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Climate Justice Now!
| CARBON PROJECTS Q & A: THE CASE OF UGANDA (third in a series) |

Carbon Forestry in Uganda

An early Norwegian project to take carbon credits from Ugandan land, labelled a case of "CO2lonialism" by journalist Harald Eraker, was closely tied to the construction of conventional gas-fired power plants in Norway by Naturkraft and Industrikraft Midt-Norge. The plants were supported by Norway's Labour Party, Conservative Party and Progress Party on the ground that they could be made environmentally-friendly through the purchase of the credits.

Some of the carbon credits were to be provided by Tree Farms, a Norwegian forestry company operating in Africa. In 1995, Tree Farms (or Fjordgløtt, as it was then called) had been awarded a grant from NORAD, the Norwegian aid agency, to explore the scope for activities in East Africa. The following year, the company set up in Tanzania and Uganda, and, later, in Malawi as well. In Uganda, it obtained from the authorities an extremely low-cost 50-year lease on 5,160 hectares east of the town of Jinja in the Bukaleba Forest Reserve on Lake Victoria, which it planned to plant mainly with eucalyptus and fast-growing pines. Bukaleba is one of more than 700 large and small state-owned Central Forest Reserves set aside for forestry and forest protection, covering in all seven per cent of the land area of Uganda.

Shortly after the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in December 1997, Fjordgløtt increased its capitalization and invited outside investors to buy shares. By 2000, Tree Farms controlled at least 20,000 hectares of land in the region, and was in the process of acquiring a further 70,000 in Tanzania (see next blog).

The firm had had planted 600 hectares, mainly with fast-growing pines (Pinus caribaea, P. oocarpa, P. tecunumani) and eucalypts (Eucalyptus grandis), with Industrikraft Midt-Norge securing a first option on the associated carbon credits.

Q. What was the Ugandan government supposed to get in return for turning over its land to this company for 50 years?

A one-off fee of US$410 and an annual rent of about $4.10 for each hectare planted with trees. The rent, paid in fast-depreciating Ugandan currency, was to be adjusted every ten years according to the index of inflation as defined by the Bank of Uganda. No rent was to be paid for areas that the companies had not planted with trees. For six square kilometres of plantation established by 2001, then, Tree Farms had paid Uganda, when inflation is factored in, less than $11,000. For fifty years' use of the same area of land, given current rates of inflation, it was set to pay less than $110,000.

Q. That's outrageous!

Yes. Several years after the deal was made, the deputy commissioner for forestry in the Ministry of Water, Lands and Environment, Ignatius Oluka-Akileng, told the Norwegian NGO Norwatch that the authorities had recently realized that investors were “taking advantage of the system” to get cheap land. Of course, the fact that no rent is paid for areas not yet planted with trees makes such arrangements particularly attractive to land speculators. Yet it has proved hard for the Ugandan authorities to negotiate better terms. According to one reliable source, when Ugandan officials tried to negotiate a higher rent for 12,000 hectares in the Kikonda Forest Reserve with the Institut für Entwicklung und Umwelt (IEU), a German company headed by a former Green politician from the European Parliament, the company refused, saying:

"Our plane to Germany leaves tonight; if you don't sign now, there will be no
deal."

One problem is that forest authorities often simply don’t know how much foreign companies might profit from carbon trading, or how long they plan to keep plantation land out of other uses to ensure that carbon continues to be stored on it. Forest authorities, to say nothing of local people, are also poorly equipped to confront ministers, politicians and government climate negotiators who take advantage of their position and inside knowledge of European corporate
and governmental carbon plans to get funding that helps them gain control of "degraded" state forest land.

Q. Well, it's not as though the land is being used for anything else.

Well, actually, it is. Since the 1960s and 1970s, local farmers and fishermen have moved in and out of Norwegian as well as German concession areas in Bukaleba. In fact, many people had migrated into the area already by the early 20th century. Although an outbreak of sleeping sickness then caused people to flee, when the tsetse fly vector was brought under control in the 1970s, people moved back to Bukaleba, and Idi Amin authorized a cattle-herding project in the
middle of the reserve. Politicians under the Obote regime in the 1980s also supported settlements in the forest reserve, one minister observing that "trees don't vote, but people do." People were once again evicted in 1989-90. Crops were destroyed and houses torn down. Most evictees settled just outside the borders of the forest reserve, but then slowly started venturing back into the reserve to farm and fish. By 2000, five fishing and farming villages were inside the Tree Farms area in the Bukaleba Forest Reserve, and people from at least eight villages outside the reserve were cultivating the earth on Tree Farms' lease. Iganga district, the location of the reserve, was densely populated with migrants from other parts of Uganda, as well as from neighbouring countries. With scant opportunities for work outside agriculture, and with growing numbers, pressure on land was strong.

