A new report by the Oakland Institute introduces the term “carbon violence” to describe the impact of Green Resources’ plantation operations in Uganda on local communities and their environment. Green Resources is a Norwegian-registered plantation company with 41,000 hectares of plantations in Africa, in Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda.
The company’s plantations are used for timber products and generate carbon credits. On its website, the Green Resources boasts that,
We believe Green Resources carbon offsets are unique, bringing more benefits to the local population than other projects.
The Oakland Institute report, “The Darker Side of Green: Plantation Forestry and Carbon Violence in Uganda”, exposes this as a myth.
The report found that somewhere between 8,000 and 40,000 people “face profound disruptions to their livelihoods, including many experiencing forced evictions.” In addition to losing access to the land, villagers report pollution of water and land by the agrochemicals used in the plantations.
In 1996, Green Resources obtained a 50-year permit from Uganda’s National Forestry Authority for plantations in the Bukaleba Forest Reserve in eastern Uganda, and the Kachung Forest Reserve in northern Uganda, covering a total of 11,864 hectares. While the land is part of the government-owned Central Forest Reserve, villagers in the past had access to grow food, collect resources and graze animals.
In April 2011, SGS Qualifor certified the plantations under the Forest Stewardship Council system. Predictably, SGS Qualifor’s report plays down the rights of local communities:
None of the indigenous people had any legal or customary right before the lease agreement was established, and occupants on the land all knew that they were there illegal [sic].
In 2012, the Bukaleba plantation was also validated and verified under the Verified Carbon Standard. The Kachung plantation is a Clean Development Mechanism project and was validated under the Climate Community and Biodiversity Standard in 2011.
The Swedish Energy Agency has bought carbon contracts between 2012 and 2032 valued at US$4 million from the Kachung plantation.
Evictions to make way for monocultures
Evictions began before Green Resources started its plantation operations in Uganda. Communities told the Oakland Institute of evictions at the hands of government employees, army, military and police on land now licensed to Green Resources.
But the evictions did not stop when Green Resources arrived. Recent evictions are “directly linked to expansion of the company’s plantation activities” reports the Oakland Institute. Villagers say that company employees destroyed their homes to make way for plantations.
One villager said that company staff arrived without notice and,
“just started to plant trees on top of our crops … we were evicted without discussion.”
Previously Green Resources allowed villagers to grow food crops between the rows of tree seedlings. But then the company prohibited that and destroyed the crops. An elderly woman told the Oakland Institute’s researchers,
“some crops were slashed down, and they used chemicals to spray crops. Even the animals fed on the crops [that were] sprayed, have died.”
One woman describes how she was made homeless by the company’s operations:
“We are chased away from our garden after one season. I was growing crops and the security personnel allowed me to prepare my garden and then when it was mature, and because there were no trees growing, they slashed it down. I went to another rocky area on the hill in that area to try to grow food but my cassava dried up. Now I am living off the handouts from other neighbors in the village.”
In late 2013, Green Resources started planting trees on what villagers believed was community land.
Villagers are criminalised as “encroachers” and have been arrested, fined and jailed by police and soldiers for “trespass” in company license areas.
“No places to pray to our gods”
There are several sites of cultural significance within the area of land licensed to Green Resources. In late 2013, Green Resources posted a series of “burial ground” signs in Bukaleba.
But Green Resources has limited villagers’ access to some cultural sites. One man said, “there are (now) no places to pray to our gods”.
The Walumbe tree, a giant Mvule tree in Bukaleba, is sacred to villagers. Walumbe means death in Luganda, the local language, and the tree is believed to house the spirit of Walumbe. Now Green Resources’ pine monoculture grows close to the sacred tree. Villages have been moved from the area, reducing communities’ access to the site.
Green Resources has committed that 10% of profits goes to community projects and has provided some health, education and alternative income projects for villagers. But villagers point out that these are not addressing their most important needs – especially the loss of land. One woman asked,
“What is the use of medicine if we have no land to grow food and no schools to ensure there is a future for our children?”
The Oakland Institute report calls for four actions:
- an investigation into third party certification, monitoring and compliance mechanisms related to the conduct of Green Resources;
- investors and buyers of Green Resources carbon credits to hold the company to account to its social and environmental responsibilities;
- reforms to global plantation forestry and carbon markets to alleviate the burden subsistence farmers currently carry, including their experience of direct and structural forms of violence;
- on-going global actions to establish sustainable energy futures, including rapid expansion in renewable energy options, thereby reducing global greenhouse gas emissions and the subsequent reliance on offset initiatives.
Green Resources’ CEO, Mads Asprem, declined the opportunity to be interviewed for Oakland Institute’s report.
PHOTO Credit: Walumbe tree, © Peter Westoby, 2013.