce—not human demand—will determine how much biofuel the world can produce.

Citing the US as an example he writes, “light, water and nitrogen will be essential for growing biofuel feedstocks. The availability of these resources will be critical to achieving ethanol production goals set by the U.S. Energy and Security Act. Even if the current increase in maize yield can be sustained at 0.1 tonne per hectare per year, the equivalent of 40 percent of today’s U.S. maize crop will be required for ethanol production while other domestic and export demands for maize also must be met.”

Professor Sinclair is emphatic that identifying land area for cellulosic plant production will be even more challenging. Depending on the efficiency of ethanol production from cellulosic feedstock, somewhere between 25 and 50 million hectares of new land must be brought into high and sustainable agricultural production to achieve the required yields.

“Since this land-use conversion would need to take place roughly over a decade, it would be the most extensive and rapid land transformation in U.S. history,” he says.

To complicate matters, land used for cellulosic feedstock must be in regions with sufficient rainfall to achieve needed yields. The amount of water transpired by those crops could be large enough to influence the hydrologic balance of farming regions. An unanswered question is whether stream and aquifer flows from these areas would also remain adequate to meet all local freshwater needs, he writes.

Professor Sinclair’s arguments obviously are worth looking at by biofuel advocates. Besides, it also calls for a critical and objective look in view of the fact that biofuels are competing for scarce land for food cultivation in the face of a global food crisis.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Another major Jatropha project suffers setback

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

Another Jatropha biofuel project initiated by D1 Oils Plc has suffered a jolt as a major investor pulls out.

Reports reaching from the US say, Europe’s second largest oil company BP Plc intends to exit its Jatropha biofuel project with D1 Oils Plc. BP, according to the reports is exiting the Jatropha project to focus on ethanol production in Brazil and the US and also to advance biobutanol development.

As a result of BP’s withdrawal, D1 agreed to acquire its 50% interest in their joint venture D1-BP Fuel Crops Ltd. venture which was set up in June 2007 to develop Jatropha. Jatropha is a drought-resistant tree whose seeds contain oil that can be used in biodiesel production.

The deal came to an end when the two companies failed to get a third investor for the project. The two began talking about dissolving the venture this year and bringing planting and plant-science operations under D1’s control.

BP and D1 had planned to plant 1 million hectares of Jatropha over four years, of which 220,000 hectares had been planted by April.

BP Alternative Energy earmarked $8 billion for the project investment in the decade through 2015. BP, which expects biofuels to account for 11 percent to 19 percent of the world’s transport-fuel market by 2030, supplied about 10 percent of global biofuels last year, according to company estimates.

London-based D1 however said it would be able to maintain the business at lower cost until market conditions allowed the injection of new capital.

This is the second time D1’s investments in Jatropha to produce biofuels has not gone well.

An ambitious Jatropha project in India involving 22 agribusiness colleges failed to yield projected targets, leading to disappointments and disillusionment.

The argument has been made that Jatropha would grow on wasteland or marginal land, but Indian researcher, Dr Suman Jha who worked on the D1 project disagrees. He says, “this is not a wasteland crop. It needs fertiliser, water and good management. Yes, it grows on wasteland, but it doesn’t give you any yield.”

D1 Oils planted about 257,000 hectares of Jatropha, mainly in India but it was unsuccessful and the company was compelled to move far too early.

For instance in 2006 D1 aimed to produce 2.7 tonnes of oil per hectare from areas planted with its new E1 variety, and 1.7 tonnes of oil from normal seed. That is equivalent to about 8 tonnes and 5 tonnes of seed per hectare respectively, or 3.5kg and 2kg a plant. But according to Pradip Bhar, who runs the company’s D1 Williamson Magor Bio Fuel joint venture in India’s north east, admits he has yet to achieve a fraction of that.

“Hitting 500g is the challenge,” he says. “Mortality is quite high. But if we can reach 500g in two years’ time, after that the bush will continue to grow. Our expectation is that after the fourth year we will hit 1kg. The 1.5kg mark we haven’t touched as yet.”

There has been consensus that the Indian experiment had been unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, in Ghana some biofuels companies who have announced investments in Jatropha to produce biofuels have been making projections that are yet to be seen.

Gold Star Farms Ltd. claims it intends to cultivate five million acres of land to plant Jatropha for the production of biofuels for export.

One of the company’s executives, Mr. Jack Holden has said that it has commitments from farmers to grow the crop on approximately five million acres of land in Ghana.

The company, he added, plans to begin producing biodiesel at its facility in Nkawkaw, in the Eastern region of Ghana, in 2009. It is July 2009, and it is not yet known if the company has produced its first litre of biofuel from Jatropha.

Another biodiesel company, Green Fuels Biodiesel which revived silos abandoned in Ghana for 43 years for its operations recently said it is investing in the multi-million cedi project to produce biodiesel from Jatropha seeds later in the year.

The Managing Director of Green Fuels, Mr. Joseph Karam, told the Daily Graphic newspaper that the initiative would contribute significantly towards reducing the importation of biodiesel and grease into the country.

According to him, “there is the potential to produce quality biodiesel from Jatropha, instead of spending huge sums of money to import these products, we can produce them here.”

He said 500,000 litres of biodiesel would be produced a day for the local market.

There is certainly a potential for Jatropha as a biodiesel source, but why it is recording failures rather than successes needs to be critically looked into.

There is need for sober reflections and investments in R&D to determine the full potentials of Jatropha as a viable, cost-effective and efficient non-food crop for biofuels.


Monday, July 20, 2009

Is the UK serious about halting e-waste dumping in Ghana?

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

The British colonized Ghana for many years, and succeeded in building their economy with Ghana’s natural and human resources. But now they have turned Ghana into a dumping ground for their out of use electronics equipment.

It is known that electronics waste or e-waste contains a dangerous cocktail of poisonous chemicals that pose grave dangers to human life and the environment.

It is therefore, hard to understand why citizens of an advanced country, with all the wealth and resources to handle the e-waste that they have generated instead chose a poor and struggling country like Ghana to dump.

There is now overwhelming evidence that the UK has turned Ghana into a dumping ground for its e-waste. Earlier investigations by British journalists found damaged computers at the Agbogbloshie dump site in Accra with labels of the National Health Service (NHS). Some other computers with NHS labels were also found to be on sale at secondhand electronics equipment dealers’ shops in Ghana’s capital Accra.

Some PCs were also found to have come from UK local councils and universities, including Kent County Council, Southampton County Council, Salford University and Richmond upon Thames College (RUTC) and recently, a Ministry of Defence computer has been found.

On February 18, 2009 authorities in the UK arrested a man over the export of e-waste into developing countries. The 46-year-old man was not named but he was identified as from West Sussex. The countries he was exporting the e-waste to were never mentioned, and he was released on bail until May 5, 2009. Nothing is known yet about his prosecution.

The Independent, a UK newspaper did a report based on investigations it has conducted which revealed that despite ongoing investigations in the matter, toxic wastes from the UK continue to be dumped in Ghana and Nigeria.

The report says tonnes of toxic waste collected from British municipal dumps are being sent illegally to Africa in flagrant breach of the country’s obligation to ensure its rapidly growing mountain of defunct televisions, computers and gadgets are disposed of safely.

