Oxfam International recently released an eye-opening report on the activities of UK-based New Forests Company (NFC) in Uganda. The company currently plants and harvests timber on 27,000 hectares of tree plantations in Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Mozambique, and has deals in these countries totalling around 90,000 hectares. It claims that the timber produced can satisfy all the population's needs, thereby preventing logging in natural forests. In Uganda it has planted around 9,300 hectares of pine and eucalyptus trees since 2006, on land licensed to the company by the government.
NFC has acquired considerable financing for its operations: five million euro from the European Investment Bank (EIB) for the expansion of one of its plantations in Uganda, and another USD 6.7 million from the Agri-Vie Agribusiness Fund, a private equity investment fund backed by the World Bank, among others. However, the largest investment in the company's activities comes from a private bank, HSBC, a sum of around USD 10 million.
As if all of these funds provided by investors were not enough, NFC now wants to bring in even more money through the sale of the environmental service of carbon sequestration, through so-called carbon credits under the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). Polluting companies in the North will be able to continue producing carbon emissions and aggravating the climate crisis by purchasing credits generated by the carbon supposedly “stored” in the trees planted by NFC.
Although the company claims to uphold strict social and environmental standards, and despite the fact that its plantations are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the Oxfam researchers discovered that between 2006 and 2010, more than 22,000 people were evicted from their lands in the districts of Kiboga and Mubende, in some cases with the use of violence, to make way for the NFC plantations. The company admits that people had to be moved, but it denies taking part in the evictions.
Many of these more than 22,000 people say they had lived for more than 40 years on their land, where there was functioning infrastructure including health centres and schools. According to NFC, however, only 31 families had legal title to their land, and the rest were living there “illegally”, and regarded by the company as “encroachers”.
The report published by Oxfam (1) shows that the people living in these areas were not consulted, while highlighting the desperation that they feel, now that they have been left landless and without prospects. In some cases, their homes and crops were simply destroyed. The food sovereignty of the entire population in two districts was profoundly impacted. One of the people evicted told Oxfam: “I have lost what I owned. Where I am now, my kids cry every day. I cannot sustain them and they do not go to school. Even eating has become a problem.”
In the meantime, in the Project Design Document submitted by NFC to the UN in 2011 in order to be able to sell carbon credits, the company claims that these people vacated their land “voluntarily and peacefully”. Other investors have told Oxfam that the project is coherent with their social and environmental standards and safeguards.
Oxfam is calling for a full independent investigation of the events in Kiboga and Mubende to identify those responsible for the violations that took place, and for fair compensation for those who suffered these abuses.
What we find most striking is that even if the company's actions were entirely legal, as they claim, they were in no way moral or ethical, in light of the testimonies and stories of the people evicted from the lands where they had lived for many years. What occurred was a horrendous violation of the rights of these people.
What is also striking is that NFC managed to obtain FSC certification for its plantations, which allegedly vouches for a company's “socially beneficial” practices. In an audit report conducted in 2010, the FSC declared with regard to the evictions that “the company has followed peaceful means and acted responsibly.” This is yet further proof of the way the FSC empowers large companies like NFC and contributes to the weakening and uprooting of local communities impacted by the monoculture tree plantations it certifies. Worse still, it is actually even capable of legitimizing the eviction of no fewer than 22,000 people!
And if all of this were not enough, the FSC has ended up endorsing what is perhaps the British company's main motivation for this undertaking in an African country: the future profits it can obtain for its headquarters in London and its shareholders through the sale of the environmental service of “carbon sequestration”.
For more information on the NFC plantations in Uganda , see the full Oxfam case study, on which this article was based, at: http://www.oxfam.org/en/policy/new-forests-company-and-its-uganda-plantations-oxfam-case-study