Neither the authorities nor Tree Farms knew how many people were living or farming within the company's concession area. Estimates of the population of one fishing village alone, Walumbe Beach, varied from 700 people to several thousand. One 1999 EU-supported study suggested that about 8,000 people earned a livelihood from farming and fishing inside the reserve.

Q. But these people must be there illegally.

According to state law, yes. But some farmers claim they rightfully bought the land they are now working back in the 1980s, or that the land they are farming has been owned by their family for generations.

In any case, in 2000, forest authorities told Tree Farms that farmers and fishermen now living in or using the Bukaleba reserve had been served notice to vacate -- although one official accused the Norwegian company of not telling the local people the truth about their illegal presence in the reserve. Although Tree Farms has said that it can accept the presence of fisherfolk in the reserve, if the forest authorities agree to designate an area for them, Tree
Farms' managing director has placed the job of evicting others in the authorities' lap, stating that the company will not do "the dirty job of throwing them out" itself.

Apart from the people from the fishing village Walumbe Beach, however, no one interviewed by the NGO NorWatch in 2000 said that they had been given notice to leave the reserve. Several had heard rumours about it, while others were clearly surprised at the news. Some hoped that they might be allowed to stay -- a hope perhaps based on the fact that the environmental impact assessment comes close to recommending that fishermen be allowed to stay to avoid social unrest.

Almost every farmer and fisherman told NorWatch that they had no other place to go, let alone land to farm. All expressed fears for the future, and asked NorWatch to convey to the Norwegian owners of Tree Farms their request that they be allowed to stay or farm or fish in the reserve.

Q. Couldn't Tree Farms provide jobs for local people to do?

Tree Farms originally employed several hundred people to manage the Bukaleba plantations. In 2000, however, only 43 were left, according to the assistant administrator at the company's forest station, with only 20 working on the plantations themselves.

Tree Farms did allow farmers to grow maize, beans, and other products between the rows of planted trees during the first few years, until the trees grew too high for other plant life to grow beneath them. According to the EU-supported study mentioned above, however, this taungya scheme, as developed by Tree Farms, "resembles a Middle Age feudal system but without the mandatory 'noblesse oblige' and with the farmers paying for the bulk of the investment
cost of the plantation establishment."

First, local farmers clear, plough, weed and manage the plantation areas at no cost; indeed, Tree Farms actually encourages agricultural encroachment because it depends on farmers to "provide free labour to ground clearing and weeding."

Yet many farmers reported having to pay the firm cash or a share of their crop to be allowed to farm on the company’s lands. One extended family with five adults working on one acre told NorWatch that the previous year they had had to pay 100 kilogrammes of maize to Tree Farms out of a harvest totalling 250 kg.

Conflicts over land and unpaid labour were seen by several locals as threatening the project’s future as a provider of both wood and carbon credits. Farmers have reportedly overpruned trees, uprooted seedlings, and neglected weeding in efforts at surreptitious sabotage. The Ugandan forest authorities, meanwhile, reprimanded Tree Farms for low technical standards and demanded that the company abandon taungya and "do some real investment to produce quality tree stands." The eucalyptus plantations have also suffered termite attacks. By 2001,
the Tree Farms project was way behind schedule and suffering from lack of funds. To raise some quick money, the company was even forced to clear 50 hectares for commercial maize crops, arousing further criticism from the forestry authorities.

Q. But is the project at least storing some carbon?

Tree Farms’ original management plan called for their plantations in the Bukaleba reserve to cover some 4,260 hectares of the company's total area of 5,160 hectares by 2005. The firm anticipated being able to sell 500 tonnes of CO2 credits per hectare, or 2.13 million tonnes of CO2 in all. The accounting that resulted in this figure was wildly optimistic, ignoring not only risks, but also uncertainties and indeterminacies (see this Corner House study and succeeding blog). As with other biological carbon projects, it is in fact impossible to say what climatic effect the project would have.

For one thing, proper carbon accounting for the project would require following around thousands of evictees, many of whom would probably have to clear land elsewhere, resulting in carbon emissions attributable to Tree Farms. This would be impossible, particularly in a country such as Uganda, where poverty, landlessness, and political instability keep people constantly moving from one end of the country to the other.

For another, advance sale of carbon credits would require that the long-term political future of Bukaleba be known in advance, so that any re-invasion of the area could be predicted and its effects on carbon storage precisely quantified and insured against or compensated for. Yet no basis exists for deriving numbers of this sort.

The future investment climate for such projects would also have to be calculated, as well as the probability of fires; the ecological effects of plantations on local patches of native vegetation through hydrological or other changes; the soil carbon loss attributable to clearing, ploughing and erosion caused by the project. Even to attempt to do all this would drive the costs of
the project through the roof.

If the original easy numbers posited by Tree Farms were accepted by the market, however, they would translate into carbon profits on the order of US$10 million, well over a dozen times Tree Farms' outlay on land. This would not include possible income from timber and wood sales. Turning Bukaleba into a Norwegian carbon plantation, moreover, would mean that its lands would not be available for long periods either for agriculture or for plumping up Uganda’s
own carbon accounts.

It's worth noting, incidentally, that if Norway tried to avoid all the emissions cuts it has to make by 2012 under the Kyoto Protocol by planting trees in Uganda, then, even on Tree Farms’ untenably optimistic original carbon accounting, 40,000 hectares of Uganda would have to be converted into tree plantations every year.

In sum, the project was not just a 'lose-lose' initiative for forestry and local people, as concluded by the EU-funded study, but in fact 'lose-lose-lose'. The forestry effects of the scheme were unhealthy, local villagers were suffering, and, as Trygve Refsdal, advisor to the Ugandan forest authorities, warned, Uganda was in danger of being subjected to a 'new form of colonialism':

"Forest-planting in Uganda and other poor countries must, firstly, aim to meet the needs of the country and the local people, not the needs of the international community. If these can be combined, it's OK, but experience from similar initiatives show that local interests, local needs, and traditional land rights are easily pushed aside, and that land conflicts arise
when outside commercial interests enter."

Growing international criticism ultimately prevented Tree Farms from claiming carbon credits for the project. But trees continued to be planted. After lengthy negotiations, the Norwegian owners conceded a little under five per cent of the land they had leased from the government to local people, but locals complained that they were still paid badly and that most of the labour
was not sourced locally.

Q. But perhaps the Tree Farm experience will lead to less exploitative arrangements in the future.

Sadly, the evidence suggests otherwise. The international carbon economy has subsequently played a big part in stimulating land grabs by private developers in Uganda's state forests. In 2003, several officials of the Ugandan government, including not only former vice-president Dr Specioza Kazimbwe but also officials familiar with the international climate negotiations, received large concessions for land suitable for afforestation and reforestation, while communities also applying for concessions were left empty-handed and may be excluded from access to the forests in the future. The World Bank has meanwhile named Uganda as one of the African countries to benefit from three of its carbon finance funds, the Prototype Carbon Fund, the Bio Carbon Fund and the Community Development Carbon Fund.

Meanwhile, a carbon project of the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and The Netherlands' FACE Foundation to plant trees in a national park has contributed to a raft of social and environmental problems.

Q. Not again!

I'm afraid so. The idea, as usual, sounded innocent enough: to plant mainly native trees in encroached-upon areas inside and along the boundaries of Mt.Elgon National Park near the Kenyan border. In 1994, FACE undertook planting and in return was given rights over the carbon supposedly sequestered -- expected to amount to 2.11 million tonnes of CO2 over 100 years.20 UWA's role was to manage the plantations, protecting biodiversity, safeguard park borders and so on.

As documented by Timothy Byakola of the Ugandan NGO ACS, no one denies that the project has had some good effects. It is acknowledged by locals as having improved regeneration on the boundaries of the park, particularly in areas that had been badly encroached on by agriculture, and as having increased streamflow from the forest. In 2003, the UWA-FACE project was even certified by Societe Generale de Surveillance as a well-managed forest according to Forest Stewardship Council principles. But the evictions associated with the project have contributed to a whole raft of social and environmental problems.