Hundreds of thousands of discarded items, which under British law must be dismantled or recycled by specialist contractors, are being packaged into cargo containers and shipped to countries such as Nigeria and Ghana, where they are stripped of their raw metals by young men and children working on poisoned waste dumps, the report said.

According to The Independent, in a joint investigation it carried out together with Sky News, and Greenpeace, they found that a television set that had been broken beyond repair was tracked to an electronics market in Lagos, Nigeria, after being left at a civic amenity site in Basingstoke run by Hampshire Country Council.

The publication remarked that under environmental protection laws of the UK, the TV set was classified as hazardous waste and should never have left the country.

In the face of these evidences, the UK Environment Agency (EA) initiated investigations into the matter. In personal correspondence I have hard with the EA in October 2008, The Senior Press Officer responsible for environment protection, Scarlett Elworthy admitted to me by email that the EA was investigating the incidents of e-waste dumping into Ghana. She promised, “I will be happy to provide you with an update once the investigation has concluded.”

It appears while the investigation has been ongoing since last year, the dumping continues. While it does, I have made persistent enquiries at the UK Agency, but have received no information as they keep telling me their investigation team is still investigating the matter.

If the UK authorities fail to act to stop their citizens who obviously are doing these together with some Ghanaians, our Ghanaian authorities should act.

The situation of e-waste in Ghana is grave – as human life and the environment are endangered.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

After Obama's Ghana visit, would American investors come?

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

President Barack Obama left Ghana Saturday night July 11, 2009, but the ripples of his visit still reverberate throughout the country and indeed the entire world. But one question that lingers on our minds at is: would the historic visit serve as an encouragement to American investors to come to Ghana?

Available data shows that US businesses are not investing as much as they should generally in Africa and in Ghana in particular. A study that was published on May 20, 2009 by the US Chamber of Commerce says American businesses are not encouraged to invest in Africa for reasons among which are corruption, lawlessness, unstable governments and inadequate infrastructure.

Indeed, in President Obama’s speech to Ghana’s Parliament Saturday July 11, 2009, he specifically touched on the issues of corruption as a bane to development not only in Ghana, but the entire continent. He said: “Repression takes many forms, and too many nations are plagued by problems that condemn their people to poverty. No country is going to create wealth if its leaders exploit the economy to enrich themselves, or police can be bought off by drug traffickers.”

Adding, “no business wants to invest in a place where the government skims 20 percent off the top, or the head of the port authority is corrupt. No person wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the rule of brutality and bribery. That is not democracy, that is tyranny, and now is the time for it to end.”

As a matter of fact, several studies conducted in Ghana by anti-corruption institutions over the years show the police as corrupt. The political institution has also been cited in surveys as being corrupt. Political corruption in Ghana has even been nicknamed “kickbacks”.

Another study published by the Bank of Ghana on foreign direct equity investments in Ghana also shows that Europe and not America is the leading investor in the country.

The highlights of the survey, shows Europe as making the highest foreign direct equity investments (FDEI) to Ghana representing 60.7%., while investments from the African continent consist of 38.0%.

America places fifth among the top ten investor nations in Ghana. According to the report, the top ten sources of FDEI inflows in 2007 were Mauritius, 27.9%; France 19.4%; British Virgin Islands 18.4%); United Kingdom 16.9%; United States 5.9%; Togo 3.4%; Norway 3.3%; Israel 3.2%; Nigeria 2.1%, and Switzerland 1.9%.

The US Chamber of Commerce study is titled ‘The conversation behind closed doors: Inside the Boardroom: How Corporate America Really views Africa’.

The Chamber is also the world’s largest business federation with a membership of more than three million businesses and organizations of every size, sector and region as well as 112 affiliates in 99 countries around the world, making the Chamber a crucial source of investment in any country.

Despite the enthusiasm and hope that heralded the institution of the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) on May 18, 2000 to offer “tangible incentives” for African countries to open their economies and build free markets, not many American businesses as expected are doing business in Ghana.

To the extent that reports indicate that Ghana’s exports to the US under the AGOA fell in 2008 and continued to fall into the first quarter of 2009.

Ghana’s total exports under AGOA to the US market stood at US$42.2 million in 2008, a 38.4 percent decline from the US$68.6 million recorded in 2007.

From January to March this year, the country’s total value exported under the scheme was US$2.5 million, representing a momentous 86 percent decline over the US$18.1 million recorded in the first quarter of 2008.

The US Chamber of Commerce cited some of the following reasons for not investing in Africa; the image of lawlessness, corruption, unstable governments, an inadequate infrastructure, uneducated or untrained people, and an unwelcoming government attitude toward business.

Hopefully, President Obama’s visit to Ghana, which he clearly said was his endorsement of the country’s democratic culture and stability, would change the perception and spur some more US businesses to enter Ghana and invest.

These businesses would be joining other major US investors like Coca-Cola, Newmont Mining, Lehman Brothers, CMS Energy and Cargill.

American investors can look at the following areas; aerospace/defense, agribusiness, consumer goods, health care and information and communications technology.

The others could be infrastructure, media, petrochemical/extractive, pharmaceutical and transportation.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Tema Oil Refinery to go into biofuels production

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

Ghana’s only oil refinery, the Tema Oil Refinery (TOR) intends to go into the production of biofuels in the next 18 months, in anticipation of the phasing out of conventional oil, its acting Managing Director has said, according to a GNA report.

Dr Kwame Ampofo, then stressed on the importance for African refiners to shift their focus from conventional fuels to biofuels so that they will be in a better position to satisfy the international market.

He argued that other countries are gradually focusing on biofuel, making it important for African refiners to go into its production. “It is renewable and regenerates itself,” he said.

Dr. Ampofo said these Thursday July 2, 2009 when he addressed the opening of a two-day meeting of heads of laboratories of oil refineries in Africa in Accra.

The meeting was organized by the Africa Refiners Association (ARA) in collaboration with TOR for 45 participants in the refineries from 10 African countries including Ghana.

The meeting, which is a follow up to a previous one held in Dakar, is aimed at reviewing discussions and mapping up strategies for the way forward.

Dr Ampofo warned that should African refineries fail to go into the production of biofuels they would lose their relevance when the use of conventional fuel finally fades out.

He said plans were underway to integrate TOR into the production of biofuels and that even though TOR has the staff to go into the production it would be fully ready to do so within 18 months.

Dr Ampofo said most economies would be consuming up to 50 percent of energy generated from petroleum in the next decade and the proper management of the sector would determine the future of the economy and appealed to refineries to come out with quality products to meet modern standards.

The global food and economic crisis, coupled with the global energy crisis is pushing most countries into considering alternative energy sources as the way out. Biofuels have been identified as the most appropriate alternative energy sources, but not without the attendant challenges that these pose.

For instance, the Guardian newspaper in London in July 2008 published a leaked World Bank report which says biofuels have forced global food prices up by 75% – far more than previously estimated. Indeed, the report was a sharp contradiction of the US government’s claims that biofuel contributes less than 3% to the food crisis.

In May 2008, the UN’s top adviser on food security, Olivier de Schutter made a scathing criticism against the investments that are being made in biofuels by some countries. In an interview with the BBC, he described the investment in biofuels as “irresponsible”, but his predecessor in the job, Jean Ziegler, had condemned biofuels as a “crime against humanity” and called for an immediate ban on their use. He went ahead to call for an immediate freeze of the policy and asked for restraint on investors whose speculation he says is driving food prices higher.

