Monday, April 14, 2014

April 14th, 2014

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

This week I had a visit from some international visitors who asked 'What fuel do you use at Kpong Airfield?' My reply was simple 'We rely on fossil fuels.' I went on, 'We use 95octane automotive petrol (super/gasoline) for the Rotax powered aircraft and small mowers; diesel for the genset for our electric power generation, since we are off-grid; diesel for our car, truck and tractor; and LPG for cooking.' The ensuing conversation demonstrated their lack of understanding of the fuel/power availability - and quality - challenges that we experience in Ghana. We may not have the same mains power, piped natural gas or wide range of automotive and aviation fuels available, as in other countries, but we do have what we need to solve our problems!

Later, I realised that it is not just some foreigners that fail to understand our local conditions - but it appears that many West Africans also lack the understanding of the meaning of 'fossil fuels', where they come from, their classification and their uses. I have found few people who understand how we can produce electricity from natural gas, which is found in abundance in Ghana, right now.

Therefore, I will take this opportunity to begin a series on 'Understanding Oil, Gas and Power' - since we all are touched by it - whether we fly, drive or simply switch on any electric device. We will take it term-by-term, over several weeks - and if you want a term further explained - or have question, just drop me an e-mail!

Fossil Fuels: Fossil fuels are basically hydrocarbons (chemical chains of carbon and hydrogen) that have been formed from anaerobic decay of organic matter from many millions of years ago, compressed and converted into several forms of fossil fuels. Put another way, fossil fuels are the result of massive pre-historic plant and animal deposits which have decayed in the absence of oxygen (covered in silt or other deposits) and have been compressed and 'cooked' by heat coming from the planet's core, for millions of years. It is not dissimilar to how we make charcoal, but over longer times, and in much greater quantities, to become carbon rich deposits stored in pockets/reservoirs, surrounded by rock layers, under the sea bed or simply underground. Depending on the type of originating organic matter, location, relative pressures, temperatures and time passed, the resultant product may be found as solids, liquids or in a gaseous state. Fossil fuels are generally readily combustible - and can be used to create many products with many different uses. Despite the rumours that fossil fuels are 'non-renewable sources', fossil fuels are being created all the time, even today - but it will take many millions of years before they are 'cooked and ready to use', and we are using those that are already available many thousands of times faster than they can be replaced. Let us look at some of these fossil fuels, and how they may be used in the energy cycle in Ghana.

Coal: A solid fossil fuel, generally formed from decaying matter in swampy areas at the time it was laid down. There are many different grades of coal, ranging in colour from shiny black to dark brown. Due to its formation process, and its extraction process, coal is found 'on land' and mined either by pit mining or open cast mining. There are coal deposits in Africa, but none have been found in Ghana. Coal could be brought in by ship and burnt in specially built power stations, in order to boil water, to create steam, which would then power turbines to generate electric power. Coal is also used as a cooking fuel (hence the term coal pot) and for heating homes in many countries. VRA has discussed the possibility of a coal fired power station, but it would appear to be unattractive, and more expensive, than using the ready supply of other fossil fuels available within the Territory of the Republic of Ghana.

Crude Oil: A general term for a fossil fuel of naturally occurring hydrocarbons - of varying densities - that can be pumped out from an underground reservoir, after it has been punctured by the oil rig to create an 'oil well' (in a similar way to drilling a borehole to obtain water). Normally, it is extracted in liquid form - which may require treatment of the oil deposits in order to pump them out. Crude oil comes in different consistencies, from very runny to nearly solid, at room temperature, depending on the type. Generally black or blackish-brown in colour. Crude oil is composed of different lengths of hydrocarbons and has other chemicals components in it - such as sulphur compounds. Depending on the density, consistency and content it has different values, uses and names. Each Crude oil discovery is rated using API Gravity standards.

API Gravity: This is the standard set up by the American Petroleum Institute (API) to classify crude oils. It is given as a number in 'degrees' that indicates the weight or density of an oil, in relation to water at a given standard condition of temperature and pressure. If the API is greater than 10°API, the oil will float on water. If the API is less than 10°API then it will sink. This helps to establish which oil will float on, or sink in, another oil. It also provides an indication for ease of extraction and quality for processing. Knowing the API is essential to convert between barrels of oil (a volume) to tonnes (a mass or weight) - which is really important for shipping purposes.

Light Crude Oil: This runs freely at room temperature, floats on water, and has an API gravity of 31.1°API or higher (some definitions vary, depending on the market). Often abbreviated to LCO, it may be used to fuel power stations - such as some of Ghana's current thermal power plants (many of which are dual fuel, and can also use natural gas, because LCO is much more expensive than natural gas) - or preferably processed to create a range of products. LCO is generally favoured for production of the higher value petro-chemical products - such as what we call super, which is also known as petrol or gasoline. Ghana's oil finds in the Jubilee field are reported to be 37.6°API, making it Light Crude. 

