in Uganda, UK

Ugandan farmers kicked off their land for New Forests Company’s carbon project

A report released yesterday by Oxfam International documents how more than 22,000 people in Uganda were evicted to make way for a carbon offset tree plantation established by a London-based firm called New Forests Company. While this is not a REDD project, it provides an early warning of how “standards” and “safeguards” can be willfully ignored.

New Forests Company (NFC) was formed in 2004. The company now has projects covering a total of 90,000 hectares in Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique and Rwanda. Investors in the company include the Agri-Vie Agribusiness Fund, which in turn is backed by the World Bank’s private sector lending arm, the International Finance Corporation and the European Investment Bank. The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) owns about 20% of NFC and has a seat on its board. These investors have social and environmental standards to which NFC should comply.

Oxfam’s report, “The New Forests Company and its Uganda Plantations”, can be downloaded here (pdf file 208.7 KB). The story has been reported in The Guardian, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and on AlJazeera.

NFC has been certified under the Forest Stewardship Council since 2009 – despite the fact that less than two months after the certificate was awarded, more than 10,000 villagers petitioned Uganda’s Lands Minister to stop NFC from evicting them from their land.

This is a company that, at least superficially, appears to be doing all the right things. Oxfam describes FSC as “the global gold standard for forestry best practice”, yet Oxfam’s report found that about 22,500 people were evicted to make way for NFC’s plantations. None of them has received any compensation.

NFC denies that so many people were evicted and denies that company employees were involved in the evictions, instead blaming the Ugandan authorities for the evictions.

The problems are serious. Oxfam International’s report, written by Kate Geary and Matt Grainger[1] states that,

Today, the people evicted from the land are desperate, having been driven into poverty and landlessness. In some instances they say they were subjected to violence and their property, crops, and livestock destroyed. They say they were not properly consulted, have been offered no adequate compensation, and have received no alternative land.

NFC claims that people vacated the land “voluntarily and peacefully”. But one of the evicted people told Oxfam that,

“My land was taken by the New Forests Company. People from New Forests came with other security forces and started destroying crops and demolishing houses and they ordered us to leave. They beat people up, especially those who could not run. We ran in a group, my children, my grandchildren, my wife and me. It was such a painful time because the eviction was so forceful and violent.”

NFC describes the people evicted as “encroachers” who were “illegally occupying land leased to an independent third party, NFC”. The government also describes them as “illegal encroachers”. The people evicted explained to Oxfam that they did have lawful entitlement to the land. Some of them had lived there for more than 40 years. Others were Second World War veterans and their descendants who were “allocated the land in recognition of service”.

SGS, the company that carried out the assessment for the FSC certification (pdf file, 452.8 KB), states that the people’s claims to the land are “highly dubious”, which is, of course, exactly what NFC wants to hear. There is a conflict of interest at the heart of the FSC system, in that SGS audits are paid for by the company being audited, in this case SGS’s assessment was paid for by NFC. When Oxfam spoke to lawyers representing the community members, they were told that the land dispute cases are still active.

Reading SGS’s public summary of the assessment gives little clue of any problems. “[I]t is clear that the company has been successful in gaining the support of local communities,” SGS writes, after interviewing 41 employees, contractors, health and education officials, local government officials and community members.

FSC has a process for making sure that its certifying bodies (such as SGS) are in fact checking that certified companies (such as NFC) comply to FSC’s standards. A company called Accreditation Services International (ASI) carries out audits of the certifying body, including visits to certified operation. In 2010, ASI visited NFC’s plantations as part of its audit of SGS Qualifor (pdf file, 133.2 KB). ASI found little to criticise: “The SGS Qualifor audit team conducted a professional and systematic surveillance audit.”

None of the financiers involved managed to find anything wrong with NFC’s operations:

  • IFC reviewed NFC’s plantation operations as part of its due diligence for its US$7 million equity investment in Agri-Vie, the private equity fund whose portfolio includes NFC. IFC decided that NFC had complied to its standard on resettlement “to the extent allowed by the Government”.
  • The European Investment Bank has invested US$12 million in Agri-Vie, US$5.65 million of which goes to NFC. EIB also has Environmental and Social Principles and Standards, which include a standard on involuntary resettlement. EIB found nothing wrong with NFC’s operations in Uganda.
  • HSBC has invested about US$10 million in NFC, an investment that was “subject to the company obtaining FSC certification for its operations”, according to SGS’s assessment report. HSBC’s judgement of whether NFC complies to its sustainability policies relies heavily on whether the company keeps its FSC certification.