The World Bank report, however, pointed out that biofuels derived from sugarcane, which Brazil specializes in, have not had any dramatic impact on food prices.

The IMF Country Director in Ghana, Arnold McIntyre, had said at a World Bank Dialogue Series in Accra, Ghana, that countries are turning to biofuels in response to current global fuel crisis, adding that by 2005, the US overtook Brazil as the largest producer of ethanol. In the EU, he said, Germany is the largest producer of biofuel.

He added that, biofuel production in the US which is corn based, is less cost effective than the sugarcane based in Brazil. He therefore, called for policy change to address biofuels production and suggested that it is necessary to do more research in second generation biofuels production.

Currently, in Ghana over twenty companies say they are investing in biofuels, some are into the cultivation of Jatropha. But available evidence suggests that not much is known about the full potential of Jatropha as an alternative energy source. Indeed, the experience of India has shown that the crop does not yield as much as it has been said to.

The government of India announced a scheme to plant 13 million hectares, enough to generate nearly 500,000 barrels of Jatropha oil per day.

But as the country’s major investment in Jatropha neared its end, it was discovered that there was no yield. “While the literature said that with dry land, after four years’ growth, you can get a yield of 1kg per plant. For us, it is hardly 200g per plant,” said Professor R. R. Shah, Navsari Agricultural University’s dean of agribusiness, one of the 22 agribusiness colleges involved in the Indian project

D1 Oils, a London-listed biofuels company also planted about 257,000 hectares of Jatropha mainly in India, but it was unsuccessful.

The current global energy crisis makes the temptation to jump onto any bandwagon promoting any kind of alternative energy source stronger, but it is necessary to be careful.

Countries should invest in Research and Development until there is enough scientific evidence that would justify any appreciable investment in biofuels,because the evidence that biofuels both food crops and non-food crops are responsible for the current global food crisis is overwhelming.

The use of food crops like corn or soy for biofuels production impacts on the world, just as the cultivation of non-food crops like Jatropha which would be competing for arable land for food crops.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Woes of the Ghanaian freelance journalist

Working as a freelance journalist in Ghana is not one of the options available to journalists in the country.

Indeed, there are very few options available for journalists; even though, there is growth and expansion in the media in Ghana, particularly, radio and TV, opportunities for professional journalists are few and wages are very low.

To survive as a freelance journalist, therefore, one has to be a rare breed of the stock, to even consider the idea. Indeed, fact is, the concept as it is known in Ghana is literally non-existent. It is a misnomer. And that explains why Ghanaian freelance journalists are not taken serious, not even by their own peers.

The plain truth is that you just can’t make any decent living working as a freelance in Ghana, unless you are very smart. I mean smart enough not to limit the scope of your writing and style. You must be smart enough to learn other writing skills like speech writing, technical writing, feature writing as well as acquire editing skills. You could even add graphic designing skills and may be look for some extra money and pay at some IT training institution to train in one web technology or the other.

Well, and don’t forget, you must add photography to it, because you are most likely to make much more money from photography than from just writing, and by this I mean commercial photography. Believe me, it is true. Or else, you are heading for a life of misery with no security for retirement.

I remember some 10 or so years ago, I met my good friend Haruna Atta, editor of the Accra Mail newspaper somewhere near the old Press Centre at Kokomlemle. As we chatted, he asked me which paper I worked with. This question is almost an anathema to most of the freelance journalists I know in Ghana. You may find out from Iddi Ali, one fellow I know who is so committed to the profession and the tenets it stands for.

But just wait and hear Haruna’s response to my answer to his question.

I told him I worked as a freelance journalist. He immediately let out a wry smile, looked me straight in the eyes and said, “well, you know in Ghana, when journalists lose their jobs, they become freelance journalists.”

I smiled back too, but I wasn’t sure if my smile had some wryness in it though. That is the truth as it is seen in Ghana. Unemployed journalists, claim to be freelance journalists!

You are a journalist, and you lose your job. So, you take on some tag of respectability by claiming to be a freelance. That’s the point, and it is not only a perception, but has been craftily contrived into a reality.

As a matter of fact Haruna is not the only journalist in this country who shares in this view. Nana Kofi Coomson, who was once described by Vincent Asisseh, himself a journalist, as the ‘enfant terrible’ of Ghanaian journalism holds the same view. He doesn’t believe any serious journalist could work as a freelance in Ghana working for the Ghanaian press and media.

Sad, isn’t it? The fact is you can’t be a freelance journalist in Ghana! And that is for one simple reason. The money is not worth it! You hardly get paid for your works and when you are lucky to get paid weeks or even months after your works have been published, you get very meager fees, not enough to even cover the cost of writing the story itself!

And of course, when you tell anyone you work as a freelance journalist, they suddenly think of Ben Ephson and Kwaku Sakyi-Addo, because these two and a few others including Ruby Ofori for a long time were BBC correspondents in Ghana, and they worked as freelance journalists.

Ghanaian newspapers, TV and radio stations just do not pay freelance journalists. Period! They do not factor freelance writers in their plans. Or, do they?

Even the national newspaper, the Daily Graphic which is presumably the highest paying newspaper in Ghana does not offer respectable fees. The Daily Graphic pays as little as GH¢10, for a full length article, and this article could cost as much as GH¢25 to GH¢30 or more to do. That includes the cost of research and the actual writing and filing of the story.

The privately-owned newspapers are worse off. They pay literally nothing for freelance work. No matter how good the work is. They would mostly want to publish freelance works for free and in most cases, when they find these works elsewhere, and they are mostly high quality writing, they simply copy, put their bylines to them and publish!

Thankfully, I was able to survive working as a freelance journalist in Ghana for over 10 years.

In these times I have experienced some exhilarating moments especially when I see my works in print or when what I have written gets national response and some major decisions are taken resulting in some benefits to ordinary Ghanaians. Some of my freelance works have also generated international responses, especially, my focus on e-waste in Ghana.

But there have been downsides too. I have had to travel to remote areas in Ghana to work, and never got paid anything worth my efforts.

The most heartbreaking periods of my carrier have been, always when I see my works plagiarized by others, including some very respectable individuals, newspapers, radio and TV stations in this country. But I endured the pains stoically.

One of my favorite writers and inspirers, the American Evangelical journalist and writer Tim Bascom, after working for several years in the media and rising to the position of editor of Interlit, a world class magazine for publishers, willingly resigned his position to go and work as a freelance writer.

But who is a freelance writer? And what is freelance writing? The dictionary says, a freelance, was once a knight whose services were purchasable by any state or command.

And this is how Victor Chen a freelance writer describes the word, he says, “today in journalism a freelance is one who writes for newspapers or magazines without being regularly employed, and despite the notions of independence bound up in the word, it might well stand for ‘free to starve.’”

Tim Bascom argues that technically, a freelance is a “lance” for hire, free to work on any subject, a sort of literally mercenary.

Fact is a freelance writer’s life is a tough one. They tackle assignments not everyone wants to do. They dare to be useful most of the time, even to the point of writing the mundane just so they can make a living.

For me, working as a freelance in Ghana was not an initial pleasant experience. It was like a little child who has been yanked from the safe arms of the mother by unexplained circumstances and thrown onto the streets to fend for himself. Of course, this child would not know what to do. And in most cases, I didn’t know what to do.

