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Chinese farms in Uganda Disappoint, with little to show after fanfare



Chinese agricultural investments in Africa have sparked fierce controversy, excoriated as colonial plunder or hailed as productive and beneficial to local farmers. But the picture here in Luwero, Uganda, 50 miles north of the capital, is rather one of inaction and incompetence.

At the first commercial Chinese agricultural operation in Uganda, the land lies idle and overgrown. First came mushrooms, then fish, pigs, and grains – all tried on soil that the owners found ill-suited to their attempts. At a different 600-acre farm, a promised 25,000 jobs have yielded about a hundred, and the handling of the wetlands has made it nearly impossible for locals to graze their livestock.

There is a false impression that Chinese companies control huge tracts of African land to grow crops to feed Chinese consumers. But researchers have found no Chinese companies exporting rice or other cereals back home. Yet there is also no way of telling how many businesses Chinese farmers have here because the government does not keep accurate records, says Josh Maiyo, an expert in Chinese-Ugandan relations.

“So-called Chinese investors … bandy around these huge figures and African leaders are very happy to hear them,” says Dr. Maiyo. “Africa is seen as the Wild West in China.”

Lubenge, Luwero District, Uganda

The first Abel Mukalazi knew of the land grab was when he saw workers erecting a barbed wire fence around the pasture where his family had grazed their cattle for half a century.

He went to the police. They told him that a Chinese company, Kehong Group, had secured a lease on the land, pledging to build a giant rice farm employing 25,000 people.

Three years later, Mr. Mukalazi looks out over the barbed wire at empty fields of rough grass stretching across the valley – not a blade of rice in sight – where the wetlands used to be. “They are doing nothing with that land,” he snorts. “Just messing us up.”

Rising Chinese agricultural investments in Africa have sparked fierce international controversy, excoriated by critics as colonial plunder and hailed in Beijing as productive and beneficial to local farmers. The view from Luwero, 50 miles north of the Ugandan capital, Kampala, suggests that neither version is accurate. The picture here, at two different Chinese-owned farms, is rather one of inaction and incompetence.

Such disappointing results are “not unusual at all” among Chinese agricultural investments in Uganda, says Josh Maiyo, an expert in Chinese-Ugandan relations at the University of Radboud in Nijmegen, Netherlands. “Very often they do not pan out” as promised, he adds.

When President Yoweri Museveni came here in 2016 to inaugurate the China-Uganda Agricultural Industrial Park, managed by Kehong, he lauded the project as “an important instrument of transforming the economy. What was forest is going to turn into a city.”

At the launch, Luo Heng, the Kehong president, pledged $220 million of investment to create 25,000 jobs, “agricultural technology training, crop planting demonstrations … poultry and livestock processing and an agricultural mechanization service.”

There is little evidence yet of such huge investment. Today the farm employs just 100 Ugandan laborers, Kehong finance manager Liu Jianghua says in an interview in his office, situated in the only habitable building yet constructed – a low three-sided structure around a sparsely planted courtyard that houses 10 Chinese employees and a canteen serving them Chinese food.

A dozen of those labourers could be seen on a recent visit to the farm, tilling a field in preparation for maize planting. There was no sign of the promised “agricultural mechanization.” They were wielding simple hoes.

Kehong has a 99-year lease on 600 acres of wetland but has planted only six acres of rice in each of the four growing seasons since the company moved in, according to Mr. Liu. “It has been very dry” for the past two years, he says. “The rain has not been coming” heavily enough to flood the paddy fields and grow rice, as planned, for the local market.

Local agricultural officials say the rains have been sufficient for local farmers to grow their crops, and Kehong is preparing to grow maize on 300 acres of its land in order to feed the 100,000 egg-laying chickens that Mr. Liu says will arrive to supply the local market with 85,000 eggs a day.

Peter Ford/The Christian Science Monitor

Liu Jianghua is a finance manager for the company that leased 600 acres of wetland here about three years ago in Luwero district, Uganda, for farming and livestock production. On Aug. 17, 2019, he inspects the battery cages that are waiting for 100,000 chickens.

They will be housed in two long metal sheds, already fitted with battery cages imported from China. For the time being, however, the only poultry being raised are a few hundred broiler chicks in a ramshackle hut.

Legal, according to the court

Mr. Mukalazi challenged Kehong’s occupation of the wetland, but a local court ruled that his family’s lease had expired when – unbeknownst to him – a land broker secured the new 99-year lease and sold it on to Kehong.

Mr. Mukalazi is especially angry because irrigation earthworks that Kehong has carried out, including the excavation of a large trench, have drained the swamp on adjacent land that he owns, making it impossible to water his cattle in the dry season.