Somehow, these investors have managed, with the help of FSC, SGS and ASI, to make 22,500 evicted people disappear completely.

Of course the people evicted have not disappeared. One of the people evicted to make way for NFC’s carbon plantations told Oxfam, “I lost land. I’m landless. Land was my life. I have no rights. It’s like I’m not a human being.”

Full disclosure: I’m friends with the authors of the Oxfam report and have worked with both of them in the past.

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  1. The only way is for NFC to comply with their social and environmental standards. Local institutions may be failing their duties, but this should not be a scapegoat for NFC to play its part.

  2. @Kimbowa Richard – It seems to me that there are two groups of institutions that are failing to implement their safeguards: the financiers (HSBC, IFC, EIB); and the certifiers (SGS, FSC, ASI).

    It is perhaps not surprising that a company like New Forests Company, which claims to be a “sustainable and socially responsible forestry company”, tries to cover up the severe problems that are part of its operations in Uganda. After all, the company exists to make a profit through planting trees on large areas of land.

    The “safeguards” are supposed to avoid the sort of violent evictions that took place to make the land available for the company. In this case the “safeguard” was FSC certification. In this case and many others (see FSC’s “safeguards” have failed.

  3. Well done to Oxfam for exposing this situation. Development NGOs have much to worry about as REDD and forest carbon financing starts to fulfil the threat of becoming the impetus to the greatest ever land-grab in history.

  4. The facts of this situation are for more complex and involved than a sensational article can possibly capture. The facts are: Oxfam’s report is the product of focus groups and interviews with former encroachers and their lawyers (read the notes). Oxfam did not have the respect or researcher integrity to communicate their investigation to the Ugandan government or to seek input or interviews with District officials, the National Forestry Authority, local council representatives or the hundreds of thousands of Ugandan community members adversely affected by illegal human habitation of central forest reserves. Oxfam was out to write a sensational report based on one side of a complex situation and that’s exactly what they have done. Another fact is that NFC did not evict anyone. The NFA was simply carrying out the law of Uganda and did so in a long, consultative, respectful manner. There was no violence. The Forestry and Tree Planting Act forbids human habitation in central forest reserves in order to protect the last remaining reserves in Uganda from the adverse affects of human habitation, illegal charcoal burning, theft of indigenous trees. The people on the reserves have settled over the course of the last ten years and this has been confirmed by a government inquiry. This is all documented fact, which Oxfam chose to ignore in order to tell a story that wouuld help them fundraise and infuriate the unsuspecting masses.

  5. Thank Oxfam for exposing the very complex relationships between corrupt international donors and corrupt dictators like Museveni of Uganda.

    Multi-national companies and banks invest in planting forests in Uganda so that they can earn carbon credit dollars. Presumably the resultant environmental benefits are supposed to be for the good of the indigenous population.
    The irony is that they evict and make destitute the same people they are suposed to be saving by planting trees.
    Upside logic or theft ?

  6. @dont believe everything you read

    I think its pretty weak for New Forests to hide behind the veil of the federal government. Its a disgusting tactic that has traditionally been used by extractive industries to hide their role in human rights abuses throughout the world. Its expected from them, but from a “socially responsible” forest company? Well I guess I shouldnt be too surprised.

    What happened was pretty clear: local peoples were evicted from their land in order for a multi-national company to make profits. They might have been settled “illegally” (I dont know the full facts), but where else has this law been enforced? How exactly does a consultative process work in which local people are evicted from their land without compensation? Are you implying they consented to this? Or was the “consultation” process solely between the Ugandan Forest Authority and the New Forest Company, aided with extravagent gifts and bags of money? Were it not for the New Forest Company and their drive for profits, I have a good feeling these people would still be in their homes.

  7. @Don’t believe everything you read – Thanks for this comment. Your arguments are very similar to those SGS puts forward. I wonder how you know so much about this particular plantation in Uganda? Do you work for SGS, by any chance?

    Oxfam went to Uganda and spoke to the people who had been evicted. They found they were very much worse off than before the evictions. The people who had been evicted said that the evictions were violent. What evidence do you have for the “long, consultative, respectful manner” with which NFA evicted these 22,500 people? How do you know that there was no violence? The reporters from the Wall Street Journal, AlJazeera and the New York Times also interviewed people who told them that the evictions were violent.