But I survived. I was toughened by the very circumstances of a freelance writer. I have had to vacillate between hope and despair, excitement and disappointments. Loneliness, uncertainty, and sometimes professional ostracism.

In a piece in 1998, Tim Bascom lamented the horrible lifestyle of a freelance, when he wrote, “I have 80 articles in print, plus two books and a dozen poems. But after years of trying to make a living as a freelance writer, I now admit I probably will never succeed.”

For Chen, a freelancer’s life is a chancy one. He or she never knows where the next pay check is coming from.

Given the opportunity, which Ghanaian journalist would like to work as a freelance for the media in Ghana? Well, probably that might become attractive one day when, media owners take freelance writers serious and pay them well.

For me, working as a freelance journalist opened new opportunities for growth and independent critical thinking, which have become more so valuable in the conduct of my everyday life.

I took a break from my freelance life after studies at the University of Ghana, Legon and worked with the online units of two radio stations in Accra briefly, but had to quit these jobs for good reasons. I have now decided to turn on fully, my entrepreneurial skills and have singlehandedly set up Ghana’s premier business news portal,

I guess probably, I would be making history as the first Ghanaian journalist to set up an online medium for news. I do some freelance work though, but mostly for the international media. I started in December 2008, but the site has gained popularity so fast. It is possibly the fastest growing and most credible website in Ghana today.

For instance, the statistics for May 2009 show 56,006 visits, 269,683 pages viewed and 1,996, 139 hits.

Thankfully, the experiences and tenacity I have accumulated over the painful years of freelance journalism in Ghana is paying off, as I have learned to express independence, objectivity, and a high level of professionalism in my works.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Ghana's Jatropha conundrum - begging for more answers

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

Ghana is already making history as it leads in Africa’s Jatropha investment story

Indeed, Ghana is a remarkable country for making history in Africa south of the Sahara. The country often stands out for the best and worst in both what is imaginable and unimaginable. The country is the first south of the Sahara to attain independence and end colonial rule by the British.

Not long ago, the country made history again in Africa for conducting a free and fair election which it proudly followed up with a peaceful transfer of political power to a new government.

And too soon, the country is in the news again. Ghana is becoming the Jatropha centre in Africa south of the Sahara. The attraction which the country has as a welcoming place for investors interested in the wonder plant, Jatropha which hopefully, would be the world’s answer to alternative energy sources is resonating across the globe even in such difficult times when the entire globe is being buffeted by an economic crisis. Despite the economic crisis, the investors in Jatropha and other biofuel crops are trooping into Ghana pledging investments in tens of millions of dollars.

The attraction is such that a global conference claiming to assemble giants in the area of knowledge and expertise in cultivating Jatropha and turning it into biodiesel worth millions of dollars for export has been held in Ghana.

But as one digs deeper into the Jatropha story, one appears to be dogged by more questions than answers.

Ghana Jatropha report

In 2005, the government of Ghana set up a Biofuel Committee (BFC) with the objective to develop a National Biofuel Policy (NBP).

The BFC conducted a study and submitted the following recommendations:

The BFC recommended that a National Biofuel Policy should accelerate the development of the biofuel industry in Ghana with special emphasis on the production of biodiesel from Jatropha.

It recommended that the country should substitute 20% of national gasoil consumption and 30% of national kerosene consumption with Jatropha oil by 2015; remove institutional barriers in order to promote private sector investments and management of the biodiesel industry.

Another recommendation was to create a favourable regulatory climate to ensure development of; competitive market; favourable pricing regime and high quality product.

It also called for Research and Development to improve the efficiency of biodiesel production technologies, reduce production costs, to raise quality and efficacy of product and suggested that in the medium to long term, Ghana should become a net-exporter of biofuels.

It has been four years now and there is yet to be a clearly defined policy on the biofuel sector to give the industry some structure. And so it appears, as it stands now, it is a free-for-all situation.

Claims about Jatropha

Jatropha, obviously has a valuable use, as its seed contains oil that can be used for biodiesel to power machines and cars. But it appears we don’t have all the facts and as a result there are several claims being made about Jatropha’s economic value to the globe.

One biofuels company, Gold Star Farms claims on its website that the company plants a “specific strain of Jatropha that takes one year before they bear fruit and two years before they are producing a full yield.”

One of the company’s executives, Mr. Jack Holden has said that it has commitments from farmers to grow the crop on approximately five million acres of land in Ghana.

The company, he added, plans to begin producing biodiesel at its facility in Nkawkaw, in the Eastern region of Ghana, in 2009.

He said these sometime last year after Gold Star Biofuels, a subsidiary of Ghana based Gold Star Farms Ltd, had formed a joint venture with Aiken, S.C.-based USFuelTech LLC, a provider of turnkey modular biodiesel production facilities, to design and build small biodiesel plants in Chile that will use locally cultivated Jatropha as a feedstock.

The claim that the company is planting a strain which produces yields in two years is doubtful as the experience in India has shown. In the India experiment 22 agribusiness colleges were involved, and their reports were unanimous – it takes about four to five years for Jatropha plants to yield.

And D1 Oils a British company, which was involved in a large scale Jatropha project in India believes that it will be at least an eight-year wait before varieties with good yields on wastelands are developed. Even D1’s E1 variety is not yet available in sufficient quantities, a report in the Naional, an Abu Dhabi publication has said. D1 Oils is one of the companies operating in Ghana.

The claim that Jatropha grows on marginal or wastelands is also questionable. It has been asserted by researchers in India that if planted on marginal land, the plant would only yield marginally. In other words, Jatropha would yield efficiently when planted on arable land, making it compete with land for food crops which is the contention of opponents of the Jatropha promoters.

Professor RR Shah of Navsari Agricultural University was quoted by the National as saying that “the literature said that with dry land, after four years’ growth, you can get a yield of 1kg per plant. For us, it is hardly 200g per plant.”

Someone who said he is an agronomist said in a comment on an earlier article on Jatropha on that he had told proponents of largescale Jatropha on marginal land that every plant needs irrigation and fertile soil to grow well and produce high yields, and so is Jatropha. 

He further argues that the claim that Jatropha can give high yields on waste lands has not yet fully been investigated.

He further made an interesting observation; he said, “moreover, from an agriculture point of view, adding mineral fertilizers in a soil containing less organic matter induces a loss of fertility!”

The cost of cultivation

The cost of cultivating Jatropha from all indications is high. As one investor has said, the
cost of cultivating 10,000 hectares of Jatropha is US$14 million, and that excludes irrigation and does not include processing for the extraction of the oil.

And according to the UN, harvesting Jatropha requires one worker for every one acre of land.

The cost of fossil fuel as against biofuel

The cost of producing biofuels, would make much reason in as much as the cost of fossil fuels remain high. But when prices come down, it makes little economic sense to continue to invest in biofuels, even though, it is also being argued that biofuels are more useful to the environment, or is it not?

NGOs, such as FoodSPAN, Action Aid and lately Friends of the Earth have been making calls for rationalization of the biofuels sector in Ghana and other African countries. But these NGOs have been accused of raising false alarm. It is being argued that NGOs need donor money to survive and the only way they get sponsorship for their activities is to make noise about a situation and make it look bad, even though, the case might not be so.