“Now the wetland water drains first into their dam,” he complains, standing beside a small pond, its surface dotted with lily pads, which is the only water source on his land. “This pond is less than half the size it used to be.”

Mr. Liu, Kehong’s financial manager, says his company has installed a tap and basin just inside its fence so as to allow neighbouring farmers access to water. But the single tap can be reached only by ducking under barbed wire – impossible for cows – and the water has to be carried in jerrycans back to the animals. This is totally impractical, Mr. Mukalazi points out.

He is not the only one to suffer. On the other side of the Chinese-owned farm “the swamp doesn’t hold water anymore,” says James Wandira, who was head of the district council when Kehong occupied its land. “Grazing animals has become impossible; some people have had to move away and others graze [their cows] now on their small plots of land, which is not sufficient.”

And it is not only farmers who have lodged complaints. Last March a fiberboard factory downstream from the Lubenge wetland found that its well had run dry, according to James Kunobere, a district environmental officer who refused Kehong permission to expand its operations because the swamp “is a refuge for our farmers in the dry season.”

On wetlands, little success

Similar accusations of wetland draining were levelled against Hanhe, another Chinese farm near Luwero and the first commercial Chinese agricultural operation in Uganda, which was set up in 2011.

Hanhe too was launched with much fanfare (President Museveni visited the farm in 2014 to lend his imprimatur) and Chinese government funding from the China Development Bank amid ambitious dreams of exporting mushrooms to China and the world. Later the owner, Qiu Lijun, and his wife, Zhou Lisha, tried farming fish; growing rice, maize, and millet; and raising pigs.

All their efforts, though, came to naught. Their fishponds, their crops, and their animals were washed away in repeated floods. Today the farm lies idle and overgrown, its buildings deserted, its agricultural machinery abandoned and rusting in the long grass, the silence broken only by an occasional bleat from one of the goats that two local villagers have installed in a disused pen.

The owners gave up in 2016, explains Ms. Zhou in a telephone interview. “We failed to make our money back,” she says. “The land is wetland and suffers from floods. We were not aware of that because we came to the place in the dry season when there was no water. But floods destroyed our crops and our gardens.

“Also the land abounds in clay, so it is hard to grow things in it. We struggled to fight with the land but the floods were a big problem,” Ms. Zhou says. “Sometimes we could not even get to the farm.”

She and her husband have not given up the land they leased, and are thinking about processing agricultural products rather than growing them, Ms. Zhou said. “But there is no prospect of the farm ever realizing the potential that [its owners] claimed for it,” points out Dr. Maiyo, who wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on Hanhe.

Expectations vs. reality

At the height of Hanhe farm’s activity its owners were cultivating only 70 of the 400 acres they had leased from the government. But Western accounts estimated their landholding at 100,000 acres – 250 times the real figure.

That put it in the ranks of what Deborah Brautigam, who heads the China-Africa Research Initiative (CARI) at Johns Hopkins University, has branded “zombie land-grabs” – non-existent or grossly exaggerated Chinese agricultural investments. It is not uncommon for Chinese firms themselves to be the source of such exaggerations, inflating the size of their landholdings to impress potential investors back home.

Such reports feed the false impression that Chinese companies are leasing or buying huge tracts of African land on which to grow crops to feed Chinese consumers. Although Sinochem, a Chinese state-owned firm, has leased 120,000 acres to develop a rubber plantation in Cameroon, researchers at CARI have found no Chinese companies exporting rice or other cereals back home.

Professor Brautigam’s research shows that, rather, Chinese farms in Africa serve local markets; China devotes 12% of its overseas agricultural investment to Africa but buys only 2% of its food from the continent, according to a recent USDA report based on official Chinese figures.

There is no way of telling how many businesses Chinese farmers have set up in Uganda, says Dr. Maiyo, because the government does not keep accurate records, but he believes they number in the double digits.

Most of them, says Zhou Hang, who teaches at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and who also studies Chinese investments in Uganda, are small affairs.

They raise rice, Chinese vegetables, and chickens that they sell to Chinese restaurants and the canteens set up by Chinese enterprises in Uganda employing large numbers of Chinese nationals, such as telecom giant Huawei and road construction firms, he adds.

More ambitious projects are generally less successful, according to Mr. Zhou. “The majority of big Chinese agricultural projects in Africa have not lived up to expectations – neither the Chinese government’s hype nor the way the Western media portrays them,” he says.

“Africa is seen as the Wild West in China,” says Dr Maiyo. “So-called Chinese investors … bandy around these huge figures and African leaders are very happy to hear them. They acquire large tracts of land for a song and then go back to China to secure investment,” but often the money does not materialize.

