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Corporate Accountability

Corporates count profits from palm oil plantations grown on a grabbed land, as former landowners reduced to a poverty-stricken community…

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Ssalongo Jjuko and his family in front of their wooden house in Kalangala district.

By witnessradio.org Team

Kalangala – Uganda – Sometime in 2011, the crows of cocks and the sweet sound of the Great Blue Turaco that once reminded the residents of Kyabwima village, Mugoye Sub County in Kalangala district of their calling-agriculture, were unusually adulterated.  They initially ignored it, but on stepping their feet out of the households, it dawned on them that it was not something they would wish away like the frightening Bogeyman story that was passed down to hundreds of generations by their ancestors to assist them in making a good choice.

Little did they know, that violent eviction was the common global trait the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) backed oil-palm projects announced their arrival.  “From the Soil to the Pan” is the catchy philosophy for Bidco-Uganda, a beneficiary of the cut-throat financing by the IFAD Oil Palm Plantations.

Whereas the financiers, IFAD, are fronting food security as the “ideal” they intend to achieve, the “targeted beneficiaries” are wallowing in poverty.  The evictees who lost acres of land to a multi-national in an inhumane eviction, hold a different view. To them, the project is a Trojan horse for the primitive accumulation of capital – that has left them landless, hungry, and homeless. The eviction is still fresh in their minds.

“We woke up in the morning seeing graders putting down every structure, all our plantations and we were told to vacate the place. We had nowhere to go and neither were we compensated.” Ssalongo Jjuuko recounts.

This would be the ideal time for Ssalongo and Nalongo Jjuuko to attend to their farm which they had cultivated for more than 10 years.  On the flip side, the former smallholder farmer and the rest of the family are now spectators in the second season of their traditional agricultural calendar. The past month, “Kasumbula” (July) which means to clear the land, is a month in Buganda’s agricultural calendar, has gone to waste.

They cannot come to terms with the fact that they being landless is the reason why they didn’t clear any gardens in preparation for new planting. The family of 8 (eight) that owned 20 acres of farmland and thrived on farming are now caretakers of a 100×100 Ft (A hundred by a hundred feet) offered to them by a good Samaritan in Kasenyi village, a fishing community, as shelter.

The glorious days are now gone but the good memories still linger. The 20 acres piece of land was a gold mine. It comes with certainty but above all food security. Before the eviction. The family grew a variety of food crops. The harvests blessed them with maize, cassava, beans, bananas, and avocados for consumption, and even the luxury to sell.

It should be remembered that following an agreement signed between the Government of Uganda and BIDCO, to increase palm oil production in the country leading to the birth of Oil Palm Uganda Limited (OPUL) was launched in 2002.

Bidco Uganda is a joint venture formed between Wilmar International, Josovina Commodities, and Bidco Oil Refineries, a Kenya-based company. The project is financed by both the government of Uganda and the IFAD. According to the available information, the project also received $12 million in financing from the Government of Uganda and $20 million from IFAD

In 2011, OPUL acquired land leases from a Ugandan businessman, Amos Ssempa, intending to expand its plantations. About 7,500 hectares (18,500 acres) of oil palm have been planted since 2002. OPUL describes the project as part of an initiative to increase vegetable oil production in the country.

According to the residents, their Land Lord Mr. Amos Sempa leased land without their consent. They claim he had a hand in their eviction which allegations he denies. “Yes they were evicted but they have to deal with the company (Bidco- Africa) not me,” he said in an interview with Witness Radio – Uganda research team.

In 2015, the company begrudgingly offered peanuts as compensation. “Just imagine for 20 acres I owned, the company was paying me Uganda Shillings three (3) millions (USD 883), my fellow villagers and I refused to take the little money,” he narrates.

However, when they piled more pressure on it, the multinational adopted the carrot and stick approach. It promised to compensate but set unfair conditions.  They had to vacate their land before the compensation and had to either accept peanuts offered or forget everything about it.  Some of them stormed their offices to convey their dissatisfaction.

A meeting was called, and in the meeting, the company undertook to re-compensate them in three months but all in vain. “They told us to only wait for three months that the amounts would be raised and deposited back on our accounts but up to now I have never seen any,” he painfully recounts.

Since 2011 when they were evicted, his family has never been compensated and its state is worrying. On the other end, and in all its efforts to justify this as a magic bullet to food sovereignty, the renegade to food sovereignty, IFAD, uses glowing language to justify its blind-financing of agri-business.

“We are working to increase the incomes of rural households living in poverty, along with improving their food security and reducing their vulnerability.” Reads part of its statement on an oil-palm project.

On the contrary, the family is starving, and cannot afford what to eat, children do not attend school, medication is also a problem, and provision of all other necessities is a distant dream.

“We eat once in a day, and it is hard to get it, we have no work to do,” Nalongo Jjuuko opens up on their ordeal.

