Monday, December 21, 2009

Copenhagen: I'm sad but will not give up!

Dear Friends,

Our world leaders have once again failed to take any concrete steps to combat climate change. The just ended UN summit on climate change has made me sad. I was full of expectation for something great to come out of this summit. But once again, greed, selfishness and insensitivity has prevented us from doing something collectively to save our own lives.

One thing I know for sure: "This is not over". The struggle to awake the world's consciousness will continue. Just as the Berlin wall fell, this will also happen. I will do my best, you will also have to do your best. The "power of the people" must be seen in action. Do your best in your own small way to combat climate change.

This is our world and we shall take charge of it. To all those who worked so hard but still did not see the desired results, we are almost there. If we stop now, would have to start all over again someday. We have not failed because we have not stopped. Let's continue. Persistence pays!

Brighten the corner where you are.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Crime Against Humanity Underway in Ghana?

In 2007, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, Jean Ziegler, described rapid investments in the production of biodiesels as “a crime against humanity”. Mr. Ziegler said he feared biofuels would bring more hunger judging from the haste in which arable land is being converted to the production of crops which are then burned for fuel. How serious are we to take Mr Ziegler’s observations? Was it only an attempt to make the headlines or the situation is that serious? Isn’t there anything that can be done to prevent this “crime to humanity”? These are some of the questions that keep bothering me since I learnt of the “land-grabbing craze” going on in some parts of Ghana just to produce biodisels. If this is going to be crime against humanity, will Prez Mills be mauled before the International Criminal Court in The hague one day to join Mr Taylor?

I must first make it clear that I am not against the production of biofuels, neither will I try to make a case for the production of biodiesels in Ghana. Instead, I will try to be objective in my assessment of where Ghana stands in this whole Biodiesel/fuel brouhaha. First of all, why are so many people concerned with biodiesel investments in Ghana? Biodiesel is part of the family of biofuels (biomass, bioethanol and biodiesel) which is any solid, liquid, or gaseous fuel produced from organic (once-living) matter. Biofuel can be produced either directly from plants or indirectly from industrial, commercial, domestic, or agricultural wastes.

I ask again, why are many people concerned about biodiesel investments in Ghana. Why was the Ghana Investment Promotion Council set up? Yes! To look for investments and we are getting investments so what’s the problem? Ghana is, as usual, setting the pace. As a country, we seem to be very happy to be the number in so many things, whether good or bad. We don’t seem to really look at things critically before endorsing it but we endorse it before we start thinking about what we did. Can you count the number of charters we have signed/ratified and how many of them we were the first to do so. We pride ourselves in “Ghana was the first country to ratify the UN charter on ….”. I wonder what we have benefitted from doing that. Come to think of it…does any per diem come in with these ratification? If yes, then I think I understand.

Back to the business of biodiesels. As a country what do we need? Biodiesels are good but is it the priority now? Have we prepared adequately to handle the effects of largescale biodiesel production? What policies are in place to govern the production of biodiesel in Ghana. What makes biodiesel investments in Ghana woth thinking about is the fact that, our agricultural lands are being used to produce sugarcane, jatropha, etc, for biodiesel for export whiles we can not produce enough food to feed ourselves. Oh, Prof Kwasi Andam, I miss u: “this is nonsensical”. It is sad that our arable lands in some parts of the Northern, Upper East and West and Brong Ahafo regions are being grabbed by multi-national companies to produce biodiesel whilst we sit down and not question it! It is someone’s job to see to it that we get food to eat. Where is the Ministry for Agriculture? Why are we always afraid to stand up for the right thing when foreign investors are involved? Food and biodiesels, which one is a major priority now? Ghana imports so much food which puts a major stress on our budgets yet instead of investing in production of food, we are looking on unconcerned whilst land for food crops are being taken for biodiesels.

Who are the immediate beneficiaries of biodiesel production in Ghana? As an environmentalist, I am very much aware of the benefits of the use of biodiesels compared to fossil fuels (crude oil). The growth in the production of biofuels has been driven, in part, by the desire to find less environmentally-damaging alternatives to oil. Biodiesels, compared to fossil fuels, emit less carbon into the atmosphere and as such mitigates climate change which is very important. Corn-based gasohol (a combination of unleaded gasoline and ethanol made from corn) reduces fossil energy use by 50 to 60 percent and pollution by 35 to 46 percent. Climate change has no barriers and even though Ghana does not emit so much carbon into the atmosphere, high emissions in America and Europe affect us here. From that angle, everyone benefits from any phenomenon that reduces emission of carbon. Great! But in this case of biodiesel production in Ghana we need to ask ourselves the question of priority! If we cannot produce enough food to feed ourselves, biodiesel then becomes a luxury. Food is basic! Moreover, the large tracts of land which have been taken over by these multi-national companies are producing biodiesel for export. The biodiesel is not to be used in Ghana. Then where is the sense if we give out our croplands for the production of biodiesels for export whilst we go hungry.

