By Chris Lang
The African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative aims to restore 100 million hectares of land in Africa by 2030. AFR100 was launched at COP21 in Paris. Backed with US$1 billion of World Bank funding, AFR100 hopes to raise US$100 billion to finance its massive tree-planting scheme. Pledges from 30 countries now cover an area of 127.7 million hectares. The projects under AFR100 range from community-led forest restoration to large-scale monoculture tree plantations.
This week the Global Forest Coalition has published a report about how AFR100 is driving the expansion of commercial tree plantations.
AFR100 is part of the Bonn Challenge, which aims to cover 350 million hectares with trees by 2030. When Simon Lewis, Charlotte Wheeler and colleagues looked at the government pledges under the Bonn Challenge, they found that 45% of the area is planned to become monoculture tree plantations.
A 2019 paper in Trends in Ecology & Evolution describes AFR100 target as “based on the erroneous assumption that these biomes are deforested and degraded”. In the paper, the authors “discuss the pros and cons of exporting fossil fuel emission problems to Africa”:
African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative targets include industrial tree plantations
Global Forest Coalition found that half of the countries’ targets include an increase in the area of commercial plantations. The expansion of commercial plantations covers just over 4.5 million hectares in total. A further 770,000 hectares represents improved management of existing plantations.
According to the FAO’s Global Forest Resources Assessment 2020, the total area of what it oxymoronically calls “plantation forest” in Africa is 5.7 million hectares. Between 2010 and 2020, according to FAO, the area of “plantation forest” in Africa increased by 55,300 hectares per year.
If met, AFR100’s targets would see an average of 450,000 hectares of new industrial tree plantations per year between 2020 and 2030. That’s a massive increase.
Global Forest Coalition notes that this area of proposed new industrial tree plantations is likely to be an underestimate since more than half of the countries taking part in AFR100 have not yet published forest landscape restoration strategies or other relevant national plans.
Global Forest Coalition points out that,
Despite the fact that some AFR100 pledges were made over five years ago, monitoring of progress towards achieving them is still virtually non-existent in most countries, and there is a shocking lack of publicly-available information on exactly how governments plan to meet their targets.
Global Forest Coalition’s report includes three case studies:
- Mozambique which has a target of one million hectares of plantations by 2030;
- UNIQUE Forestry and Land Use GmbH, an AFR100 technical partner; and
- Ghana, where a UK-based company called Miro Forestry operates.
Mozambique: REDD subsidies for pulp plantations
Mozambique’s 2009 National Reforestation Plan aims to increase the area of plantations in the country from about 60,000 hectares to one million hectares by 2030. Mozambique’s AFR100 target is also one million hectares.
In 2016 Mozambique published a Forest Investment Plan, with funding from the World Bank. Mozambique’s National REDD+ Strategy focusses on increasing the area of industrial tree plantations in the country.
The World Bank recently announced that the Zambézia Integrated Landscape Management Program in Mozambique under the Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility had resulted in more than two million emission reductions from “reduced emissions from deforestation”.
This project is little more than a massive subsidy for a pulp company called Portucel Moçambique. The company is a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Navigator Company, a Portuguese company and Europe’s top producer of bleached eucalyptus pulp.
Portucel plans invest US$2.3 billion, including about 200,000 hectares of eucalyptus monocultures and a new pulp mill, in Mozambique. In 2014, the International Finance Corporation, the World Bank’s private sector investment vehicle, incested US$32 million in Portucel. So far, about 13,500 hectares have been planted.
Portucel’s plantations have led to land conflicts and impacts on food security. Portucel’s promises of constructing schools and wells have come to nothing. Many farmers feel that their land was stolen from them. Residents are afraid to speak out about their problems because of intimidation from Portucel and even some members of the local government.
A 2017 report published by the Environmental Paper Network describes Portucel’s operations as “A land grab for pulp”. The report states that,
Land that is critical for food security and traditional life has been taken from local communities. The project represents the largest single land concession in Mozambique and it is controversial, because it is in an area with significant population and agricultural potential.
The report also highlights the impact that Portucel’s industrial tree plantations will have on miombo forest and savanna ecosystems. Miombo forests are important sources of income and subsistence for small-scale farming communities, as well as habitat for several endangered species, and a store of above- and below-ground carbon.
