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AgriSol Looking for New Partner in Tanzania Project

July 20, 2012
Daily Iowan


By Kristen East


In light of ongoing controversy involving an ethics complaint filed against him, state Board of Regents President Pro Tem Bruce Rastetter said AgriSol Energy officials are moving forward by seeking other education outreach opportunities with other universities.

Rastetter told Daily Iowan reporters during an interview Wednesday that AgriSol Energy Tanzania plans to work with other universities in the Kigoma region of Tanzania. Officials recently signed a lease there.

Rastetter was unable to disclose the names of those universities, and Henry Akona — AgriSol Tanzania's director of communications — said they're still in the working stages of partnering with those schools.

The Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement filed an ethics complaint against Rastetter with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board last month, maintaining there was a conflict of interest involving Iowa State University and AgriSol Energy Tanzania — the Tanzanian arm of Iowa firm AgriSol Energy.

The Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement also partnered with the Oakland Institute to release the report "Lives on Hold" on July 9 that alleges that AgriSol Energy is responsible in part for human-rights abuses against more than 160,000 refugees in the area of Tanzania the company had considered developing — an accusation that the agricultural firm vehemently denies. The Community Improvement group is calling for Rastetter's resignation from the state Board of Regents.

Rastetter is the cofounder and managing director of AgriSol.

The DI has previously reported that AgriSol reached out to Iowa State officials to put together an outreach program to work with small Tanzanian farmers. Iowa State has had an educational project in Uganda, and Brian Meyer, the director of college relations for ISU, said AgriSol officials wanted to form a similar outreach program in Tanzania.

"I want Iowans to know that this was a project, a good project, that we operated with integrity on how we went about it, that Iowa State University did, that I identified it as a regent as a potential conflict, and the system worked," Rastetter said.

Meyer said the university backed out of the program in February partially because of negative media attention surrounding AgriSol Tanzania.

"Our primary role was to develop an educational project," he told the DI earlier this month. "We have had an educational project for seven to eight years in Uganda — that is why AgriSol contacted us. They wanted to duplicate it."

Iowa State officials did not return comment following Rastetter's interview Thursday evening.

While Rastetter maintains he is not at fault for AgriSol's work with Iowa State and denies any potential conflict of interest, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement members continue to hold meetings calling for the regent's resignation from the board.

The group held an event titled "Take down Bruce Rastetter/Fire This Man" at Old Brick, 26 E. Market St., Wednesday night to discuss campaign strategies.

Group member Adam Mason said more than 30 people attended the event, and they were given a timeline of Rastetter's involvement with AgriSol and his time as a regent.

"… [Rastetter] used his role on the Board of Regents to legitimize [the group's partnering] with Iowa State," Mason said. "His involvement with AgriSol predated his stint on the Board of Regents from day one, and those conflict of interests should have been stated."

The national consumer advocacy nonprofit organization Food & Water Watch announced Wednesday that it would join the Iowa Community Improvement's ethics complaint against Rastetter.

"Rastetter has betrayed the trust of the Iowans he is supposed to be serving on the Board of Regents and has severely compromised the institutional credibility of ISU," Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch's executive director, said in a press release.

Rastetter says he's not worried about the complaint and will go about the legal process if that's what's necessary.

"I haven't done anything wrong," he said. "In order to have a conflict [of interest], it would actually have to be an agreement. I very clearly identified it, the Iowa State people identified it."