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March 08, 2011

Indian bio-fuel project in Ghana has supporters, detractors

by Francis Kokutse

An Indian company has launched a clean energy project in Ghana that will help power over 100,000 homes and generate over 25,000 jobs in the west African country, said a company official.

Abellon CleanEnergy Limited intends to produce solid bio-fuels for export as well as set up energy plantations, says Pragnesh Mishra, the company's representative in Ghana. 'The first plantation is planned to be sited in the Ashanti region in the country,' Mishra said.

Mishra would not say how much the company was spending on the project but said: 'This would be disclosed once we are operational, towards the end of the last quarter of this year.'

Officials of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Accra said the project was an initiative of the Business Call to Action (BCtA), a worldwide initiative to support th private sector in its efforts to fight poverty.

BCtA's programme manager Natalie Africa said: 'Abellon's commitment is a concrete and effective example of how the private sector can adopt sustainable, pro-poor business strategies to tackle the twin global challenges of poverty and climate change.'

When Abellon's project finally takes off, it would see the conversion of over 10,000 hectares of degraded earth into agricultural land with crops such as bamboo, palmarosa and sweet sorghum that require little to no irrigation, and are not used primarily for food.

But as Abellon prepares to take off, it looks like the company would have to contend with complaints by ActionAid Ghana that biofuel companies were grabbing lands from farmers all over the country. In a report it prepared last year, ActionAid said: 'The sizes of parcels of land grabbed ranged from four to 100 acres.'

Those whose lands had been cleared received an equivalent of US$10.34 per acre for 50-year lease, said ActionAid.

'The livelihood of some landowners has been destroyed and some are threatened and even those who were not cropping their lands had economic trees from which they were benefiting,' said the organisation which is fighting poverty in the west African nation.

'There is no one controlling how these companies operate because there is no official policy,' said Victor Owusu, public affairs officer of the sector regulator, Energy Commission. "We don't register them because they are not producing fuel at this stage. What most of them are doing is to produce crude for export and therefore do not fall under our supervision,' Owusu said.


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