Salongo and Nalongo JJuko who earned more than 3 Million Uganda Shillings (834 US Dollars) from their produce in one season now resorted to collecting palm leaves, crumbs of the IFAD project, which they dry and turn into brooms.

These palm leaves whose broom costs one thousand Uganda shillings do not come on a silver platter. There is a price to pay for them. They have to be on guard against possible arrests.  “You have to time when the workers in the plantations are not there because when they find you, they arrest you and then make money out of you. So you can spend a whole day on a lookout to see if no one is there. On a good day you can earn yourself 2000 to 5000 shillings, about 0.55 to 1.37 dollars,” a struggling Nalongo Jjuuko revealed.

The story of Ssalongo Jjuuko is not different from that of over 100 similar families, similar in Kyabwima village Kalangala district that were evicted to pave way for the palm growing project but failed to move on with the new life.

The families that could feed their families, educate their children and provide all other necessary needs now cannot sustain themselves.

Residents add that they have not received any benefit, which is worth celebrating, from the project. Instead, they are living miserable lives and grappling with malnutrition diseases due to scarcity of food.

“Most of us have failed to secure alternative land for settlement and food production, those that got where to stay, have nowhere to practice farming,” Nalongo Nakirya Dorothy a mother of 7 (seven) paints a picture of the far-reaching effects of the project.

The former RDC of Kalangala district, Mr. Daniel Kikoola, says that the available information proves that residents in his area have not benefited from the project

“People who had enough food and even could sell off some have been reduced to beggars in their own country yet the oil palm giants are making profits, this is wrong and the government must stop it,” Mr. Kikoola explains with a crestfallen tone.

The scarcity of food has also spiked food-related theft on the island. The Local Council One, Vice-Chairman Kasenyi village, Mrs. Namutebi Vicky, says that food theft in her area has increased. “About 8-10 cases in a month are reported to us,” she shares.

When the Bidco community liaison officer, Mr. Kizito Ssentongo, was contacted he insisted that they paid for everyone’s land. “Their land was valued and paid, those who refused the money should wait.”

That waiting has continued to bite. No one knows, including IFAD, when the poor farmers like Salongo Jjuko will be adequately compensated, and yet everyone, including IFAD, is certain that nothing will stop the “godfather of modern agri-business” (IFAD) from sinking more money because the profitability of these loans is more appealing.

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Corporate Accountability

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

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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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Corporate Accountability

Breaking: over 350,000 acres of land were grabbed during Witness Radio – Uganda’s seven months ban.

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By Witness Radio Team.

As the onslaught on civil society heightens, its space continues to shrink which has bearing on the services they render to the communities. Witness Radio, was among the 54 organizations suspended by Uganda’s National Bureau for Nongovernmental Organizations on August 20th, 2021. The actions are amongst the recent forms of attack on civil societies in Uganda. Other numerous attacks include arrests of rights activists, harassment, tortures, and office- break-ins at night by security operatives who move away with valuables.

The effects of this suspension were felt by communities facing land grabs across the country. For seven months while the organization was suspended, over 300,000 people were evicted from their land and couldn’t access specialized and prompt legal assistance.

Witness Radio Uganda, globally known for its campaign against community land-grabs couldn’t assist these victims of land grab since it risked facing further sanctions from the Bureau in case it intervened. However, last week, there was some relief, when Uganda’s National Bureau for NGOs lifted suspension and certified its operation.

According to Mrs. Bulyerali Joan, the Head Legal at Witness Radio – Uganda, the organization conducted a review of the evictions that happened during the suspension. With information and assistance from some lawyers, local journalists, and community land and environmental rights defenders across the country, the evictions watchdog was able to document cases of hundreds of thousands of Ugandans that were either forcefully evicted or received threats of evictions while in its limbo.

The ban imposed on Witness Radio coupled with the disruptive impacts of COVID- 19 resulted in the surge of eviction cases, especially in areas where the organization had a presence. Throughout the ban, without access to swift and prompt legal support, the communities resorted to sharing with the world their ordeal.

She further noted that the evictions were conducted in disregard of the law on evictions. “I was shocked to see powerful people and companies take advantage of our suspension to escalate the evictions of vulnerable communities that received our assistance. The evictions did not comply with the land eviction practice directives. None of them was preceded by legal court orders.”  She noted.

According to the Land Eviction directives, issued by the former Chief Justice of Uganda, Bart Katureebe, evictions shall be preceded by valid court order, properly identifying the persons taking part in the eviction, and upon presentation of formal authorizations. The police and local authority of the area shall be notified and shall be present to witness the evictions, among others.

Based on the data gathered by the team, various communities across the country were left dispossessed by land grabbers without any form of assistance. Others have received threatening messages with intentions of dispossessing them off their land.