FoodSPAN and Action Aid are claiming that arable land is being taken away from poor farmers in the northern part of Ghana for the cultivation of Jatropha for the production of biofuels. These activities they claim is further pushing these poor farmers into deeper poverty and hunger and leading to further deforestation which also has consequences for the environment.

But the biofuels companies, mostly multinationals from wealthy nations claim otherwise.

Their alibi is that they are providing jobs for local farmers and building local communities with their investments. They insist their activities are not in anyway harmful to local farming activities, but rather a blessing.

But as events stand now, Ghana certainly is in a Jatropha conundrum, which only more clearer, convincing answers can resolve.


Saturday, May 23, 2009

What lessons for Ghana in India's jatropha failure?

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

Would a jatropha crisis hit the world just as the current global economic crisis hit most nations unprepared?

Some analysts are arguing that, the level of the impact of the crisis is so because early warning signals were ignored, and lessons in economic failures of the past were never learned.

Is the investor community learning all they could about the jatropha or biofuel business?

Ghana has become the jatropha centre in Africa south of the Sahara.

There is literally a scramble for land in Ghana by multinationals and local companies in partnership with foreigners vigorously pursuing plans in cultivation of the jatropha plant for its prized oil seed to produce biodiesel for export.

Over twenty companies from various countries are in Ghana acquiring land to cultivate non-food crops and other crops for the production of ethanol and biodiesel, mostly for export.

These companies come from Brazil, Italy, Norway, Israel, China, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium and India.

They are cultivating fields in the Volta, Brong Ahafo, Ashanti, Eastern and the Northern regions of Ghana. The main non-food crop that these companies are planting is jatropha.

One of the companies, Agroils of Italy is cultivating 10,000 hectares of jatropha in Yeji in the Brong Ahafo region.

Israeli company, Galten has acquired 100,000 hectares of land and an Indian company is requesting for 50,000 hectares of land from the Ghana Investment Promotion Council (GIPC), to cultivate jatropha.

A company from the Netherlands has started a pilot project on 10 acres in the northern region and the Chinese are also doing a pilot project.

Gold Star Farms Ltd., is cultivating five million acres of land to plant jatropha for the production of biofuels for export.

A Norwegian company ScanFuel Ltd., has started operations outside Kumasi in the Ashanti region to produce biofuel. The company aims to start initial cultivation of jatropha seeds on 10,000 hectares of land.

The company which has a Ghanaian subsidiary, ScanFuel Ghana Ltd., says its Ghanaian unit has contracted about 400,000 hectares of land, with up to 60 percent reserved for biofuel production, “not less” than 30 percent for food production and the remainder for biodiversity buffer zones.

Another Norwegian company, Biofuels Africa Ltd., the only one among the about 20 biofuels companies cultivating jatropha to receive an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) permit from Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which covers 23,762.45 hectares of its project area is operating in two locations.

Even though, Ghana has no policy, regulations nor structures in place for the biofuels industry, cultivating any company cultivating anything more than 10 hectares is required to conduct an EIA for approval by the EPA.

All together, these companies are cultivating the jatropha plant on millions of hectares of land with the hope of producing biofuels for export.

The cost involved in cultivating 10,000 hectares of jatropha, one investor has said is approximately US$14 million – and that is when it is not irrigated. And this raises some questions about the commitment of some of these companies to follow through with their projects successfully.

The cost of an extraction plant if bought from India costs about US$3 million but could cost about US$9 million when bought from the West and an additional US$2 million would be required for storage and logistics.

As these companies pursue their dreams, it would be worthwhile to consider India’s failure in attempting to produce biodiesel from jatropha and learn some lessons.

The jatropha tree takes four to five years to mature fully. According to Satish Lele of the Indian Biofuels Awareness Centre, during the cultivation period if the plantation is rain fed, these plants can yield 0.35 to 0.375 gallon of oil per tree or 375 gallons per hectare or 150 gallons per acre. If it is irrigated (3 to 5 liters per plant every 15 days) it can be double this amount.

Planting jatropha alone is not economically attractive, he argues further, as there is little income from it for the first two to three years. The jatropha plant is initially small in height, and he, therefore, suggests that, castor should be intercropped with it in fallow land, to get income and oil.

The Indian experience

The National, a newspaper published in Abu Dhabi in its May 11, 2009 issue, published an article titled; ‘Jatropha seeds yield little hope for India’s oil dream.’

The article referred to a project that was embarked upon by Professor R. R. Shah in 2005, when he sent a team to Navsari Agricultural University’s most parched and desolate strip of land, a farm in the Vyasa district of India’s northern state of Gujarat.

The team was instructed to set up a model farm for jatropha, the hardy shrub with oil-rich seeds that were then emerging as one of the most promising alternatives to crude oil. At the time, jatropha’s promise seemed boundless. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, the president of the University, even used his presidential address that year to extol the virtues of jatropha.

“Jatropha can survive in the most arid wastelands”, the story went. And so vast barren swathes of India could be put to productive use. It is inedible so it would not cause a backlash by competing with food crops, it said.

The government, according to the publication announced a scheme to plant 13 million hectares, enough to generate nearly 500,000 barrels of jatropha oil per day.

But as Prof Shah’s project in Vyasa nears its end this month, the dean of agribusiness at Navsari is sceptical. “There is no yield,” he says. “The literature said that with dry land, after four years’ growth, you can get a yield of 1kg per plant. For us, it is hardly 200g per plant.”

The consensus of the team of experts after evaluating India’s jatropa projects from 22 agribusiness colleges across the country was that, indeed, jatropha would grow on wasteland, but would give no appreciable yield.

“This is not a wasteland crop. It needs fertiliser, water and good management. Yes, it grows on wasteland, but it doesn’t give you any yield,” the publication quotes Dr Suman Jha a researcher on Prof. Shah’s team as saying.

If this observation is anything to go by, then the persistent argument that jatropha could grow on unproductive agriculture land should be looked at again. This argument also challenges the assertion that investors are not a threat to smallholder farmers,whose productive agriculture land stands to be annexed by powerful multinationals for the cultivation of biofuel crops.

Non of the projects cited in The National story, including D1 Oils’, a London-listed biofuels company, which has planted about 257,000 hectares of jatropha, mainly in India was successful. The company moved far too early.

The report indicated that D1 is also having some nasty surprises on yield. It said in 2006 that it aimed to produce 2.7 tonnes of oil per hectare from areas planted with its new E1 variety, and 1.7 tonnes of oil from normal seed. That is equivalent to about 8 tonnes and 5 tonnes of seed per hectare respectively, or 3.5kg and 2kg a plant.

According to the report, Pradip Bhar, who runs the company’s D1 Williamson Magor Bio Fuel joint venture in India’s north east, admits he has yet to achieve a fraction of that.

“Hitting 500g is the challenge,” he says. “Mortality is quite high. But if we can reach 500g in two years’ time, after that the bush will continue to grow. Our expectation is that after the fourth year we will hit 1kg. The 1.5kg mark we haven’t touched as yet.”

Those are the results from the fertile state of Assam, According to the report. The yields in other, dryer states such as Jharkand and Orissa, he says, are much worse.