Heavy Crude Oil: Floats on water, does not flow easily, generally with an API gravity from 10°API to 22.3°API. Extraction requires special extraction techniques, such as the injection of steam into the oil reserves to make it flow sufficiently for extraction. Some deposits are so thick that the equivalent of 'open cast mining' techniques can be used. 

Between the light and the heavy exists Medium Crude Oil which would float on water, with an API gravity between 22.3°API and 31.1°API (depending on the market classification). It offers a greater challenge for extraction than light, but would be easier to extract than the heavy stuff!

Extra Heavy Crude Oil: Basically, this is bitumen or bitumen like oil deposits. It does not flow at room temperature and sinks in water. Extra heavy is defined as having an API gravity below 10°API. 

Sweet Crude Oil: Called sweet because it is low in sulphur compounds, smells pleasant and, should you put a little on your tongue, as the early oil workers would when testing, it actually has a sweetish taste. Sweet light crude oil is the most sought after type of crude oil since it is ideal (least costly/higher yields) for processing into gasoline/petrol, kerosene (including aviation kerosene or JET A1) and good quality diesel. 

Sour Crude Oil: Being higher in sulphur compounds, sour crude smells like bad eggs. It is more corrosive and expensive to process than the 'sweet crude'. Sour crude is generally too expensive to process into the higher quality petrochemical products.

Refineries around the world tend to purchase a variety of crude oil types and mix or blend them according to their capabilities and production demands.

I hope that helps you to better understand some of the terms being thrown around in our 'oil producing state'. Next week we will look more closely at terms related to one of Ghana's most valuable assets, natural gas.

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and Pilot/Engineer with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

Monday, April 7, 2014

April 7th, 2014

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

One of my first consultancy contracts in Ghana was related to the TIP (Trade and Investment Programme) - working with CEPS (Customs Excise and Preventive Service) and MOTI (Ministry of Trade and Industry). My interactions went further and included GIPC (Ghana Investment Promotion Council), GSS (Ghana Statistical Service) and, of course, BOG (Bank of Ghana). In fact, I quickly learned that Ghana has more acronyms and alphabet soups than any CAA (Civil Aviation Authority). Consequently, it was not surprising that my principal involvement in development was in relation to a system baptised 'CEDIS' (Customs Export Data Information System).

CEDIS was installed at the major ports as well at MOTI and CEPS HQ. Each month the export data was collected, entered, cleaned and reported on. Quarterly bulletins were produced, distributed and sold. My life became centred around the monitoring and promotion of NTEs (Non Traditional Exports) - and with it, a remarkably positive change in Ghana's economy. TIP (Trade and Investment Programme), then TIRP (Trade and Investment Reform Programme) and finally TIPCEE (Trade and Investment Program for a Competitive Export Economy) were advanced development programmes, designed to underwrite economic growth for the people of Ghana. 

The basic understanding that we need to export our goods in order to earn foreign currency, and become a global player in trade, was my daily bread. Working on development programmes that enabled individuals was exciting - and rewarding. Overall, I believe that the work I did between 1995 and 2005 contributed positively towards the development of Ghana's trade growth. I worked alongside well known names from both poles of the political magnet - seeing them at their best - and their worst. They each have positives and negatives - and failure to accept that would be a mistake. I have no political allegiances, and I am fully committed to the positive development of Ghana.

Since 2005, I have refrained from working in the policy and trade areas, and focused on social entrepreneurship opportunities in engineering, health and aviation. Working with international support programmes is fine, but they can only lay basic foundations during a three or four year development project (or a sequence of programmes). All it takes is a change of government, minister, director - or attitude - and the whole effort is diverted, apparently lost without trace - not unlike the mystery of flight MH370!

I remain passionate about development in Ghana, because this is my home. I have settled here. I am an 'adopted Ghanaian', with a wonderful Ghanaian wife. We believe that Ghana can do and be so much more - and that the calm, welcoming, good hearted, majority of the Ghanaian people are worth the sacrifices and efforts that are needed to be living and working in Ghana today.  

Please read my following thoughts, from the heart, for the love of Ghana and everybody living here:

There is much discussion as to whether Ghana is in a crisis right now. Well, there will always be two sides to that coin! My side, is the side of the rural dwellers and, of course, how the social enterprise that I am involved with, are affected. On those counts I can declare, without doubt or hesitation that we are already in a severe and hard biting crisis. On the core business front, our revenues over the past 24 months have dropped over 90%. People can no longer afford luxuries - ex-pats are reducing their in-country spending, through lack of confidence, and - in the past weeks - the currency control system has made it impossible for us to operate anywhere near effectively. We depend on US dollar purchased items to grow engineering and aviation in Ghana - and now we cannot fuel our growth. It is simple, those earning in local currency have lost so much value - with their costs rising quicker than a cruise missile on launch. Foreign currency earners are losing the confidence to bring their earnings into the local economy. 'Confidence' is a word I will use a lot today. Some folks have left already, and many are considering leaving - ex-pat and Ghanaian. Two or three years ago, if you asked a business executive 'Can you tell me something positive about the economy?', the confidence was really high... today, that same question will result in a deafening silence.  

