Category Archives: Dakatcha Woodlands



“I was introduced to Gabriel Katana in 1998 by his brother Safari as someone who would be good to take over the House Crow control fieldwork that Safari was no longer able to do. A tall, quiet and very respectful young man, Katana quickly proved himself to be a very dependable, honest and hard-working conservationist who, despite not having completed primary school, was easily able to understand and carry out the important work of surveying crow numbers together with careful and proper use of a highly toxic avicide to control the alien pest species of crow in Malindi and Watamu. Known to many as ‘bwana Kunguru’ and regularly seen riding his bike through Malindi or Watamu with his binoculars and note book, Katana was single-handedly responsible for reducing numbers of the pest House Crow to five or six birds in Watamu and c.25 in the larger Malindi (which, since the programme was forced to stop, have risen to over 5,000 crows between them). This was achieved by Katana to his credit with no record of any death of other non-target species.

With the ending of the crow control work and at the same time a greater interest being shown in the conservation of the Dakatcha Woodlands which was Katana’s home area and given his clear integrity and passion for conservation, it made total sense to employ him as A Rocha Kenya’s field staff member of our science and conservation team in Dakatcha. Initially he directly assisted the Nature Kenya conservation officer stationed in Dakatcha and was involved in the start up of the Dakatcha Conservation Group. He then expanded his birding from just House Crows to all birds and became a key member of the Conservation Group bird monitoring team and more recently was almost solely responsible for mapping the birds of Dakatcha through the Kenya Bird Map project submitting no less than 45 species lists to the project. Katana furthermore became a key reference person for me to discuss Dakatcha conservation issues with and it was a result of these talks highlighting that people living in Dakatcha primarily needed to be able to feed themselves if they were to stop cutting trees down that led to A Rocha Kenya introducing Farming God’s Way into the area to help boost food production and reduce forest destruction. Katana took to FGW like a duck to water and was incredibly enthusiastic, implementing it in his own shamba and demonstrating just how well it worked – as described and shown in this blog post in 2011.

When a small but critical population of the Globally Endangered Sokoke Scops Owl was discovered literally just down the road from Katana’s village – Africa’s smallest owl and previously only known from Arabuko-Sokoke Forest and a few in northern Tanzania – then Katana went all out to see how to protect the Cynometra forest thicket they depended on. It was he who came to me saying 200 acres of this thicket were for sale and could A Rocha Kenya either buy it – or help him buy it to protect it from destruction. This eventually led to the purchase of the block of forest which Katana took a crucial lead in the negotiations, mapping, discussing with local community members that resulted in the successful formation of the Kirosa Scott Reserve (funded by a kind donation from the Bob Scott Appeal).


Katana was a unique man in his ability to understand the real issues at stake in the local community and conservation scene – understanding that throwing large amounts of cash at people does no good in the long term and rather knowing the benefits of working alongside people to grow in their appreciation of God’s creation and how to care for it. Katana also had a remarkable thirst for knowing God better and a deep passion for Jesus and all that he had done for him over the years and for studying the bible to learn more about him. His quiet, respectful character of real integrity was something we really appreciated and his love and concern for his family of five was very evident whenever we visited him at home. It is therefore with deep regret that we have lost a treasured and key member of our A Rocha Kenya team but rejoice to know that he is with his Lord Jesus who gave him purpose for living and hope for the future. We are grateful to God for the privilege of being able to know Katana and become his friends and colleagues and give our sincere condolences to his wife Elizabeth, their five children and the wider family.”

By Colin Jackson


Conservationists of all persuasions have embarked on a quest for environmental sustainability but in the face of an acutely difficult task we all need to consider what would motivate us to achieve it”- Peter Harris (Kingfisher’s Fire).