Mr Bhar intends to hold the area under cultivation steady at about 132,000 hectares this year. As his plantations account for more than half of D1 Oils’ Jatropha crop, the company’s goal of planting 1 million hectares by 2011 looks like a tough one. He is concentrating instead on ensuring his small contract farmers continue tending it for the two or three years needed before it becomes profitable.

This challenge is one of the reasons why Prof Shah doubts the 500,000 hectares of jatropha the Indian government estimates has been planted so far. Only last month, he unsettled an annual meeting of the universities researching jatropha and India’s National Oilseeds and Vegetable Oil Development Board by reporting that only 5,000 hectares was actually under plantation in Gujarat, half the official estimate, the report added.

The Indian experience can provide sufficient evidence for a careful, and thorough, cost-benefit analysis of Ghana’s jatropha dream, before the bubble most probably bursts.

From May 27 to 28, an international conference on jatropha in Ghana would be considering the benefits of the crop to the global economy.

Hopefully, the conference would not hype the benefits of jatropha and neglect the possible pitfalls. An objective consideration of all the possibilities, including that of possible failure, as the Indian experience has shown so as to minimize any collateral damage in the long term is necessary for the move forward.

The companies investing in jatropha and other non-food crops for the production of biofuels including the ones from India, have lots of lessons to learn from India’s example, so as not to repeat the mistake.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Africa not attractive investment centre for American businesses - Report

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

American businesses are not investing in Africa as they should due to a number of reasons including corruption, lawlessness unstable governments and inadequate infrastructure.

They are also hesitant to put their money in African countries because of the apparent lack of political will by African governments to curb corruption, a report released Wednesday May 20, 2009 by Baird’s CMC, a communications marketing consultancy together with the US Chamber of Commerce.

The report a copy of which was made available to indicates that, overall, US businesses do not view Africa as an attractive place to invest.

The businesses take into consideration, the image of lawlessness, corruption, unstable governments, an inadequate infrastructure, uneducated or untrained people, and an unwelcoming government attitude toward business.

The businesses believe that these practices handicap those who will not or cannot “play the game” by these rules.

In addition, returns are not reasonably ensured or sustainable because costs can often escalate for reasons unrelated to business operations and the rules can change unexpectedly. This means that the time and resources already invested could be lost, the report said.

The report which is titled ‘The conversation behind closed doors: Inside the Boardroom: How Coporate America Really views Africa’ is in two parts, the study for the second part is ongoing.

The US Chamber of Commerce which is the world’s largest business federation has a membership of more than three million businesses and organizations of every size, sector and region as well as 112 affiliates in 99 countries around the world.

One of the objectives of the qualitative survey was to examine why US companies hesitate to invest in Africa. It also looked at what American businesses and African countries can do to increase US investments across the continent.

Ten industries were looked at in the survey and these are,aerospace/defense, agribusiness, consumer goods, health care and information and communications technology.

The others are, infrastructure, media, petrochemical/extractive, pharmaceutical and transportation.

The Executives who were interviewed, the report indicated, do not yet believe that they are at a competitive disadvantage because they are not investing in African countries.

According to the report, with no competitive traction, there is no sense of an opportunity being missed. Furthermore, since Africa is not selling itself overtly by asking for investment, the continent does not attract enough attention amidst competition for investment from other developing countries or regions. The only exceptions to this are China and India.

While the report recognized the fact that African countries are marketing themselves and creating the environment to attract investments, the lack of the following is a disincentive:

The fact that the rule of law does not prevail to the degree required to make Africa an attractive investment destination. This applies to corporate, societal, and criminal law.

Africa, the businesses observed, does not offer a sufficiently large middle class of consumers or show consistent economic growth that could promise a future market. Most African countries are small and have poor markets, and there are barriers to regional markets—such as taxes and the freedom of movement of people and goods.

According to the report however, if African countries want to position themselves, to attract a lot more foreign direct investment (FDI), from America, then they should do several things including the following:

• Invest in the health and education of the African people to create a large pool of skilled and productive human resources.

• Invest in and maintain infrastructure—transportation, communications, electricity, and security—so that there will be a reliable society in which to operate.

• Build a functioning legal system to ensure the rule of law, transparency, and fair play.

• Create a positive climate for foreign investments by reducing bureaucratic processes, eliminating corruption, and reforming tax systems, irrespective of country of origin.

• Ensure stable political environments—that may or may not be based on western democratic principles—that work toward the common good of all stakeholders in society.

Monday, May 18, 2009

How saved eTranzact, US man from cyber crimes

The increasing spate of cyber crimes emanating from Ghana have become a canker that is leaving in its trail victims – both big and small. But through the high standards of journalism that focuses on the real issues that is pursuing, we have recently saved eTranzact an electronic money transfer company in Ghana and an American citizen, Ralph Buglione from criminals using the internet to steal money from them.

eTranzact was launched only March 27, 2009 and barely a month after that some cyber criminals had cloned the company’s server and created an email address through which they sent emails to as many people as possible, including even those who are not customers of eTranzact asking them to verify their accounts. The criminals would then access customers’ accounts details and siphone money from their accounts.

When got hold of a copy of the email, we immediately called an official of e-Tranzact to alert him and to get his comments. That call and the story that followed, pushed the company to spring into action – eTranzact immediately sent text messages to its customers to disclaim the email.

This saved e-Tranzact’s participating banks and customers from further bigger loses, as a source said the criminals made some successes before the message got to customers.

According to the source some customers’ accounts were broken into and monies siphoned from them. The source told that about five banks in Ghana were hit by the criminals. The source would however not reveal the banks choosing to respect the banks’ right not to disclose thefts that occur in them, in order to maintain their credibility in the public eye.

The source said millions of cedis were involved, but for’s quick act, it could have been worse.

Last Friday, 55-year-old Florida, US resident Ralph Buglione specifically wrote to us to clarify some issues regarding a message he received from one Anita Brown, who claims to be a Jamaican citizen in Accra, Ghana.

According to Buglione, he met this lady through a dating site called The lady asked to chat with him on Yahoo Messenger and he obliged. Following the development in their conversations he wrote to us:

I am a Florida USA resident who this week was talking with a young lady named Anita Brown in Accra Ghana both by Yahoo Messenger text & video.

I see where you wrote an article on the subject of Internet service in Ghana. The young lady (and I suspect it was actually a number of people who were sharing the keyboard when the video wasn’t on) wanted US $100 claiming her Internet service was about to be turned off. I just read another article about Internet service in Ghana costing the typical user about $35.

Can you tell me if you think this was a scam? I did a Google search of Ghana & scams and found out that gangs of individuals in Accra play these games with foreigners stealing money from them through promised matchmaking schemes I don’t think girl was geniunely interested in me unless you prove me wrong by telling me that $200 monthly for Internet costs in apartment in Ghana are not unusual.

I ended the conversation when she asked for the money.

The article which was on the cost of the internet in Ghana obviously saved him from this possible scam and he wrote to thank us.

There is no doubt that has become the news portal of choice for many around the globe for the fact that we engage in good and high quality journalism.

We do so, because, we are motivated by the principles of good professional journalism that serves the public good by informing and educating individuals with relevant and useful news and information. You can always count on us.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Tullow Oil, Ghana EPA in permit tango - Who is saying the truth?

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

Tullow Oil, the British oil and gas exploration company operating in Ghana has responded to accusations by Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), that it presented inaccurate Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) reports to the International Finance Corporation (IFC) of the World Bank to acquire a loan of $115 million.