During the period under review, over 300,000 people across the country are believed to have been threatened with evictions, while 350,000 acres of land were either grabbed or on verge of being grabbed.

“However much, we gathered this information, we expect the cases to be higher because some evictions go unreported either due to the remoteness of the areas or other related factors.” One of the collaborators observed.

The evictions were extremely violent.  They were characterized by kidnaps, arrests and detentions, torture that often-caused unexpected grief to the communities.

Among the most affected districts include Kyankwanzi, Mubende, Kassanda, Hoima, Buikwe, Wakiso, Kikuube, and Bulambuli districts.

In some of the mentioned districts, the Lands, Housing, and Urban Development Minister toured and halted the evictions but the evictors continued unabated.

Mr. Kimazi Experito, a journalist based in Mubende, attributed the rise of evictions to the organization’s suspension which denied the evictions-affected communities access to specialized legal assistance.

He said Witness Radio has offered support to over 20 land-grab-affected communities in Mubende with legal support. “Witness radio is a game-changer that brought back lives of evicted communities to normal,” he lauded.

“Mubende is one of the fastest-growing areas because of gold and other minerals as well as factors related to fertile soils. Currently, it is one of the hotspots of evictions. Opportunists used this chance to grab land from people with full attention. Without the defenders, it’s often hard for people to get justice since local people are not much informed about land laws.” Kimazi explained.

Engineered by powerful people in public offices, multinational companies, and politicians using state machinery including the army and national police, forced evictions to continue to affect food sovereignty and threaten the role of indigenous communities to protect the environment.

During the same period, President Yoweri Museveni stopped any eviction without the approval of the Resident District Commissioners. However, legal experts warned that the move is to usurp the powers of the Judiciary. In a statement signed by Pheona Nabasa Wall, the Uganda Law Society President noted that the directive undermined the role and independence of courts in handling eviction matters.

That notwithstanding, “Occasionally, the residents are not given any opportunity to negotiate with the landlords. Even when the government obliges to pay landowners, neither does the government nor the evictor compensate for the damaged property. During evictions, properties that were made for their life end up being destroyed in seconds which causes lifetime misery.” Paul Kasoozi, a community land rights defender stated.

With different tactics aimed at alienating the poor from their land, it has been established that the police and the army continued to play a huge role in the largest forms of violent evictions through torture, arbitrary arrests, and detention and instilling fear and pressurizing the local communities to vacate their land on orders of the evictors.

Many of those community members who oppose land evictions end up being kidnapped, tortured, or arrested and detained to silence the community. It takes support from an organization defending communities’ land rights to intervene for such communities to get justice.

Days before the lifting of the suspension imposed on Witness Radio, communities neighboring the Katta Barracks in Bulambuli district, were violently evicted by the Uganda People’s Defense Forces under the alleged command of Lieutenant Colonel Mukiibi Julius without offering alternative resettlement.

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Corporate Accountability

Small-scale farmers and Indigenous groups say big ag offers only false and self-interested solutions

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A member of a farming cooperative working in a field near Divo, Ivory Coast. Most of the world’s food is still raised by small farmers

Hundreds of civil society groups, academics and social movements are boycotting the first UN global food summit amid growing anger that the agenda has been hijacked by an opaque web of corporate interests.

Called the people’s summit by UN organisers, groups representing thousands of small-scale farmers and Indigenous communities, which produce 70% of the world’s food through sustainable agriculture, are among those to withdraw from Thursday’s event saying their knowledge and experience has been ignored.

The declaration, signed by about 600 groups and individuals, states: “[We] reject the ongoing corporate colonization of food systems and food governance under the facade of the United Nations Food Systems Summit … The struggle for sustainable, just and healthy food systems cannot be unhooked from the realities of the peoples whose rights, knowledge and livelihoods have gone unrecognized and disrespected.”

Some have criticized the prominence of corporations, such as Nestlé, Tyson and Bayer, in the summit’s efforts to identify food system solutions.

About 90 world leaders are expected to attend the summit in New York, with at least 130 countries making pledges on issues like free school meals, reducing food waste, healthy eating, biodata and carbon capture.

The summit, which has taken two years and millions of dollars to organise, was convened ostensibly to garner political commitment to help deliver the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) amid growing public criticism of the food industry’s contribution to hunger, malnutrition and obesity, as well as environmental destruction, biodiversity loss and climate chaos.

It was billed as a landmark initiative in which the UN would act as the broker gathering views from a wide range of experts – academics, NGOs, philanthropic donors, farmers, community and Indigenous groups, corporations and business associations – to generate sustainable and equitable solutions.