    The reality is that 22,500 lost their land and livelihoods and NFC employs a small percentage of that number. The vast majority lost their livelihoods and have received no compensation.

    You write that, “The Forestry and Tree Planting Act forbids human habitation in central forest reserves in order to protect the last remaining reserves in Uganda from the adverse affects of human habitation, illegal charcoal burning, theft of indigenous trees.” But NFC’s FSC-certified operations include 7,344 hectares of plantations – that appear to be monocultures of two exotic tree species.

    Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about this is not that Oxfam focussed their report on the 22,500 people who were evicted from the land to make way for NFC’s monocultures. It is that SGS hardly mentions the evictions in the public summary of the assessment and when SGS does mention the people who were evicted, they appear not to have any rights whatsoever, on the grounds that they are “illegal” or “mostly from Rwanda”.

    One last point, which is not related to your comment. SGS’s public summary of the FSC assessment includes an interesting look at the additionality of NFC’s project:

    “The company intends to make use of the carbon credits in the context of the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol on the reduction of global warming. Considerable funds have been invested over the past two years in developing its carbon strategy with carbon consultants EcoSecurities. The company has already submitted a PDD (Project Design Document) and carried out a number of baseline vegetation, satellite and social studies. However, since the voluntary carbon credit market has slumped recently, the company will not actively pursue the carbon credit market at this stage.”

    The project is going ahead anyway – without carbon financing. It is therefore not additional.

  8. Infowars has an obviously much more alarmist take:
    Not that I follow the site by any means, I just thought it was interesting that they covered it
    And to make matters more unnerving, HSBC started some sorta renewable energy investment thing which was endorsed by Greenpeace:

  9. Maybe it’s not entirely fair to focus on HSBC’s role, as they only own 20% of the company. But perhaps Francis Sullivan, Deputy Head of Group Corporate Sustainability and Adviser on the Environment and Climate Change at HSBC, could tell us what environmental and social due diligence the bank did before investing its customers’ money in NFC? Francis Sullivan, that is, that used to be Head of Conservation at WWF-UK, former forest policy officer there, founder member of the FSC and founder of the WWF Forests and Trade Network, which recently featured on this website.

    And maybe ‘@ Don’t believe everything you read’ (#5 above) could also tell us whether he/she thinks that President Museveni’s plan to turn over 7,000 hectares of the Mabira Central Forest Reserve into sugar plantations for the benefit of his business cronies is being done in order “to protect the last remaining reserves in Uganda from the adverse affects of human habitation”?

  10. In many forest areas for many years in the Africa continent multi national companies , international banks and companies like New Forests Company have been telling African government and people total lies and corrupted consultation.
    It appears that they have all been trying to control land titles of the forest areas.
    It is so evil to have these educated people in false corrupted consultation to simple people of Africa.
    Leave forest peoples land alone and go back to where you come from.

  11. Everyone is missing the death of Friday Mukamperezida an ill young boy who was burned alive in his home while his mother was away getting medicine.

    NAH, It was not violent, we only had to torch one boy…..

  12. @Corrinne N – Thanks for this comment. I’ve deleted your first sentence, because there are two companies with very similar names:

    1) An Australia-based company called New Forests Pty Limited (David Blood and Al Gore’s investment company Generation Investment Management is one of the four shareholders in New Forests and David Blood, the co-founder of Generation Investment Management, sits on New Forests’ board); and

    2) A UK-based company called New Forests Company (which was founded by Julian Ozanne).

    They are completely separate companies.

    I read about the death of Friday Mukamperezida in the New York Times article. I found it so disturbing that I didn’t mention it in the article. I probably should have done. Here are the closing paragraphs of the New York Times article:

    Olivia Mukamperezida, 28, said her house was among the first in her community to be burned down. One day in late 2009, she said, her eldest son, Friday, was sick at home, so she went out to find medicine. Villagers suddenly told her to rush back. Everything was incinerated.

    “I found my house when it was completely finished,” she said. “I just cried.”

    Ms. Mukamperezida never found the culprits. She buried Friday’s bones in a grave, but says she does not know if it is still there.

    “They are planting trees,” she said.

  13. From NFC’s website


    The New Forests Company takes Oxfam’s allegations extremely seriously and will conduct an immediate and thorough investigation of them. Our understanding of these resettlements is that they were legal, voluntary and peaceful and our first hand observations of them confirmed this.