Despite the economic struggles, we will not give up; we are rapidly exploring alternative revenue streams to weather this challenging economic storm. Yup, to me, and those around me, we have a crisis. A deepening crisis.

It is one thing to complain, but I was always told to 'bring solutions, not problems', so what could be a solution? First, let us understand where we have come from, and consider those early 1990's - when currency controls were in place, it was hard to export or import, there were very few tourists, etc. Even the airport cargo operations were chaotic, with exports rotting on the tarmac. I came along at that very time. I believe that my subsequent work contributed a little bit towards the development trends for which Ghana was applauded. So, what were the key components that moved Ghana forwards then?

a) Listening: to the advice of those who want to see Ghana develop. It should be understood clearly that 'foreigners' are not interested in collapsing Ghana... not at all.. despite the rhetoric. They really want Ghana to flourish - so that all Ghanaians can afford to purchase from their economies. Donor nations and investing companies are not vampires - they are not parasites - they are not altruistic either! They really want a symbiotic relationship. The want give and take. They are like the healthy bacteria in your body. They get something from you, and you give something to them - together we are both stronger. Take one away from the other and both suffer. I remember the so called 'conditionalities' of the 1990s - and the fights over them. 'We will release this to you if you implement this or that'. It is normal - it is how the world goes around - and if you don't want to play, you can become isolated, and take the consequences. Through appropriate conditionalities, and the work of teams interested in helping to move Ghana forward as a trade player on the international markets, by the mid to late 1990's we were witnessing growth and development - and people beginning their exodus from poverty, as momentum was established.

b) Privatisation: Governments around the world have proved resoundingly that they cannot run businesses. Simple. Running businesses is not the work of Government. Their role is to create a confident and positive environment for businesses to do business in. No matter how you feel about the selling of 'One Touch' to Vodaphone, we all now have much better telecommunications because of it. Furthermore, the Government of Ghana was relieved of a financial albatross, and today enjoys more tax, licence fees, etc - and more people are gainfully employed, with more skilled jobs, because of those changes. Other countries privatised - and it has worked. I hate the current hullabaloo about the Atuabo Free Port development - because, some say, 'It should be built and operated by Ghana Ports and Harbours (GPHA)'! I am certain that if the Government of Ghana and its agencies were to rent out the Ports at Tema and Takoradi to a well experienced operator (yes, a foreign one, with a local partner - but not some consortium of cronies, which would, of course, be unlikely), even at a peppercorn rent, the medium to long term efficiency, resultant revenues - and job creation (skilled and unskilled), would catapult the whole economy forward. Regardless of pride, we need to allow rapid development of new ports and other facilities if we are to boom. If the investors are ready to come - welcome them! Look what happened at Kotoka International Airport (KIA) when the AfGo operation started in 1994 (a deal with Gatwick Handling from the UK) - it changed air cargo operations - so positively! When the Rawlings regime signed the KIA handling contract there was great opposition - but today we all enjoy better air cargo - and let us be honest, it created jobs, training and brought our airport standards up - and there is more revenue for the government too. The short term management contract, under the Kufour Government, for GWCL (Ghana Water Company Ltd) made operations smoother, more efficient, provided skills transfer and increased revenues - leaving trained people behind in the system!

c) Confidence: was built into the system. The Ghana Investment Promotion Council (GIPC) had a policy of support and encouragement to the smallest investor. The ease of visa access - and to some extent the 'visa-on-arrival' (which has not yet reached full potential) enabled many people to come to Ghana and experience that 'Great Ghana Akwaaba'. Ghana became the 'Golden Child', and the craft markets boomed - the hotels grew and, even before the 'oil boom', there was perceivable improvement in personal wealth, and sustained growth of the middle class - whether connected to an investor operation or not.

d) Currency: the freedom of currency - elimination of the currency control forms - the introduction of the 'off shore' account - the free zones development - the ability for an exporter to receive foreign currency and use it freely to obtain a great deal - purchase new inputs for their farms - or new equipment. That freedom allowed people to keep their money in Ghana - and in the banks - in whichever currency they wanted - with confidence.

e) Infrastructure: was visibly being addressed - roads, power, water, telecoms - you could see that 'something was happening' - it had its stops and starts, but there was an overall positive feeling to it all.

f) Corruption: (in fact all of the various abuses of public office) appeared to be much less in the past than it is now. For example, I remember in the 1990s a young Peace Corps volunteer speaking, albeit out of turn, about corruption affecting her rural project at a cocktail event - and being heard by the President... within forty-eight hours, action was being taken, people moved, questions asked - and all because the putrid scent of corruption was seen as an affront on development and an insult to the people of Ghana. Corruption will always take place, and will always be hard to prove - and thus action must be taken on trust - and it should be swift - or the smell will stifle those near it, and keep others away. 