In Luwero, the result is disillusion. “These Chinese companies, they give the impression that the area will completely change,” says Brian Luwaga, a journalist in Luwero who has followed the impact of Chinese investment in the region. “But then you don’t see anything.”

Source: Epeak


Statement: The Energy Sector Strategy 2024–2028 Must Mark the End of the EBRD’s Support to Fossil Fuels



The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is due to publish a new Energy Sector Strategy before the end of 2023. A total of 130 civil society organizations from over 40 countries have released a statement calling on the EBRD to end finance for all fossil fuels, including gas.

From 2018 to 2021, the EBRD invested EUR 2.9 billion in the fossil energy sector, with the majority of this support going to gas. This makes it the third biggest funder of fossil fuels among all multilateral development banks, behind the World Bank Group and the Islamic Development Bank.

The EBRD has already excluded coal and upstream oil and gas fields from its financing. The draft Energy Sector Strategy further excludes oil transportation and oil-fired electricity generation. However, the draft strategy would continue to allow some investment in new fossil gas pipelines and other transportation infrastructure, as well as gas power generation and heating.

In the statement, the civil society organizations point out that any new support to gas risks locking in outdated energy infrastructure in places that need investments in clean energy the most. At the same time, they highlight, ending support to fossil gas is necessary, not only for climate security, but also for ensuring energy security, since continued investment in gas exposes countries of operation to high and volatile energy prices that can have a severe impact on their ability to reach development targets. Moreover, they underscore that supporting new gas transportation infrastructure is not a solution to the current energy crisis, given that new infrastructure would not come online for several years, well after the crisis has passed.

The signatories of the statement call on the EBRD to amend the Energy Sector Strategy to

  • fully exclude new investments in midstream and downstream gas projects;
  • avoid loopholes involving the use of unproven or uneconomic technologies, as well as aspirational but meaningless mitigation measures such as “CCS-readiness”; and
  • strengthen the requirements for financial intermediaries where the intended nature of the sub-transactions is not known to exclude fossil fuel finance across the entire value chain.


Download the statement:

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Breaking: Three community land rights defenders from Kawaala have been arrested.



Old kampala police where defenders were arrested from .

Breaking: Three community land rights defenders from Kawaala have been arrested.

By Witness Radio team

Police at Old Kampala Regional Police Headquarter have arrested three of the six community land rights defenders from Kawaala Zone II, Kampala suburb, and preferred a fraud charge before being released on bond.

Kasozi Paul, Busobolwa Adam, and Kabugo Micheal got arrested on their arrival before being taken inside interrogation rooms. They were questioned from 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM local time and later recorded their statements.

Section 342 of the Penal Code states that forgery is the making of a false document with the intent to defraud or deceive. It carries a three year imprisonment on conviction.

According to lawyers representing victims, defenders are arrested on the orders of the Deputy Resident City Commissioner (RCC) in charge of Rubaga Division Anderson Burora and accused them of fraud.

Resident City Commissioner is a representative of the president in the Capital City at the division level.

The charges are a result of continued resistance by Kawaala community seeking fair compensation and resettlement before Lubigi drainage channel is constructed. Since the first COVID outbreak in 2020, the victim defenders and others have been leading a pushback campaign to stop forced evictions by a multimillion dollars Kampala Institutional and Infrastructure Development Project (KIIDP-2) funded by World Bank. Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) is the implementor of the project.

This project first impacted Kawaala Zone II around 2014, when a channel diversion was constructed. The current planned expansion will widen that channel and require forced evictions across an area at least 70 meters wide and 2.5 km long.

The New Vision, a local daily of June 21st, 2022, quoted Burora accusing Kasozi Paul, one of the community land rights defenders from Kawaala Zone II of being a fraudster.

Witness Radio – Uganda challenges the deputy RCC Burora to produce evidence that pins the defenders on fraud instead of criminalizing the work of defenders.

“We warn Mr. Burora against using police to harass defenders who have openly opposed a project which is causing negative impacts on the community” Adong Sarah, one of the lawyers representing the defenders said.

The defenders got released on police bond as they are expected to report back to the police on Monday, the 18th of July 2022 at 11:00 AM local time.


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Signs of harmful projects with financing from development institutions are spotted in Uganda…



By Witness Radio Team.

The growth of a country is discerned by great leaders and innovators who see opportunities out of darkness and transform their areas from nothing to success. Those are great leaders whose interest is to see the developments in their countries and the well-being of their citizens.

