General News of Thursday, 17 April 2014
The Savannah Accelerated Development Authority (SADA) has been ordered to retrieve almost three million Ghana Cedis from two companies producing butternut squash for the European Market.
Plus-One Investment Limited and Kukobila Farms Limited entered into a contract with SADA to produce butternut squash, but auditors have ordered a retrieval of the money because the project is not financially viable. Joy FM's Manasseh Azure Awuni reported that in 2012, SADA paid Kukobila Farms Limited over GHc38,000 and more than GHc2,700,000 to Plus-One Investment to undertake the production and export of butternut squash. In an interview, former SADA CEO, Gilbert Iddi, noted that the project was meant to meet demands for the product in Europe.
"The butter nut is a new crop in high demand in Europe. During the winter, the weather in Europe is not suitable for its production and this happens to be our dry season, so it gives us winter window. When we are able to produce it, then we can take it to the European market," he indicated.
According to Gilbert Iddi, due to the keen interest the European market has on the butternut, [the Europeans travel all the way from Birmingham to see the work we are doing].
The former SADA CEO said the Europeans had wanted to be supplied with two containers of the product every week but "we did not even have the capacity to produce two containers every week, so they scaled it down to one container every week”.
"So the market was there", he insisted.
SADA explained further that the 38,000 Ghana cedis paid to Kukolbila Farms was used to pilot the project. The 2.7 million Ghana cedis paid to Plus-One Investment Limited was to be paid back within five years.
When Joy News visited one of the project sites at Yapei, we found only irrigation equipment and farming implements.
Mohammed Kofi Sabutey, a chairman of the farm, said the company had stopped operating in the area due to the lack of funds.
According to him, the farm machines used were not good enough to provide water for the plant and, therefore, could not do well.
"Last year, they lost a lot", Sabutey insisted.
But the CEO of Plus-One Investment Limited, Sadat Alhassan, told Joy News that the project at Yapei stopped because of pests.
He said the company last year exported butternut squash to Europe and was about to harvest the next one.
He said the company paid about 64,000 Ghana Cedis to SADA last year. This amount represented only two percent of the money it was supposed to repay in five years.
The audit report said SADA failed to produce records of the number of tonnage of the butternut squash the companies had harvested, exported and sold.
It said the practice could be a recipe for financial malfeasance and recommended that the companies be made to refund the amount granted to them together with interest at the current commercial bank lending rate because the economic viability of the project could not be ascertained.