In retrospect, the motivation for the previous year for the A Rocha Kenya team can certainly be traced to the reinforcement of the Christian principles already upheld by the staff. This was instilled and fueled by the bible studies conducted every Monday morning which inspired and rallied the team to take care of God’s creation as alluded to in the book of Genesis, despite their job descriptions. It was further propelled by the visit of the A Rocha Founder- Peter Harris and his wife, Miranda Harris. They were able to be involved in the A Rocha Kenya’s activities and in turn they motivated the team and inspired many more in churches at Nairobi and Malindi through preaching the gospel of care for creation, by emphasizing the need for Christians to reconcile with God and his creation and ensuring restoration of God’s creation

Focusing on the Science and Conservation team, they were able to get a lot of research work going on. Despite being a team of two, they still soldiered on with support from numerous volunteers, interns and even the rest of the staff members. The terrestrial research team was able to conduct several bird ringing exercises held at Mwamba, Gede Ruins, Arabuko Sokoke Forest and Mida Creek. The annual water fowl counts were successfully carried out followed by many others at Mida Creek. One of the major highlights was mapping of the newly acquired Kirosa Scott Reserve and the monitoring of the endangered Clarke’s weaver breeding sites in Dakatcha Woodland. The team was also able to host several researchers.

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Moving on to the marine side of things, the year marked a beehive of activities for the team ranging from research in the intertidal rock pools to the coral gardens of Watamu Marine Park. The major highlight of the year was the presentation of marine research work that has been conducted by A Rocha Kenya since the year 2010 until the end of 2014 in the Watamu Marine Park. This was spearheaded by Benjamin Cowburn and Peter Musembi. They organized workshops at Watamu, Mombasa and Nairobi where several stakeholders were invited including Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute, National Museums of Kenya, Watamu Marine Association, Watamu Turtle Watch and boat operators. However, it was not all hard work and no play for the marine team, there was always the occasional recreational snorkeling and swimming for anyone willing to join.


The larger Community and Conservation team worked to bridge the gap between the research team and the community at large, getting them to understand the need to restore the threatened habitats and ecosystems. The team was able to oversee the implementation of two projects into fruition, with one targeting empowerment of community forest associations (community groups who are actively involved in management and conservation of forests) through building their capacities and the other targeted empowering communities in Dakatcha Woodland through a livelihood project that promoted the adoption of Farming God’s Way (a conservation agriculture model). On the other hand, the pioneer program of the department-ASSETS, which has stood the test of time, was able to disburse scholarships to the many bright and needy students that come from the villages adjacent to Arabuko Sokoke Forest, amid a difficult year for the tourism industry since most of the funds are sourced from the ecotourism facilities at Mida Creek and Gede Ruins. Lastly, the vibrant environmental education team was able to conduct many lessons that were taught in schools around Dakatcha Woodland, Arabuko Sokoke Forest, Watamu Marine Park and Bamba.


The mother of all- Mwamba Field Study Center, was able to host numerous guests throughout the year. They included researchers, volunteers, holiday makers, kite surfers and honeymooners. The year saw the center introduce a restaurant which is up and running, offer accommodation to water sports enthusiasts, host numerous workshops and to crown it all hold a kids festival followed by a successful fundraising dinner for the ASSETS program.


Karara Field Study Center-which acts as the national base of A Rocha Kenya at Karen in Nairobi did not lag behind. The team was able to conduct numerous Farming God’s Way training, host several schools for environmental education lessons plus carry out various outreach activities to various community groups and churches.

presention on how to increase waste control through recycling and awareness creation

In order to instill and reinforce the spirit of team effort. The two teams from Nairobi and Watamu were able to participate in a team building exercise that saw them go on a blue safari that involved snorkeling at the Watamu coral gardens, lunch at the pristine Sudi Island and participate in beach games thereafter.


It is my belief that there is no blueprint for a perfect course of action, since it is our job to identify it. The idea that there is such a blueprint reduces the whole business to a kind of a celestial game show with dire consequences for wrong guesses, but sadly it seems to be widely believed. However, this demonstrates our path for the New Year filled with uncertainty but promising with hope as written in Jeremiah 29:11 and Mathew 6:23-33. Certainly, I am convinced, the team will able to achieve even more than the previous year and continue ensuring nature is conserved while people’s lives are transformed.

Care of Creation Training.

Towards the end of May A Rocha Kenya conducted a training on Care of Creation in five villages in Dakatcha. Since moisture (water) plays a pivotal role in the wellbeing of the rest of the creation, the film  Water Running Dry was shown.
Looking at the  dire consequences of desertification as projected on the film, one villager  said,” I did not know that you actually should cry before felling a tree”. Deforestation is a real threat to fresh water sources. Some scientists anticipate international crises on fresh water due to waning global forest cover and general degradation of the environment.


A group watching the film Running Dry.