Yet critics say the role and responsibility of transnational corporations – which dominate every part of the food system, from seeds and pesticides to slaughterhouses, breweries and supermarkets – has not been adequately addressed. Nor have human rights or the pandemic, despite the fact it led to a huge rise in global food insecurity and exposed severe vulnerabilities in the global supply chain.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to a shortage of essential foods in Sri Lanka. People formed long lines to buy food at a state-run store in Colombo.
The Covid-19 pandemic led to a shortage of essential foods in Sri Lanka. People formed long lines to buy food at a state-run store in Colombo. Photograph: Chamila Karunarathne/EPA

“The audacity of the UN to keep calling this a people’s summit even as it continues to lose support is arrogant, [as is] pointing to my participation without listening to any of the substantive things I’ve said,” said Michael Fakhri, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food and adviser to the summit.

Fakhri and those boycotting the summit say the UN has given the private sector a dominant role in almost every part of the summit, which will lead to transnational corporations and their allies in the non-profit and philanthropy sectors having greater scope to direct food policies, financing and governance.

As a result, they say solutions will be market-led, piecemeal, voluntary and heavily weighted towards increasing food production through capital investments, big data and proprietary technologies. Critics say that this approach will enable a handful of corporations and individuals to expand control over the global food system to the further detriment of the vast majority of people and the planet.

“The UN has provided a cover of legitimacy for corporations to capture the narrative and deflate public pressure – it has not been an honest broker,” said Sofia Monsalve, secretary general of the Food First Information and Action Network (FIAN), a research and advocacy organization based in Germany.

“The refusal to discuss major issues like concentration in every part of the food system, corporate land grabs, taxation and accountability for human rights means the summit will fail,” Monsalve added.

According to the special rapporteur Fakhri, it took months to persuade organizers to include human rights in discussions, and even then the right to food appears only in the margins. “We see the same corporate players who have caused irreparable damage to our health, climate and environment trying to create a new game, gain more influence and carve out new economic opportunities.”

Agnes Kalibata, special envoy to the summit, vehemently rejected the criticisms. She told the Guardian that farmers, youth groups and academics have been represented in unprecedented numbers, and that those boycotting the event spoke for issues not people. “The summit is not about corporates [sic], it’s about working together to transform the food system and deliver on the SDGs, which are built on human rights … every country has engaged, people were invited and listened to,” she said. “If Michael Fakhri really disagreed, why did he stay?”

But a new analysis published on the eve of the summit suggests non-corporate participants have been sidelined in favour of big corporations represented by and allied with business associations, non-profits and philanthropy groups.

For instance, the summit is broken down into five areas known as action tracks. Those tasked with coming up with solutions to “boost nature positive production”(action track 3) include a single Indigenous group but 26 private sector corporations such as Nestlé, Tyson, Bayer and the International Fertilizer Association, according to the research commissioned by a global grassroots campaign opposing the corporate focus.

Yet about 80% of the planet’s remaining biodiversity is located on the territories on Indigenous peoples, who have practised sustainable agriculture for millennia and who along with small-scale farmers are at the forefront in developing agroecology – sustainable modern farming practices that work with nature and communities rather than exploiting them.

Nettie Wiebe from La Via Campesina, a global peasant movement representing small farmers, rural workers and Indigenous farmers, said her organisation withdrew and started organising against the summit because it was “deeply undemocratic, unaccountable and dismissive of those without wealth and power”.

“The big ag solutions being promoted undermine what the vast majority of the world’s food producers are trying to do to protect the environment and cool down the climate so that there is hope for the future.”

The analysis also found that influential business associations, thinktanks and philanthropies which represent, finance and promote corporate interests in sectors like agriculture, retail and finance, were given important leadership roles.

The World Economic Forum, a corporate-funded transnational organization of business, political, intellectual and civil society leaders (popularly known as Davos), has played a driving role in the summit while working to unlock $90tn in new investments and infrastructure. So has the World Business Council on Sustainable Development – an international CEO-led coalition promoting the idea that corporations and wealthy elites can solve climate change and environmental degradation caused by extractivism.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a strong advocate of biotech-based solutions for food insecurity, is linked to several summit participants with corporate ties. It co-founded and helps fund the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra), which promotes the spread of industrialized agriculture in the continent. The president of Agra, which has close ties to the agrochemical industry, is the summit’s special envoy, Kalibata.

“This corporate juggernaut must be stopped, or we risk deepening environmental injustice and human rights violations,” said Kirtana Chandrasekaran, co-author of the report and food sovereignty programme coordinator at Friends of the Earth International. “Hiding behind their associations and business platforms, powerful corporate actors are directing policymaking, financing, narratives and science in the summit … agribusiness, fossil fuel and tech giants are promoting market-led false solutions that are designed to increase profits and tighten their stranglehold on food systems.”

Kalibata denied that grassroots groups and poor countries have struggled to be heard and said the private sector was vital to solving the crises in the food system. “I want them to fix the problems they are causing – we need their help with solutions.”

Original source: THEGUARDIAN.   

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