    This has been corroborated on a number of occasions by meticulous audits of the company by highly respected international organisations including the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) and the IFC (International Finance Corporation, part of World Bank). The FSC concluded that “Officials consider Namwasa one of their most peaceful and successful experiences in encouraging illegal encroachers to voluntarily leave Central Forestry Reserves and would like to use the model for controversial areas in the future.”

    NFC is puzzled by the extent to which Oxfam’s anecdotal evidence is so at odds with these findings.

    NFC also regrets Oxfam’s decision to publish this highly prejudicial report without having given NFC the opportunity to investigate its claims.

    In attacking the NFC Oxfam have chosen a company with an impeccable track record in community investment and development who in their short life have not only created over 2,000 jobs in remote rural Ugandan communities but been responsible for increasing access to health, education, clean water and fuel. Africa needs responsible inward investment.”

  14. @Don’t believe everything you read (#5) –
    “Act forbids human habitation in central forest reserves… The people on the reserves have settled over the course of the last ten years and this has been confirmed by a government inquiry.”

    The key questions here are:
    (1)who is wrong? And (2)What is the way moving forward?

    It should be known that it is also the law in Uganda (through common law doctrine) that the landloard who allows human settlements on his land unchallenged is bound to compensate them for improvements to the land. This means that both the Government and the settlers were supposed to observe the law and they did not. Therefore, eviction is inevitable, but the government must compensate them.

  15. This article about Oxfam America’s reaction to Sen. James Inhofe’s take on all this is interesting:

    CLIMATE: Oxfam ‘dismayed’ that Inhofe linked climate policy to crimes against the poor

    Jean Chemnick, E&E reporter

    Published: Friday, November 18, 2011

    An international poverty group today shot back at a key Republican senator for using its research to allege that the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change is directly or indirectly contributing to displacement of poor farmers.

    Oxfam America President Raymond Offenheiser said Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) was wrong to use Oxfam’s report titled “Land and Power” as part of his basis for asking Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to investigate UNFCCC’s link to human rights abuses and to consider withdrawing U.S. support from international climate negotiations.

    In his Tuesday letter, Inhofe referred to an incident highlighted in the Oxfam report, in which 20,000 farmers say they were forcibly evicted from land they had farmed for generations by a British company that planned to plant trees and to apply for carbon credits under the Clean Development Mechanism. Inhofe argues the company would not have done so if not for the lure of carbon credits.

    Offenheiser noted that the company, New Forests Co.’s (NFC) plantations, had not been approved for any credits and its methods have not been sectioned by UNFCCC.

    “We are dismayed that you would use information in our report on violations of the rights of impoverished farmers in Uganda to attack the main international process that works to address the harmful impacts of a changing climate, impacts that are often experienced disproportionately by poor farmers in developing countries,” said Offenheiser. “Removing U.S. support for the UNFCCC and undermining action on climate change would only harm the poor farmers and families across the globe who are already suffering the impacts of extreme weather events, declining crop yields and spiking food prices.”

    Offenheiser asked Inhofe to clarify that UNFCCC was not connected to the Uganda evictions and to work with Oxfam on future efforts to stop similar incidents from occurring.

    Ben Grossman-Cohen, a spokesman for Oxfam, said corporations had been known to seize land and displace indigenous populations “for a variety of reasons, including to make way for large-scale agribusiness operations, biofuel operations or even purely for speculative purposes because the value of the land is anticipated to increase.”

    Matt Dempsey, a spokesman for Inhofe, said the senator did not intend to say that UNFCCC had sanctioned the displacement of the Ugandan farmers, only that its policies had contributed to it.

    “If these policies were not in place, then this U.K. company wouldn’t have been trying to get carbon credits. So if these policies weren’t in place this wouldn’t even be a possibility,” he said. “And that, further, is why it’s so important to have a full investigation.”

    Inhofe has a long-standing interest in African policy, having traveled to the continent numerous times, Dempsey said. The senator attached language to the Senate’s fiscal 2012 defense authorization bill that would direct the Defense and State departments to develop a strategy to help defend civilians in Uganda from the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army. He also frequently speaks about his granddaughter, who was adopted from Ethiopia after having been abandoned in an impoverished Addis Ababa neighborhood.

  16. hello, i would like to inquire from you whether you can offer placements for internship. am a 3rd year Forestry Student at Nkumba University, i’ve had my first internship with Global-woods Uganda and i would wish to have my last bit of internship with you guys come June with a recommendation from the university. Hoping to hearing from you soon.
    Kind Regards