So, what has changed? 

a) Listening: appears to be going out of fashion. We have some great minds speaking out right now, but it seems that 'if you are not wearing the right colours - of skin or party - and not singing to the right tune' you are 'off frequency' and simply not being heard. Who cares where a person comes from, or which party they belong to, or whether they belong to a party at all? If they are speaking sense, let us take it on board - and stop the personality politics, PLEASE. There is talk of 'going to the IMF' for a bail out - and if we do we will have to listen to the IMF rules! Why not start now, with our in-country people? Surely it is better that we listen, and act, before we are forced to embrace the shackles of an IMF bail out?

b) Privatisation: really could offer a rapid resolution to so many things. I realise that we have developed a less attractive economy recently, and thus decreased the value and attractiveness of our assets, but we could still 'offer concessions for', 'rent-out', 'lease' or 'licence' many of our assets to boost growth, and reduce costs. Utilities, sea-ports, airports, lake-ports, state transport solutions (road and lake), in fact any area that the government is still unsuccessfully 'trying to do business' in, could be removed from the public burden, made more efficient, increase training opportunities and thus boost long-term employment and development by strategic partnerships. So, what is the problem with making that happen? Basically companies are getting frustrated whilst trying to cut such deals. They imply that there is too much corruption, nepotism, wheeling and dealing and general 'delays' around agreements - and that has to be chased out of the system immediately. Then, and only then will we see the serious, competent and long-term minded investors bring their much needed skill, money and development to our nation. They have 'other country options', and so we must make the 'Ghana option' more attractive.

c) Confidence: is getting harder to find these days - even amongst some of the 'incumbent party faithful'. Confidence needs to be restored - and fast. When I speak to business people they feel that they have lost confidence in what will happen next. 'Will the currency collapse?' 'Will they reverse the banking decisions in May or June... or ever?' 'Will I get a visa?' 'Will the tax office be correct with me?' 'Will I get paid?' 'Will I be able to afford fuel next month?' 'Will there be fuel available next month?' 'Will I have power/water for my production?' 'Will the road/bridge/etc be completed in time?' 'Will the contractors be paid by Government?' These are issues that really do affect us all - because if they affect a current business, or dissuade an investor, they affect the entire economy. Confidence must be rapidly restored to our systems. Whilst we are at it, let us not forget restoring confidence in tourism; we could, perhaps, do away with short-term visas to boost visitors to Ghana. Why not allow the first 2 weeks in Ghana without a visa, for visitors from selected countries - such as those with a positive history of interacting with our nation? I hear so many complaints about obtaining a visa for Ghana - and some even abandon applying when they perceive other countries as more welcoming of their spending. Why not simply charge a reasonable visa-on-arrival charge (or on-exit as Taiwan did to boost business visitors)? If you want to stay more than 2 weeks, then you should be able to quickly, and without hassle, get a visa sorted out - we need more visitors, and their cash - who knows, they may even become investors! Foreigners bring currency to our economy - lots of it - so why not bring them in, let us boost the airlines, airports, hotels, tourist destinations and craft markets with foreign currency and a brisk trade! Many small drops really do make a mighty ocean! At the same time, we should re-introduce the small investor options at the GIPC - because the new rules have stopped the 'small foreign investor in small Ghanaian business' options - and that is negative for overall development.

d) Currency: Oh, boy, I really fail to grasp what possessed us to take the most recent, negative impact on business, foreign currency decisions - and fail further to understand why we have not reversed those actions... So, let us work towards re-establishing a fairly stable local currency - but please, at the same time, make it easy for all in the country to take, change and bank foreign currency too - it is money after all! Rural areas possibly suffer the most... the nearest public, 'licensed' Forex Bureau to where I live is about 50km away - and they are not open on a Sunday either... Please, allow people to spend their money freely (Ghana Cedis, US Dollars, British Pounds, Euros, etc) - and with confidence - I promise it will help boost the economy - and investment. 