A Rocha Kenya has taken the conservation message to Christian  communities, sharing the biblical basis of creation care with pastors. Pastors who attended the week-long training confessed that they have not incorporated conservation in their preaching. The event was a great insight for them as they agreed to spread the creation care message to their congregations.


This church was among the venues during the training.

In the discussions the villagers acknowledged that Farming God`s Way (an on-going project) which upholds agroforestry as a principle is one of the solutions to the degradation of the woodlands. Deforestation (charcoal burning) coupled with shifting (slash and burn) cultivation is a major threat to the forest ecosystem. As a result the area receives rains at quite irregular times. Last year we were inspecting the Farming God`s Way plots (which had a luxuriant crop) and we saw a withered crop on the plots farmed the ordinary way. Early planting and mulching was the recipe for the success of the Farming God`s Way plots. The communities have started to establish tree nurseries and among the trees to be raised is the acacia Faidherbia albida. Seeds were issued during the training. The beneficiaries were excited to be issued with  seeds of such a useful tree. It is ideal for agroforestry as it shields plants from excessive sunlight during the dry season since it sheds its leaves during the wet season. The leaves readily decompose due to the presence of moisture and enhances soil fertility. In fact, it is claimed to fix ten times more the amount of Nitrogen fixed by legumes. Livestock such as goats and cows feed on it and it is also home to insects including pollinators.


A group gathering tree nursery materials.

Restoring Dakatcha Woodlands.

A Rocha Kenya continues to empower Dakatcha farmers with farming God`s Way; a form of conservation agriculture whose principles; agroforestry, mulching, zero tillage and crop rotation, boost soil fertility and yield hence discouraging farmers from clearing the forest for new fertile plots. The rich yield, especially cereals, on Farming God`s Way plots has helped relent the rate at which the woodlands were being cleared for charcoal burning and to pave way for pineapple plantations. A Rocha Kenya`s presence in Dakatcha is achieving two important goals simultaneously: transforming the villagers into food secure communities, and conserving the Cynometra forest.


A farmer on his Farming God`s Way plot.

A Rocha Kenya is also training farmers to make compost manure which can be used on vegetable and maize plots. Farmers  also make biopesticides using neem and Lantana camara which are readily available in the area.


Farmers standing next to a compost heap.

Dakatcha Woodland is globally recognised as an Important Bird Area (IBA). It is also a Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) by the international criteria developed by Birdlife International and Nature Kenya. Conservation International recognises Dakatcha as part of Coastal Forests Global Hotspot. A Rocha Kenya acquired 218 acres of Cynometra forestland (Kirosa Scott Reserve) in Dakatcha for conservation and research projects that we wish to use to create awareness to the local community. We not only seek to forge alternative ways of making ends meet but also demonstrate value and direct benefits of biodiversity conservation to livelihoods security.

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Kirosa Scott Reserve.

The Dakatcha Community Forest Association is one of  the groups that A Rocha Kenya is empowering with training on conservation of the forest ecosystems. The empowerment is evident as Dakatcha CFA has started collaborating with other Dakatcha conservation enthusiasts; Community Conserved Areas (CCA) members to strengthen their advocacy for the restoration of  the woodland.They own a plot of tree nurseries.


Dakatcha CFA members on their plot.


Some of the seedlings on the tree nursery plot.

We have just completed a regeneration study in Kirosa Scott Reserve which involved mapping and documenting various vegetation types, ranging from the easily penetrated woodland and forest to the impassable Cynometra thickets. Height and diameter of trunks and canopy competition index or class (the latter involves the percentage dominance of each tree in terms of crown level in relation to insolation reception) is part of the data that was documented.

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Taking measurements on trees ( above and below).

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The Science and conservation team during the study.

Dakatcha Livelihood Project

Question is; why God even in farming?  Where is the connection?

Crop farming is the principal economic activity in Coastal Kenya; especially for inhabitants found further mainland. However practices such as slash and burn, poor soil management techniques coupled with severe deforestation has led to lots of erosion and depletion of nutrients with studies showing that on average, 150 tones of soil per hectare per year is lost through erosion leading to great loss of livelihood for the already poor communities.