Every single day, countries all over the world receive investors that acquire loans, grants, and donations to implement mega projects that are seemingly expected to develop host countries. countries and investors borrowing the money Often, countries and investors portray how these projects improve the livelihood of the browbeaten, au contraire, they have left many broken families, poor-dirty homesteads, and shattered dreams.

Uganda is one of those countries, whose citizens have paid a price for reckless or unsupervised and profit-led international investment. In a bid to implement its industrial policy, the country has welcomed both foreign and local investors with interests in the fields of extraction, industrial agriculture, carbon credit tree plantation, mining, infrastructural projects, and many others.

It has received billions of dollars from different financiers including commercial banks, Pension Funds, and International Development Finance Banks or institutions, among others. For instance, the World Bank has invested more than 20 Billion Dollars since 1963 and currently

Every project comes with its own chilling story. More often their stories are unheard by the World. Witness Radio – Uganda surveyed some projects in Uganda. This study revealed agony, illegal evictions, abject poverty, environmental degradation, and loss of life among others, as some of the consequences suffered by the would-be beneficiaries of these international funded projects across the country.

In the capital of Uganda, Kampala, over 1750 families were forcefully evicted from a city suburb, Naguru, for Naguru- Nakawa housing estates.  11 years down the road the project that was highly hyped is to take off on the grabbed land. Pleas from the victims of the eviction to regain their land have all fallen on deaf ears.

About 80km away from Kampala is the island district of Kalangala surrounded by the World’s second-largest lake, Victoria, and known for palm growing. When the palm-oil project was introduced to residents they were given the impression that it would improve their livelihoods and create job opportunities.  Instead, it has dumped thousands into poverty after their land was grabbed by BIDCO, a Wilmer international-funded project. People lost land and now work on plantations as casual laborers. The neighboring communities are accusing BIDCO workers of sexual and gender-based violence.

In the South-Western District of Kiryandongo, multinational companies including Agilis Partners Limited, Kiryandongo Sugar Limited, and Great Seasons SMC Limited with funding from The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), The Department for International Development (DFID) of the United Kingdom, and Common Fund for Commodities among other financiers are forcefully evicting more than 35,000 people. The eviction has been on since 2017.

Workers that worked on a World Bank Project in Soroti, in the far east of the country, are accused of sexually harassing minors. Several young girls were defiled and left pregnant. Despite the government being aware of this none of the pedophiles have been brought to book, the World Bank-funded project in the Eastern Town of Soroti left several underage girls defiled and impregnated.

In late 2020, residents of Kawaala zone II woke up to the hail of armed men and graders evicting and destroying their properties to implement a multimillion-dollar project funded by the World Bank. The project is being implemented by the Kampala Capital city Authority (KCCA) on behalf of the government of Uganda.

The above-listed and other projects, on the other hand, continue to perpetuate violence and judicial harassment against leaders of Project Affected Persons (PAPs) and community land and environmental rights defenders because of their work that resists illegal evictions and destruction of the environment among others.

Although project implementers such as government entities accuse local communities of occupying land targeted for projects illegally, in most cases victim communities have rights over these pieces of land because their settlement on the same land can be traced to have happened generations ago.

No matter how people are negatively impacted being by these harmful projects, financiers continue to release more money to the government and investors. The banks aim at profit margins other than the livelihoods of the people. In Bulebi village, Mbazi parish, Mpunge Sub County in Mukono district, Akon’s futuristic city is about to lead to the eviction of over 1000 residents whose entire lives have been built on their land.

In April last year, American rapper Aliaune Damala Badara well known for his stage name AKON visited Uganda in search of land for constructing the city. On the same business trip, he met President Museveni Yoweri Kaguta and expressed his interest in building a futuristic city with its currency. The president ordered the Ministry of Lands, housing, and urban development to look out for free land for his city.

However, on 7th Jan 2022, the Uganda Land Commission showed the Minister for Lands, Housing, and Urban Development “Hon Judith Nabakooba” land that was proposed for the Akon city. According to the Uganda land commission, the land is Freehold Volume 53 Folio 9 measuring I square mile.

This has sparked outrage amongst the affected as they were never consulted or consented to allow the project in their community. According to community members that Witness Radio interviewed, they said they heard the distressing news of Akon city through the Media.

The community said no official from the ministry has ever approached them about their land giveaway. “Our country is full of land evictions and evictors begin in that way. There has been no official coming on the ground to officially inform us about the project and neither have we heard any official communication of compensation.” Obori said.

Residing in the attractive village surrounded by freshwaters, the community asserts this has been the source of livelihood and advised the government to get alternative land for the City.

Controversies surrounding the land giveaway and ownership of the area still exist. A section of residents have protested and vowed not to surrender their land for the City. They claim to have acquired freehold titles from the Mukono lands board.

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