e) Infrastructure: the current approach appears rather haphazard to me. We see more potholes than roads under development around the country... our transport infrastructure is not improving. It is becoming more and more evident that we have a power crisis developing, with industry experts unsure as to whether gas can even be put on line this year. The lake level is dropping as we rely more on hydropower (we have about 11ft to drop to the 240ft minimum, and the levels normally only start to rise again in July). The thermal power plants seem to be having challenges... the load shedding is touching all on the National Grid. Simply put, 'without a stable infrastructure you cannot have sustainable industry'. Stable power, safe and reliable water, well maintained roads, good quality (affordable) fuel supplies along with working data and voice telecoms - are the base upon which our country will grow its exports - and thus its economy - sustainably. It is good to talk about these things - and I love the regular headline promises - but talk is not enough, they need to be in place, reliable, functional and affordable. There appears to be a feeling that we have a less stable, and in some ways retrogressive, infrastructural outlook at this time. We need to reverse that - not with talk, but with prompt action. We hear that the government doesn't have the money (or needs to borrow it) for needed developments? Then, we should give industry players the real freedom to work - reducing bureaucratic overheads, cutting delays, taking away any nepotistic demands, refraining from implied cronyism related constraints and simply giving them business development freedom. What is wrong with enabling those with the money and the skills to grow our industries and create jobs? Many industries want to bring experts in to do the job, and to do the job well - and THEN to train the local staff.... that is the way around that it has to work - if you want fast results - it must all be working, profitable and sustainable, before sustainable skills transfer can securely happen. There appears to be too many artificial restrictions imposed on development projects which are strangling growth - making investment unattractive. We must accept that Ghana lacks sufficient suitable, trained and able to deliver skilled personnel. It will take many years to secure the skills set within the national labour force. Our graduates may be bright - but they lack experience (and often the relevant knowledge set) - and thus they must accept starting work at the bottom, getting their hands dirty. Then they can honourably and proudly work their way up to their level of aspiration. In the short term, it means that we need those with experience from outside to come and be the mentors - and for them to spend their money with confidence in our local economy! Whilst we are at it, why not make such skilled, economically desirable foreigners more welcome? Is there any reason not to let them bring their families and settle in Ghana? Long term residents visas, perhaps a simple naturalisation process for those who want to make Ghana home could be made more readily available. Sadly, too many feel unwelcome and chased away (including those from the Diaspora) - and that is really not good for our development. Take a look at the UK, it welcomes millions of non-British folks, many of whom naturalise... it is estimated that over 2,500,000 foreign born individuals are living in London alone. In fact London has 270 different nationalities living and working in it - because it needs and wants them! London has a vibrant Ghanaian population of many tens of thousands, which probably makes London amongst the top cities with Ghanaians living in it, anywhere in the world - including Ghana!

Finally, it is the lack of a clear and cohesive plan that is frustrating - whether short or long term - a plan with everybody knowing their role within, and how it benefits the overall plan and objectives is necessary. For example, when we are building an aircraft, everybody knows which part of the plane they are building, and are proud of it. If you cannot see the big picture, and do not feel a part of the big plan, you are just pulling rivets and cutting metal, and it has no meaning, no purpose and there is no team spirit which leads to a loss of pride and the end result is not going to be what anybody hoped for.

Let us all work to restore confidence in all the people in Ghana - our nationals, our investors and our tourists - let us do it together, and without delay.

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and Pilot/Engineer with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

Monday, March 31, 2014

March 31st, 2014

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

The phrase 'In aviation, the only way to end up with a small fortune, is to start with a large fortune!' has been the bedrock of airline, aircraft and related developments around the world. Freddy Laker, Richard Branson, etc. can all testify to having pumped in more money than they ever anticipated to create their businesses - often more than the GDP of many countries - most have lost their shirts! Richard Branson has subsidised and bailed out his own airline - he runs it as a matter of pride - because he likes aviation and can afford to like aviation!

It is easy to say 'I want to start an airline', or even 'I want to own my own plane', but you must remember that you must have money - more than you will imagine at the outset - to pursue such a direction. I remember my first aircraft. I was wisely advised 'make your first aircraft a new one'. I followed the advice, and worked hard enough to be able to save up to afford it. A second-hand aircraft would easily have cost me double that of a new aircraft - over the first few years. I have seen so many people purchase used aircraft, because 'they could not afford a new one', nor wait to save up, only to lose it all, because of the unseen costs involved. It sounds cosy: 'I have seen a used aircraft for half the price of a new one!', but then it needs more spent on it in the first few months or years than the difference in cost of the new one! We have a couple of used aircraft at Kpong, that we could put up for sale right now - but we won't. Simply because we know that if we sell them, the owners will have to spend more than the cost of a new aircraft in the first three years. We may not be good at business - but we are good at ethics and thinking about sustainable solutions. These aircraft will be gracefully retired and put on display in our new learning and discovery centre, scheduled to open next year, as part of our investment into the education of the wonderful young people of Ghana. We have a long term approach, not a 'look good quick' approach to our sector development.

Sadly, I do not get the impression that everybody understands what development really takes. Let us take just one of the topics in the news at the moment; RICE!