We cannot blame the communities for these statistics but rather on the urge and pressure to produce enough to fend for themselves and their relatively large families. But what if we stopped pressuring the soil to produce more for us and instead incorporate the Lord in our farming? What if we took a proactive role in caring for creation alongside farming?


It is worth noting that God is the first farmer and that Biblical principles are very relevant in the way we handle our natural resources especially land. The book of Hosea 4:6: my people perish because of lack of knowledge. With this in mind; A Rocha Kenya in partnership with Anglican Development Services (ADS) set up a livelihood project in Dakatcha, Kilifi County in Coastal Kenya. The principal aim of this project is to improve livelihood and care for creation among the inhabitants of this area.


The project will see the community trained on more efficient and sustainable farming techniques ‘Farming God’ Way’ to increase their farm produce and reduce their reliance on the natural resources for survival. Care for creation seminars for churches will also be conducted; where congregations will be encouraged to take up caring for the creation as a role given to us by God. Environmental education for schools is also lined up to create early awareness to students about environmental conservation, complementing the Arabuko-Sokoke Schools and Eco-tourism Scheme (ASSETS).

Participatory Rural Appraisal will be conducted; where members of the community will have an opportunity to personally asses their challenges, strength and opportunities and draw their way forward. This will enable people from Dakatcha which includes five villages; Kirosa, Mulunguni, Boyani, Chamari and Muche kenzi an opportunity to set a suitable development agenda. So far most villages have elected their committee members who will coordinate development plans. Training on ‘Farming God’s Way’ has also started. We pray that the Lord will grant the villagers the right state of mind and heart to participate in this process so that they do not ‘perish’!




The Kenya Bird Map Project



A Rocha Kenya has for many years played a vital role in scientific data input especially in the distribution and status of bird species in Kenya and East Africa. Through intensive scientific research and monitoring, our team has been able to collect reliable data that can be used in Conservation management.

Recently our Research and Monitoring team joined a larger community of fellow bird enthusiasts in a project referred to as The Kenya Bird Map Project. The sole motivation behind this project is to update the existing bird guide “A Bird Atlas of Kenya”.

This is a publication that recorded and described the status of all the 1065 species of birds that existed in the country 30 years ago. Since that time much is expected to and has changed in relation to habitation and climatic conditions. How and to what extent, are questions to be answered; but truth be told these changes have had a drastic impact on the distribution and status of many of our bird species.

Grey Headed Bush Shrike

The project will draw on the insights of Citizen Scientist birders as well as conservationist institutions such as of National Museums of Kenya, Tropical Biology Association, NatureKenya Animal Demography Unit of the University of Cape Town and managed through the Bird Committee of the East Africa Natural History Society.It is an exciting and stimulating project that combines a lot of excellent birding, exploring new and fascinating parts of the country, state-of-the-art technology and communication and serious science to produce dependable results that can be used to take real action for conservation.

Sabaki birding

A Rocha Kenya’s particular involvement in this project will be to develop a website as well as a significant contribution of data through weekly bird monitoring focusing on the surroundings of Watamu and the Dakatcha woodland. The project is being funded by a Marie Curie Actions grant and the Natural History Museum of Denmark

Credits to:

Picture 1. Waders by Ben Porter

Picture2. Grey headed bush shrike by Ben Porter

Picture3.Sabaki birding by Jaap

Hooting for clues: Sokoke Scops Owls in Dakatcha Woodlands

Any of you who are familiar with the bird research done here at A Rocha Kenya will have heard of the Sokoke Scops Owl.  This charismatic little bird is globally endangered and only found in the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest and the Usumbara Mountains of northern Tanzania.  At least, that’s what you’ll read in the bird books, however…

A Sokoke Scops Owl which we followed from 4am until 7am, when I managed to snap this!

A beautiful Sokoke Scops Owl which we followed from 4am until 7am, when I managed to snap this!













While the main population of Africa’s smallest owl resides in Arabuko, we have been monitoring a small population in Dakatcha Woodlands, a little-known area to the north west of Malindi.  Since 2006, A Rocha Kenya has employed Gabriel Katana – a lifelong resident of the area and a core member of the Dakatcha Woodlands Conservation Group – to conduct transects through the forest in an attempt to keep tabs on the Sokoke Scops Owl population.  It is a population that faces dire threats in the form of un-restricted charcoal burning and land clearance for pineapple plantations, both of which totally destroy the Cynometra forest in which the owls live exclusively.

