A British businessman previously linked by an Ecologist investigation to a controversial biofuel scheme has been arrested and charged with forgery in relation to a land deal in Cambodia, according to reports. Gregg Fryett, who is behind the company Sustainable Agro Energy Plc, is currently in prison after being accused of using a false land lease title, according to the Independent. Fryett has, according to the paper, been attempting to cultivate jatropha, an oil rich shrub originally native to central America, on a 6000 hectare plantation in Cambodia cited near the Thai border.
Sustainable Agro Energy plc is itself currently under investigation by the UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO). Fryett has denied any wrongdoing.
Fryett’s previous company, Carbon Credited Farming, was identified by an Ecologist investigation as working with a network of UK-based investment companies marketing jatropha as “ethical and green” despite it being linked to conflicts over land and food security in developing countries. The brokers were at the time criticised by environmental and anti-poverty campaigners for selling the investments in jatropha because of increasing concerns over the crops’ impact on poor communities.
Jatropha has been increasingly touted as a “miracle” biofuel because the plants’ seeds contain a potentially valuable, non-edible, vegetable oil that can be used for biodiesel.
The investment companies identified by the Ecologist were selling jatropha as the new “green oil” and claiming it had the potential to alleviate poverty and improve livelihoods in developing countries. They also maintained jatropha oil offers a viable alternative to fossil fuels. One of the plants’ biggest benefits, the companies claimed, is that it thrives on low grade, marginal land, and in semi-arid areas with poor soils, thus not competing with food production.
But, according to campaigners, the supposed benefits of jatropha are largely unproven, and the experiences of many farmers encouraged to plant the crop do not tally with the claims of the biofuel industry. Yields have fallen short of predictions, claim farmers, and agricultural land has been destroyed or converted for jatropha, threatening food security, impacting on livelihoods and displacing local communities. Promised incomes have failed to materialise, it is claimed, because of poor demand for jatropha seeds.