Ghana has a massive imported rice bill - an estimated $300,000,000 of imports per year (it grows annually as the rice demand grows in the country). So, somebody says 'that is crazy, let us grow our rice needs ourselves! We can grow all of our own rice - we have land and people and we could even export some!' Sounds good? Sounds amazing! We have lots of land and lots of people without jobs - so lets give them all some rice to plant and wish them luck! Sadly, it is not that simple. 

Let us look at the real cost of our imported and domestic rice. First of all, Ghana has one of the most diverse rice import profiles of Africa. The last time I studied rice (yes, I really did) in 2002/4, Senegal imported a lot of rice - but mainly the 'lower cost' options, such as 100% broken - well below the cost of what it could be grown for in Senegal! Ghana imports a very wide variety of rice - but not so much of the 'low cost rice' options - and much of it 'unlikely to be able to be grown cost effectively in Ghana'. Yes, Ghana has grown rice over the years - but local sales have been limited, especially because Ghanaians are very discerning when it comes to rice! 

Perhaps the most successful 'Grown in Ghana Rice Project', in quality terms, was the Kpong Farms project of the 1990's. I was privileged to have written some software for the project at the time. Out of interest I drove past the site, just last week. The fields are empty, fallow for years, the buildings have all but collapsed inwards on themselves, maintenance has not been carried out recently - if at all. Even the little yellow JCB used for ditch and dyke maintenance - that only needed a simple valve to get working ten years ago, is still sitting in the very same place it was ten years ago. 

In the North of the country there was a major project about 12 years ago, I believe it funded by the French... apparently, that also is no longer in place. So, I look out at Prairie Volta - which was just a few years ago heralded as the saviour of Ghana's rice needs. Prairie took over the Quality Grain site at Aveyime (oh, there is a story of finances lost behind Quality Grain too!). They started with a few hundred hectares and planned for ten thousand hectares of rice. They stared with fantastic investments - bulldozers, tractors, aerial dispersal aircraft (one was damaged beyond repair before it even sprayed for the first time). Prairie have not visibly grown rice for a while now - they need 'more investment'... 

What about the Kpong Irrigation Project? Yes, they grow rice more or less on an family farm lot basis, but look at their yields - they are generally below economic return levels. I can visit a village on the lake edge, and see their rice - which is fine for 'personal consumption' - the quality is not going to make it to market - not without massive infrastructural investments (that includes proper roads, sustainable power, mechanisation and clean water for hand washing in order to produce a Ghana Standards Board approvable product).

Finally, we look at the project in Sogakope, they are growing 'social rice' for local consumption, with a number of out-growers. They are subsidised by an American patient loan operation - and they will certainly need a great deal more investment - and/or government subsidies - to continue. 

It quickly becomes evident that the millions upon millions of dollars spent on getting rice production going, has not really yielded viable results. The small farmers are probably not being cost effective in their production, and the larger operations have a history of failing - not just once or twice, but repeatedly. Remember, many other countries provide heavy government subsidies to farmers to help them survive...

The rice numbers are relatively easy to work with. There is a 'break even' calculation - even with the production of rice. Let us put that break even point at a hypothetical six tonnes per hectare, for a given variety. In order to achieve that production you need a number of factors to be in place. 1. Suitable, irrigated land. 2. Inputs (fertiliser, herbicide, fungicide, etc). 3. Implements (tractors, laser levellers, harvesters, etc). 4. Post harvest handling equipment (dryers, sorters, silos, baggers, etc) 5. Transport to market (on good roads). 6. Labour - from qualified to basic - but all must be motivated and ready to work extremely hard for little money - for that is the reality of farming around the world.

The land must be fertile, close to a water source, with pumps and filters to ensure that water is in the right place, in the right quantities, at the right time. It takes a long time to prepare such land. If you started on virgin land today, you would be lucky to see your first harvest within 24months. You must be prepared for breakdowns of tractors and pumps and have a fantastic maintenance mentality, to manage large swathes of land for rice growing in this part of the world.

Rice requires a lot of inputs (fertilisers, herbicides, etc) - and they are generally imported items - requiring that hard to find item called 'foreign currency'. Obtaining that foreign currency to start-up operations is one thing, but what about maintaining the foreign currency flow to secure future supplies? If your yields are low, and the currency exchange rates shifting - not to mention the cost of duties, clearing and the horrendous transport costs to move the inputs to the farm site, it is possible that you cannot afford the inputs for even your second harvest. The last time I shipped a container from the USA, it cost me more to clear and move that container from Tema port to our site (less than 60km) than the transatlantic crossing. West Africa is an expensive place for transport!