An example of the destruction left behind by charcoal burning.

An example of the destruction left behind by charcoal burning.

ARK is in the process of purchasing a plot of 2-300 acres of land in the Dakatcha Woodland at a location called Kirosa, with funds donated very generously by the Bob Scott Appeal.  The aim is to secure a patch of forest in which the Sokoke Scops Owls and other wildlife will thrive, away from the human disturbance and to work with the local community to help them improve their living conditions in sustainable ways and thus reducing their ecological impact.

Since early November I have been helping Katana in his efforts to survey the ARK plot and the forest surrounding it for Sokoke Scops Owls.  It is very important for us to get an idea of the size and density of such a delicately balanced population of this endangered species, particularly if ARK has the opportunity to protect more of the Dakatcha woodland in the future.

So, what sort of work is involved with monitoring this population?  It’s just counting, right?  How hard can it be…?

When you take into account that, like most owls, the Sokoke Scops Owls are entirely nocturnal, the task becomes a little more tricky.  Add to this the tiny size of the birds (only about 15cm tall – the smallest owl in Africa!), their camouflage plumage, their penchant for living in some of the densest forest available, and you start to get the picture.  The answer?  We don’t look for them, we listen.

I have been living in my tent, pitched in the middle of Katana’s village within the remote area of Kirosa, and experiencing first hand some of the hardships  of village life, shortage of decent drinking water being the main worry.  Despite having next-to-nothing, the people here are some of the most generous and welcoming I have ever come across, making my stay here an experience I will never forget.

Home in Kirosa.

Home in Kirosa.

On a typical “work” night, Katana and I set off as darkness falls.  Kirosa is located on the southwest edge of the woodland, and is not far from the main patch of Cynometra trees.  Katana carefully guides the little motorbike along our hazardous commute, ducking overhanging thorny branches, navigating steep slippery valleys and avoiding the many cavernous trenches that line our path.  I’m just thankful that my only job is to not fall off; we’ve had a few hairy moments in the last couple of months!

When we get to the forest, we begin walking on one of our mapped out transects, using a GPS to navigate the paths through the trees, which are mostly a length of about 2-3km.  Our method is to stop every 200m and imitate the Sokoke Scops Owls’ soft hooting call, then listen for responses.  The call is easy enough to perform with a few practices, and Katana has is down to a fine art!  Using a compass, we record the direction that the call comes from.  The tricky part is estimating the distance of the owl from our position.  “Ventriloquilistic” is a word used to describe the call in some of the bird books, and this sums it up nicely; for such a small bird, their voices can carry a surprisingly long way through the trees!  At the end of the transect, we turn head home for a much-needed wash and a hearty meal of ugali (maize meal) before bed.

As important as these surveys are, there are plenty of other birds to keep us busy during the day!  Dakatcha woodland is one of Kenya’s IBAs (Important Bird Areas), and with good reason; there’s a wealth of diversity here, and we’re trying to find exactly what lives in the ARK plot by conducting regular surveys.  Some of the highlights so far: numerous Palearctic migrant species including Spotted Flycatcher and Isabelline Shrike; the globally endangered Sokoke Pipit, and my personal favourite (I admit, I’m a bit of a raptor fanatic), Southern-Banded Snake Eagle.

Southern-Banded Snake-Eagle

Southern-Banded Snake-Eagle















What would really get 2013 off to a flying  start (no pun intended) is the discovery of a Sokoke Scops Owl nest!  Amazingly, nobody has every found one before, and we have a great opportunity, given the relatively small patch of woodland we have to search in.  Fingers crossed!

Finally, I must again say a huge thank you to the Bob Scott Appeal for making it possible to purchase this vital plot of forest, therefore opening up the possibility of studying and conserving such an important bird population.  Watch out for further updates on this project in the coming weeks.

Nick Gardner (A Rocha Kenya volunteer)

Dakatcha Woodlands finally safe from Jatropha biofuel threat

It has been a long haul to try and stop the Jatropha biofuel threat of at first 50,000ha of land being cleared for plantations, then 10,000ha and now finally NEMA have officially stopped the project from going ahead and the Clarke’s Weavers and Sokoke Scops Owls and other endangered wildlife as well as the community members who would have had their lifestyles and societies dramatically changed and poverty increased can breathe a sigh of relief. NatureKenya led the fray and often were very much in the hot seat with threats and even attacks being made on them (and A Rocha Kenya was included in some of these too) by the supporters of the project. NatureKenya deserve a lot of thanks for their effort and there is an excellent write-up by Birdlife about this with further details.