The EPA on April 7, 2009 accused Tullow Oil and its partner, Texas based Kosmos Energy of presenting inaccurate EIA reports to the IFC to secure loans to the tune of $215 million to finance their activities in Ghana.

According to the EPA the two companies are at the second stage of completing comprehensive EIA reports.

On a Joy News bulletin monitored by Tuesday April 7, 2009, Mr. Ebenezer Acquah Sampong, who is Head of Environmental Assessment at the EPA said the two companies would be compelled to complete the EIA before they are allowed to start operations.

He said the Environmental Assessment Regulation of 1999 requires that before any company embarks on any project of that nature, it goes through the full EIA procedure and is given a permit.

He said the procedure requires that companies register, and then they do a scoping exercise and submit a scoping report with a terms of reference for the study. He said however, before a ‘scoping report’ is submitted “extensive consultations ought to be done with all major stakeholders to know their concerns about the project.”

He said the companies have done that and submitted a report, but they were told to go back and do wider consultations at all levels at the national, regional, and district levels.

Seeking to clarify this matter, wrote to Tullow Oil and Kosmos Energy to get their side of the story, and after over a month, it is only Tullow Oil that has responded to our request, Kosmos Energy has not even acknowledged receipt of our email.

In an email response to, signed by Tony Djokoto, Senior Legal Counsel for Tullow Ghana Limited, Tullow Oil said, “regarding the EPA accusations, as you know, we have a valid permit from the EPA that governs our current activities and regard ourselves as being compliant with the terms of the permit. We are still in discussions with the relevant Governmental stakeholders and will revert to you once we have an outcome.”

But the EPA says, “as far as we are concerned, no Environmental Impact Assessment report has been submitted to us and they know that and we have made our position known to them.”

Mr. Sampong said, emphatically that the only report the EPA has received from the oil companies is a scoping report.

Meanwhile, civil society orgnisations are also insisting that Tullow Oil and Kosmos Energy have not done comprehensive environmental impact assessments on the projects.

Ghana discovered oil in commercial quantities in 2007 leading to high hopes of economic boom for the country. Concerns were immediately raised by various interest groups about the dangers inherent in the discovery of oil to the country’s social and economic health.

Nigeria and some other African countries who have oil were cited as examples and calls were made for Ghana to get it right from the word go so that the country can avoid the canker associated with oil-rich African countries.

There have been perpetual violent conflicts particularly in the Niger Delta of Nigeria, where the bulk of the country’s oil is drilled.

With these developments, it is hard to tell, if Ghana is not already missing the point before commercial production begins in 2010.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Ghanaian man poses as Iraq soldier, defrauds US woman of $10,000

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

A Ghanaian man posing as a US soldier in Iraq has defrauded an American woman of $10,000 by false pretences, the Gateway News has reported.

The publication quoting an April 20, 2009 police report, said the woman a resident of Streetsboro in Ohio gave the money to the scammer believing she was helping a US soldier in Iraq.

According to the report the woman, who was not named, began an online relationship with the man in January. The man claimed he is in the army stationed in Iraq.

The woman told police that in the next four months, after they met, she gave the man $10,000.

The woman, according to the report told police that the man told her that he had been discharged from the army and was trying to leave Iraq with a “large sum” of money.

The man, she said, kept reporting “problems along the way” as he tried to return to America and needed more money from her.

According to the police report, the man requested that the money was to be sent to his “associate” in Ghana.

After she gave him the $10,000 he kept asking her for more money, but the woman said she could not afford to send him any more money.

Soon after that, the man started calling her saying “his life was in danger” and he needed more money, according to the police report. At this point, co-workers advised her to go to the police, and that was when she made a report to the police.

Meanwhile, a U.S. Army agent, who helped police with the investigation told police that he had found that a soldier with the same picture given to the woman had been in Iraq.

The report indicated that Police contacted the soldier, who said the photos were from a social networking Web site, but he had never visited the Web site the woman said she met the man on.

However, the soldier said he had been contacted by a different woman asking him “personal questions”, but thought it was a scam and did not reply to her. The solider said in the report that the woman may have been lured into a similar fraud using his likeness.

The incident was filed with the Internet Crime Complaint Center for further investigation, the report stated.

Internet scams known in Ghana as ‘sakawa’ have reached what authorities call “alarming proportions”. About 82 cyber crimes are said to occur in Ghana every month, and Ghana and Nigeria have been blacklisted by some retail shops in the US and Canada.

Today, May 13, 2009, the Daily Graphic carried a story about the Ghana Education Service calling for an “emergency national response” to salvage the future of hundreds of school children who are increasingly being lured into the phenomenon of ‘sakawa’. The report indicated that internet fraud has gained notoriety in the country lately.

According to the report, it is not clear when ’sakawa’ began in Ghana but the cyber fraud, which is akin to the notorious Nigerian ‘419′ scam, is believed to have taken deep roots in Agona Swedru in the Central region, from where, like an epidemic, it spread to other parts of the country in no time.

Enquiries made indicate that mainly in the ghettos of some of the major towns in the country such as Kumasi, Koforidua, Sunyani and Accra, ’sakawa’ is becoming a major cause of pupil truancy involving many schoolchildren aged between 12 and 18 as they abandon the classrooms for Internet cafes, it said.

The Daily Graphic also indicated that cyber crime is linked to occultism and the modus operandi of those who engage in it includes the use of their victims’ credit cards to purchase items including expensive vehicles and household items on the Internet which are subsequently shipped to Ghana.

Sometimes the operators pose as females, manage to secure relationships on the Internet with male foreigners and subsequently discuss the possibility of marriage with them. But after convincing their victims to send them money for visa and other travelling documents to join them abroad, they hit a jackpot and abscond.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Why Ghana is popular for investments in biofuels

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

Ghana has become a major centre of attraction for the cultivation of biofuels in Africa for a number of reasons, even though some of these reasons are hard to tell.

Currently, the country features prominently on the radar of alternative energy interests, especially in the cultivation of the non-food plant jatropha for the production of biofuels.

Ghana, Thailand and Uruguay have been identified by a study conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies in 2007, as becoming the leading producer countries of the emerging renewable fuel known as biodiesel.

One of the factors that put Ghana among the leading league of nations with a high potential for biodiesel production is the fact that large volumes of the product can be produced at low cost.

Overall, the study ranked Malaysia, Thailand, Colombia, Uruguay and Ghana as the developing nations most likely to attract biodiesel investment, not only because of their strong agricultural industries, but also due to their relative safety and stability, lack of debt, among other economic factors.

Ghana is ranked high in Africa as a politically stable country, with a growing culture of democracy. Labour is also believed to be cheaper in Ghana than in most African countries, even though some investors disagree on that score.

One investor in the biofuels sector in Ghana argues that the cost of labour in Ghana is not cheap after all, because in his view, “the Ghanaian worker is not efficient as compared to the Chinese worker.”

While an employer might be paying a Ghanaian worker what is estimated to be low wages, the Ghanaian worker is proverbially known “to pretend to be working, while the employer pretends to be paying him.”

Indeed, this is not only a notion but a fact, because most employers in Ghana pay very low wages, irrespective of qualifications, experience or job description. Most Ghanaian workers are therefore, not motivated to give off their best. Substandard work performance has become a norm in Ghana.