The implements needed for cost effective, marketable quality, rice production need to be procured, shipped, maintained and will need trained operators and maintenance teams. For the good quality implements you need a very qualified operator - many have built in, programmable computer devices with sub-inch differential satellite guidance systems - and require somebody with an above average education to work them properly. Too many of such machines have been consigned to the refuse dump (or borla site), due to inappropriate use and lack of maintenance - often simply because of the cost of spares (requiring foreign currency!). The initial investment in quality farming is high, and the maintenance costs in Ghana are much higher than many other parts of the world, resulting in increased cost per kilo of the finished product - at least if you want to reinvest and expand the farm.

Post harvest equipment is expensive - and much of what we have in Ghana already has not been used. Look at the KIP - they have some fantastic kit - even gas dryers - but the cost is too high for the local farmers to use them. Hence the open air concrete slabs with goats, birds, mice and other vermin running through the rice, which is often turned by foot - yes, the human foot turning system! The labourers walk through, turning the rice by naked foot, because they cannot afford to use the handling equipment. This happens elsewhere in the world too - but not for the quality of rice in demand - that requires modern, well maintained handling equipment.

Transport to market from rural areas is killer - our local costs of transport are amongst the highest in the world - and will surely get even more expensive. The poor quality of our roads increases the maintenance costs (I estimate that wear and tear on a vehicle over 50,000 km in West Africa is about the same as 200,000km in Europe). Add to that the transport losses (rain, vermin, weevils, bags falling off the lorry at checkpoints, etc) and your real cost of local production is rising rapidly. Sadly, I cannot imagine the point being reached where Ghana is an exporter of rice - even if we produced more than the local market could consume. If we cannot export from our rice farms, that means 'growing rice in Ghana will not generate the foreign currency returns needed to sustain such farms'.

Labour is an ongoing issue. Our education system is poor - especially in the rural areas. I am exhausted at interviewing candidates - even from our universities - who are unable to understand English language instructions, even able to articulate understanding of their supposedly studied topics - and who are unwilling to work in the manual labour sectors - such as farming! It is very hard to find the right staff - even in small quantities - who are both ready and able to learn the skills needed - and committed to the development of a rural operation. 

So, the bottom line is, it is easy to say that 'we need to grow more rice', but we must have the money (lots of it) to set it up - and we must have the long term farmer subsidies - and foreign currency availability (with a stable exchange rate) to ensure that the farmers can import the millions of dollars of tractors, inputs, spares, etc necessary to ensure that they do not become another wasteland referred to as 'that used to be a rice farm'. 

The bottom line is, that in order to imagine that we could grow our own rice, cost effectively, and stop relying on imports, we would probably have to find over 200,000 hectares of land, about one thousand suitable tractors, thousands of silos and a import a workforce from the Philippines or China to ensure that it ran smoothly - and don't forget the government subsidies that will be needed to make sure that it doesn't collapse!

Surely, we can see from this that 'we should look at the real issues', and support projects that are more achievable than pursue yet another headline that sounds good, to those who do not use a calculator, to establish what the real bottom line is?

In the 1990's Ghana boosted NTE (Non-Traditional Exports), liberalised foreign currency access, did away with the foreign currency forms, made exports easier (the NTE customs form), and that led to the stable growth that was seen in the last decade. Today, we seem to be focusing back on the same policies that have failed in the past; currency controls, consumer rather export ambitions and we are rapidly moving away from the policies that have worked so successfully before. 

If we, as a nation, had a vast fortune to spend on these ideas, and did not mind ending up with just a small fortune at the end, I would be jumping with joy at the idea of building the fifty plus aircraft for aerial dispersal, that would be needed for such a massive rice field expansion! To close this longest ever column, I will simply ask you 'If you do not have enough money to purchase AND MAINTAIN a tractor, will you buy a farm or will you look for a more suitable investment?'

Next week, I will continue to be even more contentious and look at what we can do to be able to sustain our desire to eat rice, by earning the money from more practical and applicable solutions...

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and Pilot/Engineer with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

Monday, March 24, 2014

March 24th, 2014

 Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

In the coming days, Lufthansa will begin their new service from Accra to Frankfurt with a shiny Airbus A330-300. It is always exciting to fly on wide-body jets, and the upgrade from the previous Boeing 737 will give travellers that 'larger experience'. We wish Lufthansa fantastic success with their new offering - and look forward to seeing their frequency increase, and for their pricing to be more keen!

Many of you know that, historically, I am a Boeing fan, but should be aware that I have, in recent years, come to appreciate more fully the different flavours of airliner design - and enjoy all of their differences equally! My visit to the Airbus production line, in Hamburg last year, opened my eyes wider to the Airbus concept - and thus I look forward to my next trip to Germany in the Lufthansa 'big bus'. (Consider the A320 as the 'baby bus', the A330 as the 'big bus' and the A380 as the 'biggest bus' !).