In response to this we are keen to get some further work happening with the Dakatcha communities to help them improve their own incomes and ways of living in that special environment without impacting it too negatively. We are looking at building on the initial efforts we’ve had of introducing “Farming God’s Way” or “Conservation Agriculture” to some of the communities which, for those who have taken the training on board and followed it, has made a huge difference in the outputs from their farms. Below is a shot of Elizabeth in her shamba (farm) who’s husband Katana works for us in Dakatcha and who has really got excited about Farming God’s Way. They have carefully followed the simple method of a) no ploughing, b) use plenty of mulch and c) rotate your crops and as a result their maize (corn) in the last short rains was huge and dense as you can see in the photos.


Elizabeth in her shamba showing how high and dense the maize has got – and beans adjacent to the maize.

Their neighbour’s crop which was planted in the traditional way was a very different picture…:

…there is therefore a lot of hope if we can persuade people to take it up. Unfortunately we’ve heard rumours of a response from community members to assistance the Red Cross is offering people in the form of ‘food for work’ – which is a great programme to have and certainly helps those who are really destitute, but what they have not counted on is that people are apparently purposely not planting maize well so that it fails and so that when the Red Cross team pass by that place they see only poor crops and therefore offer bags of maizemeal in return for digging 2’x2’x2′ holes in which to plant 9 seeds… this method may work in kitchen gardens, but it certainly hasn’t worked in Dakatcha. So whilst the Red Cross programme is designed to help people, in the long run it actually hampers growth and keeps people in a state of poverty. this has meant that very few farmers have kept coming to our training sessions and fewer still are actually implementing it. However we are convinced it is the Way to go and will pursue raising funds to support the project in Dakatcha – donations greatly received. A single 2-day training workshop for 20 farmers costs only $12 per person so do join us in this effort to assist the farmers and communities in Dakatcha.

National Env Management Authority director suspended over Dakatcha biofuel issue

I have been sent this link to a newspaper report on the suspension of a NEMA Director for having given clearance for the Dakatcha jatropha biofuel project when the NEMA Board had not cleared it. There was clearly some dodgy stuff going on (exchange of $$??) that led to this.

This really is an answer to prayer – that the jatropha project in Dakatcha is becoming less and less likely to happen. Katana, our A Rocha Kenya staff member who is from and lives in Dakatcha where he is working on our Farming God’s Way programme and doing bird surveys and helping NatureKenya in their conservation work there, came last week and reported that the vibe on the ground is that the project won’t go ahead. If you pray… please keep praying for a complete stop to this madness and instead for opening doors for us and NatureKenya to implement some really sustainable and good programmes to help the community raise their standard of living whilst reducing their impact on the forest and habitat.

More from Katana later… he’s got some awesome stories.


Biofuels rightly stirring up a storm in European press

The problem we’re facing with biofuels here in Africa is that it is pretty much 100% driven from Europe and cynics say that it is Westerners trying to relieve a guilty conscience for the carbon emissions they are spewing out by the ton from the huge ecological footprint lifestyle most are living. In other words, people’s lifestyles are highly extravagant in terms of carbon emissions in the West and in order to maintain that lifestyle and feel good about it, they want to use biofuels in the name of reducing the emissions.

However in so doing, since a vast percentage of biofuels are looking like they’ll be produced in the developing world, it is conveniently ‘out of sight, out of mind’ to the West, and therefore a ‘clean’ fuel.

The facts are it is FAR from the case with studies showing that the production of such biofuels are releasing more carbon into the atmosphere than they would save from being used instead of fuel efficient use of fossil fuels…

At least there is some noise in the Western press about this now and we are praying hard that pressure can be brought on the Western governments to stop this immoral pushing of biofuel production in Africa and other Third World (or Two-thirds World as it is often referred to) countries.

EU energy policy could push world’s poor ‘further into poverty’

Controversial fuel crops linked to rising food prices and hunger

Biofuel project stalls as foreign investors go into bankruptcy