In 1996, Uganda’s National Forest Authority awarded a 50 year licence covering an area of land just over 9,000 hectares to a Norwegian company called Green Resources. Twenty years later, local communities are still feeling the impacts of the company’s industrial tree plantations.
Green Resources’ Ugandan plantations are in the Bukaleba Forest Reserve in eastern Uganda, and the Kachung Forest Reserve in northern Uganda.
In June 2016, Nicky Milne, a journalist with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, visited Green Resource’s plantations in the Bukaleba Forest Reserve.
One of the villagers told her that,
“I am not at peace because of the sadness in my heart at being chased away from the land where I was born.”
Reuters produced a video of the impacts on local communities of Green Resources’ operations:
Jessika Nait, a community member in Bukaleba told Reuters,
“I was born here in 1972. The government at that time gave out land to people. Many people bought land in the forest and my dad bought land near the lake. We cultivated all sorts of food – on one side bananas and on the other side cassava. We had around four hectares, a lot of land.
“Evictions started around 1989 but intensified in the 1990s. What I saw… they brought a truckload of soldiers to chase people from the forest. They were shooting, people were running, and they burned down houses. If they found you with children or property they would throw them outside and set the houses on fire.
Communities use grass as a roofing material. They told Reuters that the company has now sprayed the grass and they don’t even have grass available to repair their roofs.
Green Resources: “They are illegal settlements”
Teddy Nasamba is Green Resources’ Environmental, Social and Governance Director. She acknowledged that the community’s housing is below any acceptable standard. But, she told Reuters,
“What we have to note is that those communities in the reserve, they are illegal settlements. So we have got no obligation as an organisation to be meeting their needs.
We talk about health facilities, if we do support a health facility in the forest reserve, then we have said, ‘You are legally supposed to be there’. So we cannot indulge ourselves in activities that are illegal. Even when the community is saying, ‘This is what we need’.”
But the communities were living there before Green Resources arrived. They had their livelihoods, before Green Resources took over their land.
Olga Akello has lived there for over 30 years. She told Reuters that,
“When we first arrived here, life was comfortable. We were farming and harvesting enough food, but those things are no more. They took away our farmland and we have become beggars.”
Green Resources denies that it has carried out any evictions, and puts the responsibility on the National Forestry Authority. “We have not done any evictions,” Nasamba told Reuters. “All evictions have been done by the NFA.”
But NFA carried out the evictions so that Green Resources could take the land. The evictions were violent. Villagers have been injured and arrested. They have been accused of cutting down trees. One father and his son were threatened with one year in prison if they did not pay a fine. They deny having cut any trees.
This isn’t the first time that Green Resources operations in Uganda have been criticised:
- In 2014, the Oakland Institute published a report about Green Resources, describing their operations as “Carbon violence”. The report found that thousands of 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.Mads Asprem, CEO of Green Resources, responded by describing the research behind the report as “unusually low quality”. He wrote:
I am very proud of the management of our Ugandan operations. They have created a world class forest plantation that strive for the highest international standards for sustainable forest management, having receiving numerous third party certifications, including FSC, carbon projects and for ISO.
The Australian academics and the Oakland Institute defended their research and their findings.
- In 2015, Camilla Ziedorn, a journalist with Sweden’s TV4 Kalla Fakta programme visited the plantations in Uganda.The Swedish Energy Agency, is the sole buyer of carbon credits from Green Resources’ Kachung plantations. After the programme was broadcast, the Swedish Energy Agency froze future payments to Green Resources. Green Resources responded by denying that they had a problem:
First of all, GR is very proud of what we have achieved in Kachung. It is one of 10 FSCTM certified forest plantations (licence number FSC-C107952) in Africa outside of South Africa and Swaziland, and it has CDM and CCBA certifications.
- And in 2016, Nicky Milne from Thomson Reuters Foundation visited Green Resources’ plantations.Guess what? Mads Asprem’s response is once again to deny any serious problems:
It is important to note that Green Resources manages its operations in Bukaleba Central Forest Reserve in a responsible manner adhering to government policies and legislation, and in line with international standards.
Follow the money
Academics and journalists visiting Green Resources’ plantations in Uganda and speaking to communities affected by the plantations have documented the problems they found. Yet when SGS Qualifor, the Forest Stewardship Council‘s certifying body, visits their experts fail to see any problems.
In April 2016, SGS Qualifor certified Green Resources’ plantations in Uganda as well managed under the FSC system. SGS Qualifor first certified Green Resources’ monocultures in 2011 and has visited the operations every year since then to check that they still comply with FSC’s standards.
Two things could help to explain this apparent conundrum. First, the academics and journalists who have reported on the impact of Green Resouces’ monoculures are independent of Green Resources, whereas SGS Qualifor is paid by Green Resources to carry out the certification assessment.
Second, as Asprem acknowledged during a discussion at FSC’s 2014 General Assembly, “Our lenders require that we have FSC, so there we don’t have a choice.”