Production of crops for biodiesel is not starting in Ghana so there are examples to learn from. Recent increases in food prices have been attributed to the switch to biofuels. For example in the US, more farms are switching from the production of wheat and soya to corn, which is then turned into ethanol. More countries are looking for more enviroenmentally friendly alternatives to oil and are moving to biofuels. The European Union, for instance, has targeted 5.75 percent ethanol, derived from wheat, beet, potatoes, or corn, to be added to fossil fuels by 2010 and 20 percent by 2020. About a quarter of Brazil's transportation fuel in 2002 was ethanol. More than 11 percent of all automotive fuels sold in the United States are ethanol-blended, and that percentage is projected to increase in the future. Obviously, these statistics also indicate a growing demand for biofuels – and commercial interests are rushing to Ghana. And because Ghana accepts everything foreign in the name of investments, the country is being hailed in the international circles as becoming the Jatropha centre in Africa south of the Sahara. Another first? Saddening.

Our leadership must wake up to the signs. Ghana needs a good policy with legislation and strict enforcement to govern this biodiesel craze before we say “had we known”. Go to the mining and forestry sectors and there are lessons to learn. We’ve mined gold and cut timber from Ghana for ages but what can we show for it. Mining firms are destroying our rivers, polluting our lands and repatriating the profits to their countries. Is that what we want to continue? Timber firms have depleted our forests and left us with no hope: is that what we want to continue? We need to sit up and do what is expected. In 2005, the government of Ghana set up a Biofuel Committee (BFC) with the objective to develop a National Biofuel Policy (NBP). After a “study”, the BFC recommended among others that National Biofuel Policy should accelerate the development of the biofuel industry in Ghana with special emphasis on the production of biodiesel from Jatropha. What was considered about the food the people will eat when the lands are being used fro Jatropha? In Ghana we don’t eat Jatropha. I’ve heard some people say that the country, as part of a policy on biofuels, should set aside lands for the cultivation of Jatropha and others? What I ask is have we set aside enough land for the cultivation of food crops to feed our hurngry people? By the way which lands are to be set aside? Are we to sacrifice our right to food for biofuels?

Food prices are rising as more land is used to produce biofuels. Peoples farms are being taken over for the cultivation of biofuels? Waste is taking over our cities whilst we look on unconcerned: why don’t we rather go out there to invite investors to put their money in technologies that will enable the use waste to produce energy? Is the Ministry of Energy still there? People are losing their livelihoods and going hungry. What are we to do? Is any of our “caring leaders” listening? Are they going to keep quiet and supervise this crime against humanity? If they have not seen, have they not heard?

Friday, July 31, 2009

Agriculture and Carbon Emmisions

The climate change debate seems to be loosing sight of some very important factors. It is well accepted that industrialsed countries are the worst offenders when it comes to greenhouse gas emmisions, but to address this issue of emmisions holistically, we need to also pay attention to the many developing countries where slash and burn agriculture is very widespread.

The current practice of land preparation for agriculture in many developing countries where large tracts of vegetation are completely cleared, debris or biomass burnt and land made bare (without any vegetation) before planting has serious implications for the environment in terms of release of carbon into the atmosphere. Usually there is so much focus on the amount of Carbon dioxide released by big industries whilst the world gradually looses sight of the volumes of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases being released through slash and burn practices all over the world. For instance, few people realize that Indonesia is the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases on the planet, after the United States and China; and 85 percent of Indonesia’s emissions are related to land use: the clearing of land for agriculture and infrastructure, and the burning of forests and peatlands.

Carbon dioxide (77%), nitrous oxide (8%), and methane (14%) are the three main greenhouse gases that trap infrared radiation and contribute to climate change and all these gases can be released through improper land management and agricultural practices. If we are serious about really mitigating climate change then our debate should not only focus on big industries. The earth is what we have and we must do all we can to secure it for the future.