The design concepts for all the major airliner manufactures are rapidly converging, despite the marketing hype. Therefore, the big difference when we travel is now down to the airline. Sit in a 'low-fare' airline aircraft of the same brand and series as that of a major airline, for six hours, and you will notice the difference! Baggage allowance, seat quality, in-flight entertainment, catering and cabin crew approach, can all add up to make the difference between a pleasurable flight and an experience you will want to forget! 

Let us be honest, our airline trips are major investments. We often spend more on single trip abroad than we might on purchasing a second hand car - even when travelling economy! If we are choosing a second hand car, I am sure that we generally put more thought into that purchase than we do our airline tickets! Travelling is a major investment, and it is time we considered a bit more what we are buying - and why.

Are we simply going from Accra to XYZ-town? Not really. We are entrusting our belongings and our souls to somebody we have never met, and we will be 'encapsulated' aboard a machine that we do not get to 'look under the bonnet of'. We will, willingly, and after emptying a large sum of money from our accounts, board an aluminium tube with hundreds of other people - trusting the machine and the team to look after us. That is no small thing.

Once aboard we hope to 'enjoy' our temporary incarceration - and with that we anticipate service, smiles, good food and suitable entertainment. Oh, yes, the entertainment! Whiling away many hours sitting aboard an airliner can be magnificent - if we are comfortable and distracted - but it can be horrendously boring and buttock-numbing if we make the wrong choice! Perhaps you prefer to work aboard? Great, so do I! Therefore that in-flight entertainment is all the more important - to keep the other passengers content whilst you concentrate! Gone are the days of the 'one screen for all' solution! Gone are the days of 'lets all sing a song to while away the time'. Today we expect video on demand, with games and a selection of fifty or more entertainment options! This has made travelling with children several orders of magnitude more enjoyable - for parents and other passengers alike!

There is an old travel adage that says 'time to spare, go by air'. It relates to the ever increasing amount of time we have to spend at the airport waiting to pass through check-in, security and boarding - and then to clear formalities on arrival. That makes the timing of our flights really important. 

Departing or arriving in the thick of peak hours can add a lot of stress to your journey - especially at the Ghana end of the trip! Our airport facilities are often 'pushed hard' to cope with the numbers - and our baggage carousels appear to have their own agenda! Being on an early flight out from, and an early flight into, Accra adds a lot of pleasure to a trip. For me, the onward travel time after clearing, when I come home is several hours, and getting in that hour or so earlier can change my arrival nights sleep, and hence my productivity the next day. (Lufthansa make a plug of being the 'early bird' in this respect - and I applaud them for their efforts to keep that place!).

I have flown with all the major airlines, and many of the less well known ones too. Often constrained by budget - or availability of seats. Some, I would do all that I can to avoid again. I have my favourites list, and Lufthansa just moved even further up that list with this new aircraft coming on line - and their 46% increase in capacity! 

At this point, I hear the old 'what happened to Ghana Airways?' rumbling. For the record, I loved Ghana Airways. Flew them many times. I also flew with Ghana International Airlines with pleasure. However, we must be realistic at this point. Ghana is not in a position to operate its own airline right now. If we had kept Ghana Airways and its infrastructure in place, and not cannibalised it, I would sing a different tune. But we have, for one reason or another (you know and I know what we think they are), managed to dismantle one of the biggest prides of this nation. It is not practical, nor financially prudent to return to those days. Let us be honest, many bigger and more financially secure nations have abandoned their national airlines, so we should pack away our guilt now. We must accept the past, and seek other solutions. The world is changing and all the time we have outstanding airlines offering great service to and from our nation, safely, efficiently . These activities are generating many jobs in Ghana, for which we should be thankful. If we want to invest as a nation in aviation infrastructure, let us sort out our arrivals procedure! Let us make our ground experience in Ghana one to be proud of. After all, we have that big AKWAABA to share with the rest of the world - and those arriving at Kotoka should feel it once again - not just read it and hear it - but feel it to their core. 

I must confess that I have not felt the Great Ghana Akwaaba at Kotoka for a long time, and I miss it. My wife and I get treated far better arriving in European countries than we do in our own... it did not used to be that way... so let us return to our core values, focus on making the arriving in Ghana experience one to be proud of - and then let us enjoy again the comments of international visitors (crew and passengers) about how wonderful it is to arrive in Ghana - not to hear that they were delayed, had challenges with visas, felt harassed, bullied or frustrated at their arrival in our home. 

Thank you Lufthansa for having the confidence in Ghana to increase your capacity here, we trust that you and your passengers will find that Ghana will rapidly increase its welcome, ease its procedures and that your crews and passengers alike, will yearn to return to our land - where people matter, and a welcome really means that Great Ghana Akwaaba in every sense, for every step on our soil.

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and Pilot/Engineer with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail