Just as the World Bank has named Uganda as one of the African countries to benefit from its three carbon finance funds (Prototype Carbon Fund, Bio Carbon Fund and the Community Development Carbon Fund), information about an unprecedented ‘land grab’, opening Uganda’s public forests to private development, begins to emerge.
Earlier this year, several officials of the Ugandan government received large concessions for land suitable for afforestation and reforestation. In response to public concern in Uganda, the Ministry of Water, Lands and Environment issued a statement arguing that these land allocations were to be seen as part of a process by the ministry to ‘revitalise’ degraded forest reserves by releasing them for private development through the Department of Forestry. Land allocations under this new policy can be obtained by application. Among the officials whose applications were successful in receiving sizeable areas of land were not only the former vice-president Dr. Specioza Kazimbwe but also some familiar with the climate negotiations. In contrast, communities also applying for the concessions were left empty-handed.
It is too early still to expect any concrete projects emerging from these land allocations, but these allocations are indication of a worrisome trend – namely that carbon sinks credits will speed up private sector involvement in Uganda’s forests. In the past, the private sector has been reluctant in getting involved in afforestation activities in so-called degraded areas, and the government is now promoting carbon credits as a new incentive to entice private sector involvement in Uganda’s forests. Most of these public forests are presently ‘free access’ forest, much of it used by rural communities. Allocation of these public lands to private enterprises is likely to curtail public access to these areas, thus exacerbating the already precarious situation of many of Uganda’s rural poor.
If past experience with carbon sinks is anything to go by, there is even more reason for concern: in 2000, the Norwegian NGO Norwatch exposed a scandalous project in Uganda involving the Norwegian company Tree Farms. The project in the Bukaleba Forestry Reserve was meant to ‘offset’ greenhouse gas emissions’ of a coal fired power plant to be built in Norway (see WRM Bulletin 35). At the time, NGOs were alerted to the project because it threatened to evict some 7000 people living on the land to be turned into a carbon offset project. International criticism at the time stopped the project from claiming carbon credits to ‘offset’ the power plant emissions, but nonetheless, the project continued and trees were planted. After lengthy negotiations, the Norwegian owners accepted to allocate less than 5% of the land they received from the government ‘at bargain price’ to the local people previously threatened with eviction. The eucalyptus trees planted on the remaining land however exude a gummy substance, an apparent sign of stress. The eucalyptus chosen appears to have been a poor choice for the site. Local people state that they are paid very low wages and that most of the labour is not sourced locally.
By: Jutta Kill, SinksWatch, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org , http://www.sinkswatch.org