UNIQUE Forestry and Land Use GmbH
UNIQUE is a ” leading international consulting firm that provides expert services and advice on forest management and sustainable land use”. The company’s headquarters are in Freiburg, Germany.
UNIQUE’s clients include the World Bank, European Investment Bank, the German Development Agency GIZ, Arbaro Advisors, IFC, WWF, and The Nature Conservancy. UNIQUE manages tree plantations in Paraguay, and is a co-owner of Arbaro Advisors.
Arbaro Advisors is an advisor to the Arbaro Fund, a private equity fund registered in the tax haven of Luxembourg. When the Arbaro Fund applied to the Green Climate Fund for finance, 133 civil society organisations and more than 100 individuals signed onto World Rainforest Movement’s letter to the Green Climate Fund Board opposing the deal. GCF’s Board ignored their concerns and in March 2020 agreed US$25 million funding to Arbaro.
GIZ, the German Development Agency, sits on the AFR100 Management Committee. GIZ hired UNIQUE to carry out the Mid-Term Review of AFR100. UNIQUE rated AFR100 as “very successful” and brushed aside concerns about evictions. “Forced resettlements” from protected areas were justified, according to UNIQUE, as long as “guidelines” were observed.
Global Forest Coalition highlights UNIQUE’s record of promoting industrial tree plantations in Africa (and a very dubious “development” project in Namibia):
- In Ethiopia, UNIQUE identified hundreds of thousand of hectares of land as suitable for “Afforestation/Reforestation”, despite the fact that much of this land is “under some form of communal use”.
- In a 2016 report, UNIQUE identified fast growing tree plantations as a key priority in Madagascar. The government of Madagascar subsequently adopted a forest landscape restoration strategy that explicitly includes tree plantations.
- In Mozambique, a team of consultants from UNIQUE carried out field work and produced draft reports for a World Bank project called “Improving Business Climate for Planted Forests”. Green Resources hired UNIQUE to work on the Lurio Forestry Plantation and Carbon Sequestration Project, a 20,000-hectare tree plantation project in Mozambique.
- In Kenya, UNIQUE advised The Nature Conservancy on setting up a “Tree Fund” to “support commercially driven tree planting”. UNIQUE worked for the UK-based Gatsby Charity Foundation on a project for “commercial forestry” and new tree plantations. UNIQUE is working with Komaza, a tree plantation company, to expand its plantations by 30,000 hectares and to sell carbon credits.
- UNIQUE produced a report for GIZ about the benefits of removing trees and bushes from savanna rangelands in Namibia. The bushwood was to be imported to Germany to be used as a replacement for coal in a large power station in Hamburg. In October 2020, NGOs and academics signed onto a statement against the import of bushwood. In January 2021, Biofuelwatch published a critique of UNIQUE’s report pointing out serious inaccuracies and misrepresentations.
Ghana: Miro Forestry and Timber Products
Ghana’s Forest Plantation Strategy 2016-2040 aims to establish 625,000 hectares of new commercial tree plantations, and to maintain and rehabilitate about 235,000 hectares of existing plantations.
Global Forest Coalition focusses on the role of Miro Forestry and Timber Products, a UK registered company. Miro currently operates about 20,000 hectares of industrial tree plantations in Ghana and Sierra Leone, an area that is expanding by somewhere between 1,500 and 3,000 hectares per year.
In 2018, Miro received US$20 million from the Arbaro Fund – the Fund’s first investment.
A 2017 report by the Ghanian NGO Civic Response is critical of Miro’s operations. The company bought a 5,000-hectare concession in the Boumfum Forest Reserve, resulting in conflicts with small-scale farming communities. The communities were neither consulted nor informed about Miro’s plans. The first that local communities knew was when the company told them they had to remove their property from the area so that Miro could start operations.
Miro considered the farmers to be occupying the land illegally, and cleared farms, food crops, and about 13,000 trees that farmers had planted. Evicted farmers were not paid any compensation and several farmers have subsequently taken Miro to court.
In December 2020, the Green Climate Fund’s Arbaro Investment Committee approved Miro as a sub-project to its US$25 million funding of the Arbaro Fund. Before the approval of the sub-project, the GCF Civil Society Observers Network sent a formal submission to the Arbaro Investment Committee. The submission cites the ongoing conflict over land and the likely environmental impacts of Miro’s plantations.