Ironically, however, this belief that wages are low in Ghana also makes the country a choice destination for industries, especially the biofuels businesses.

There are companies from Brazil, Italy, Norway, Israel, China, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium and India investing in the area in Ghana.

They are cultivating fields in the Volta, Brong Ahafo, Ashanti, Eastern and the Northern regions of Ghana. The main non-food crop that these companies are planting is jatropha.

Jatropha has oil-rich seeds that can be used to produce biodiesel.

While its supporters argue that it can be grown on semi-arid land and so poses less of a threat to food output than other biofuel feedstocks such as grains and vegetable oils, its opponents argue that investors are taking away productive agriculture land from poor local farmers for the purpose.

Currently, there is an ongoing debate, accusations and counter-accusations of land grabbing between NGOs, Action Aid and FoodSPAN on one hand and Rural Consult, a consultancy firm on biofuels on the other.

One of the companies, Agroils of Italy is currently cultivating jatropha on 10,000 hectares of land in Yeji in the Brong Ahafo region of Ghana for biofuels.

Israeli company, Galten has acquired 100,000 hectares of land and an Indian company is requesting for 50,000 hectares of land from the Ghana Investment Promotion Council (GIPC), to cultivate jatropha.

A company from the Netherlands has started a pilot project on 10 acres in the northern region and the Chinese are also doing a pilot project.

Gold Star Farms Ltd., is cultivating five million acres of land to plant jatropha for the production of biofuels for export.

A Norwegian company ScanFuel Ltd., has started operations outside Kumasi in the Ashanti region to produce biofuel. The company aims to start initial cultivation of jatropha seeds on 10,000 hectares of land.

The company which has a Ghanaian subsidiary, ScanFuel Ghana Ltd., says its Ghanaian unit has contracted about 400,000 hectares of land, with up to 60 percent reserved for biofuel production, “not less” than 30 percent for food production and the remainder for biodiversity buffer zones.

Another Norwegian company, Biofuels Africa Ltd., the only one among the about 20 biofuels companies cultivating jatropha to receive an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) permit from Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which covers 23,762.45 hectares of its project area is operating in two locations.

Steinar Kolnes, CEO, Co-founder and director of BioFuel Africa Limited has told by email that the company is currently operating in two locations in Ghana. The company has a 300 hectare test farm in Sogakope in the Volta region and a 10,696.32 hectares in Yendi in the Northern region.

According to him, the company has planted a total of 660 hectares of jatropha on its projects.

One of the complexities that might confront the growing biofuels industry in Ghana is the challenge of land acquisitions. There is a plurality of land tenure and management prevailing in Ghana.

There is the state/public system and the customary system. These systems have been poorly articulated over the years leading to increasing conflicts associated with land.

Public lands in Ghana fall into two main categories: land which has been compulsorily for a public purpose or in the public interest under the state lands Act 1962 (Act 125) or other relevant statute; and land which has been vested in the President, in trust for a landholding community under the Administration of Stool Lands Act, 1962 (Act 123.)

While government is working to streamline the land tenure system in the country, there are some advocating for a land bank system to make land acquisition smoother and beneficial to all.

Ghana is certainly attractive for investments, especially in the biofuels sector.

But the question some observers of the biofuel sector are asking is why is the country so enthusiastic about biofuels when it has found oil in commercial quantities?

Others are also asking why an agriculture country where only 16 per cent of arable land is used for food production would not rather concentrate on developing the food crop sector, but is diverting resources and labour in agric for the cultivation of non-food crops for biofuels.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Italian company plants jatropha on 10,000 hectares of land in Ghana for biofuel

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

An Italian bioenergy consultancy company, Agroils is cultivating 10,000 hectares of jatropha in Ghana for the production of biofuels.

According to a report by Reuters, sited by, Agroils is also investing in the cultivation of jatropha in three other African countries - Morocco, Senegal and Cameroon, and Latin American country Brazil.

Agroils’ Business Development Manager, Giovanni Venturini Del Greco, who is also a co-founder was quoted in the report as saying at an energy conference Thursday May 7, 2009 that the company aims at producing 100,000 tonnes of biofuel from the jatropha plant in 2018 in these countries where it works with local farmers.

The company started the cultivation in 2008, the report said.

He said, “our goal is a 100,000 tonne output in 2018.”

He told the conference that the projects include a 200-hectare field in a desert in Morocco and 10,000 hectares in Ghana. He said if the projects were successful the crop would grow in these areas.

Agroils is one of the about 20 companies cultivating jatropha and other crops to produce biofuels in Ghana. There are companies from Brazil, Norway, Israel, China, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium and India investing in the area in Ghana.

Jatropha has oil-rich seeds that can be used to produce biodiesel. While its supporters argue it can be grown on semi-arid land and so poses less of a threat to food output than other biofuel feedstocks such as grains and vegetable oils, its opponents argue that investors are taking away productive agriculture land from poor local farmers for the purpose.

As the debate rages on between investors and civil society organizations that see the growing number of investors as a threat to poor farmers, particularly in Ghana, the country has no policy on the cultivation of crops for biofuels – leaving the field further open for more intense debates.

The need for investments in alternative energy sources and growing more food are realities confronting the world, especially in the face of the current energy and food crises, coupled with the global economic downturn. But the debate would continue as regards best practices and lawful acquisitions of and use of land for biofuel crops as against food crops.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

700,000 children to die in Africa as a result of global economic crisis!

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

The yet to be realized consequences of the global economic crisis holds a bleak future for Africa’s children, the World Bank has said.

The continent would be worst hit, even though, it was the least affected at the beginning of the crisis.

700,000 babies would die before they reach the age of one, as a result of the global economic crisis, according to the World Bank’s Vice President for Africa.

“This is a serious human and development disaster that is waiting to happen,” she said.

Ms. Obiageli Ezekwesili told Journalists on the continent during a video conference from the Bank’s Washington office on Wednesday April 22, 2009, that the impacts of the global crisis on the continent would be enormous.

She said 25 of the world’s 35 countries categorized as fragile by the World Bank are in Africa.

She also warned that unless effective responses and measures are taken most African countries would not be able to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by the year 2015.

Ghana and Tanzania were on course to achieve the number one objectives of the MDGs, which is half poverty by 2015 but due to the crisis, these countries are not likely to achieve the goal.

Some of the likely impacts of the crisis on the continent include a drop in foreign aid, foreign direct investments and remittances. Some foreign investors are holding their investments, foreign aid is not likely to increase because most countries are looking within to help their people first and most Africans who used to remit their families on the continent are out of job.

Ms. Ezekwesili reiterated the point that investments in Africa should go into infrastructure development so as to open up the continent’s economy to create jobs.

She also urged investments in agriculture which has the potential to increase employment.

Even before the economic crisis, Africa, despite the progress it was making still had a lot more to do to develop its human capital and economy.

Lack of transparency, accountability and inconsistencies in economic policies coupled with poor political leadership have been the bane of the continent.

Saddled with these counter-development trends, it does not appear the continent would be able to weather the storm when the full impact of the crisis hits.

Sadly, it is the poor and vulnerable who would bear the brunt of the effects, while the elite would continue to loot national coffers to cushion themselves and their cronies.