Q. Like what?

Homeless and hungry people, for one thing. In 2002, for instance, 300 families were evicted from disputed land by park rangers in Wanale, Mbale District. Complaining that they had lived on the land for 40 years, with some even holding government land titles, the families said that they were forced to seek refuge in neighbouring villages where they now live in caves and mosques. Fires have to be kept burning the whole night in the caves to protect against cold,
and school-going children have had their studies disrupted. Dodging armed ranger patrols, children slip back to their families, former gardens to steal what they regard as their own food. Local people have lodged a case seeking compensation for destroyed property and the return of their land with the Mbale district court.

Hundreds of families have also been evicted in other locations, increasing social tensions. In 2003, villagers disgruntled at UWA's militarized approach destroyed over 400 hectares of eucalyptus plantations in one night. At a November 2004 community meeting held in Luwa trading center, Buwabwala sub-county, evicted locals insisted that they would go back to the forest rather than face starvation. The park warden, for his part, promised that
whoever would be caught in the forest would be shot.

In fact, so tense has the atmosphere become that members of parliament from eastern Uganda have appealed to the government to degazette Mt Elgon's boundaries to ease the suffering.

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Conservation Enforcement and Local People: Voices of Protest

"The boundaries were made unilaterally, displacing over 10,000 people. The wildlife people who operate the park are very militarized, and have killed over fifty people."
--David Wakikona, Member of Parliament, Manjiya

"The biggest problem is how to secure food for the family. All our gardens,
where we used to get food, have been taken over by the park rangers."

--Amina Gidongo, widow and mother of seven children
living in a cave as a result of having been evicted

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Q. But maybe a little short-term pain was necessary in order to preserve the forest and its carbon.

But what else gets destroyed in the process? It's not just a matter of temporary social dislocation, but also farmland shortages, environmental damage outside the park, and disrupted relationships between local people and the forest.

Today, with a population density of over 450 people per square kilometre in the farmlands around Mbale town and 250 per square kilometer in Kapchorwa district, the village areas bordering Mount Elgon National Park are the most densely populated in Uganda, partly due to UWA evictions. Communities living close to the forest mainly grow food crops like bananas, yams, sweet potatoes and vegetables at bare subsistence levels with few surpluses remaining for sale in local markets. Production of a few cash crops like coffee and wheat is fast
dwindling due to fragmentation of land. A typical peasant holding in the area averages between 0.25 and 1.0 ha, with a household having an average of 10-15 members.

One result is that soils are quickly losing fertility. Most of the trees and other vegetation in the villages outside the park have been cut to provide fuel-wood for cooking and building materials, leaving open and denuded slopes. Deforestation has left the land open to erosion as more areas are being converted to agriculture. In 1996, a one-kilometre landslide killed nine people
in Budesi and Buwali parish, and during the heavy rains of the 1997 El Nino, another five by landslides in Bunabokha village in Budesi parish. Many locals are concerned that rivers flowing from the mountain are now carrying higher sediment loads, especially during rainy seasons. Communities and community development organizations alike note that fisheries have suffered.

Q. All this is due to there being too many people. That's not UWA-FACE's fault.

It's not so simple. Land scarcity in the area is partly a result of the "encroachment" of the national park on longstanding farmland, and the hand of the eviction authorities has unquestionably been strengthened by the project.

Survival and the preservation of social networks have also been endangered when UWA cuts off villagers’ access to intact forest and its animals, bamboo shoots, firewood, mushrooms, vegetables, herbs, medicines, building materials, and wood used in circumcision ceremonies.

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"When the Uganda Wildlife Authority people came with their tree-planting activities, they stopped us from getting important materials from the forest. We were stopped from going up to get malewa (bamboo shoots), which is a very important traditional food in the area and is a source of income. They were certain products that we used to get from the forest for the embalu ceremony (circumcision ritual) to be performed in the proper traditional way."
-- Cosia Masolo, evicted village elder and father of 20 now living on a 0.3 hectare piece of land in Mabembe, Buwabwala sub-county
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In Bubita sub-county, council officials reported that firewood is now hard to find and that people have resorted to using banana leaves to prepare food, meaning they can no longer eat foods that require long cooking. Goats and cows have to eat banana stems because the forest where they used to graze on grass is now a no-go area. In Buwabwala, many young girls are crossing over to neighboring Kenya to earn money to buy land for their parents. Some have moved into prostitution and contracted HIV.

Q. But hasn't the project improved the economy of the region?

Locals indignantly reject FACE Foundation claims that the project has increased incomes, improved standards of living work, provided jobs in planting and nurseries, and given out seedlings for villagers to plant on their farms.

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This posting is based on research by Timothy Byakola and Harald Eraker.


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