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How food and water are driving a 21st-century African land grab



A woman tends vegetables at a giant Saudi-financed farm in Ethiopia.

An Observer investigation reveals how rich countries faced by a global food shortage now farm an area double the size of the UK to guarantee supplies for their citizens.

We turned off the main road to Awassa, talked our way past security guards and drove a mile across empty land before we found what will soon be Ethiopia’s largest greenhouse. Nestling below an escarpment of the Rift Valley, the development is far from finished, but the plastic and steel structure already stretches over 20 hectares – the size of 20 football pitches.

The farm manager shows us millions of tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables being grown in 500m rows in computer controlled conditions. Spanish engineers are building the steel structure, Dutch technology minimises water use from two bore-holes and 1,000 women pick and pack 50 tonnes of food a day. Within 24 hours, it has been driven 200 miles to Addis Ababa and flown 1,000 miles to the shops and restaurants of Dubai, Jeddah and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Ethiopia is one of the hungriest countries in the world with 2.8 million people needing food aid, but paradoxically the government is offering at least 3m hectares of its most fertile land to rich countries and some of the world’s most wealthy individuals to export food for their own populations.

The 1,000 hectares of land which contain the Awassa greenhouses are leased for 99 years to a Saudi billionaire businessman, Ethiopian-born Sheikh Mohammed al-Amoudi, one of the 50 richest men in the world. His Saudi Star company plans to spend up to $2bn acquiring and developing 500,000 hectares of land in Ethiopia in the next few years. So far, it has bought four farms and is already growing wheat, rice, vegetables and flowers for the Saudi market. It expects eventually to employ more than 10,000 people.

But Ethiopia is only one of 20 or more African countries where land is being bought or leased for intensive agriculture on an immense scale in what may be the greatest change of ownership since the colonial era.

An Observer investigation estimates that up to 50m hectares of land – an area more than double the size of the UK – has been acquired in the last few years or is in the process of being negotiated by governments and wealthy investors working with state subsidies. The data used was collected by Grain, the International Institute for Environment and Development, the International Land Coalition, ActionAid and other non-governmental groups.

The land rush, which is still accelerating, has been triggered by the worldwide food shortages which followed the sharp oil price rises in 2008, growing water shortages and the European Union’s insistence that 10% of all transport fuel must come from plant-based biofuels by 2015.

In many areas the deals have led to evictions, civil unrest and complaints of “land grabbing”.

The experience of Nyikaw Ochalla, an indigenous Anuak from the Gambella region of Ethiopia now living in Britain but who is in regular contact with farmers in his region, is typical. He said: “All of the land in the Gambella region is utilised. Each community has and looks after its own territory and the rivers and farmlands within it. It is a myth propagated by the government and investors to say that there is waste land or land that is not utilised in Gambella.

“The foreign companies are arriving in large numbers, depriving people of land they have used for centuries. There is no consultation with the indigenous population. The deals are done secretly. The only thing the local people see is people coming with lots of tractors to invade their lands.

“All the land round my family village of Illia has been taken over and is being cleared. People now have to work for an Indian company. Their land has been compulsorily taken and they have been given no compensation. People cannot believe what is happening. Thousands of people will be affected and people will go hungry.”

It is not known if the acquisitions will improve or worsen food security in Africa, or if they will stimulate separatist conflicts, but a major World Bank report due to be published this month is expected to warn of both the potential benefits and the immense dangers they represent to people and nature.

Leading the rush are international agribusinesses, investment banks, hedge funds, commodity traders, sovereign wealth funds as well as UK pension funds, foundations and individuals attracted by some of the world’s cheapest land.

Together they are scouring Sudan, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Malawi, Ethiopia, Congo, Zambia, Uganda, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Mali, Sierra Leone, Ghana and elsewhere. Ethiopia alone has approved 815 foreign-financed agricultural projects since 2007. Any land there, which investors have not been able to buy, is being leased for approximately $1 per year per hectare.

Saudi Arabia, along with other Middle Eastern emirate states such as Qatar, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi, is thought to be the biggest buyer. In 2008 the Saudi government, which was one of the Middle East’s largest wheat-growers, announced it was to reduce its domestic cereal production by 12% a year to conserve its water. It earmarked $5bn to provide loans at preferential rates to Saudi companies which wanted to invest in countries with strong agricultural potential .

Meanwhile, the Saudi investment company Foras, backed by the Islamic Development Bank and wealthy Saudi investors, plans to spend $1bn buying land and growing 7m tonnes of rice for the Saudi market within seven years. The company says it is investigating buying land in Mali, Senegal, Sudan and Uganda. By turning to Africa to grow its staple crops, Saudi Arabia is not just acquiring Africa’s land but is securing itself the equivalent of hundreds of millions of gallons of scarce water a year. Water, says the UN, will be the defining resource of the next 100 years.

Since 2008 Saudi investors have bought heavily in Sudan, Egypt, Ethiopia and Kenya. Last year the first sacks of wheat grown in Ethiopia for the Saudi market were presented by al-Amoudi to King Abdullah.

Some of the African deals lined up are eye-wateringly large: China has signed a contract with the Democratic Republic of Congo to grow 2.8m hectares of palm oil for biofuels. Before it fell apart after riots, a proposed 1.2m hectares deal between Madagascar and the South Korean company Daewoo would have included nearly half of the country’s arable land.

Land to grow biofuel crops is also in demand. “European biofuel companies have acquired or requested about 3.9m hectares in Africa. This has led to displacement of people, lack of consultation and compensation, broken promises about wages and job opportunities,” said Tim Rice, author of an ActionAid report which estimates that the EU needs to grow crops on 17.5m hectares, well over half the size of Italy, if it is to meet its 10% biofuel target by 2015.

“The biofuel land grab in Africa is already displacing farmers and food production. The number of people going hungry will increase,” he said. British firms have secured tracts of land in Angola, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Nigeria and Tanzania to grow flowers and vegetables.

Indian companies, backed by government loans, have bought or leased hundreds of thousands of hectares in Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Senegal and Mozambique, where they are growing rice, sugar cane, maize and lentils to feed their domestic market.

Nowhere is now out of bounds. Sudan, emerging from civil war and mostly bereft of development for a generation, is one of the new hot spots. South Korean companies last year bought 700,000 hectares of northern Sudan for wheat cultivation; the United Arab Emirates have acquired 750,000 hectares and Saudi Arabia last month concluded a 42,000-hectare deal in Nile province.

The government of southern Sudan says many companies are now trying to acquire land. “We have had many requests from many developers. Negotiations are going on,” said Peter Chooli, director of water resources and irrigation, in Juba last week. “A Danish group is in discussions with the state and another wants to use land near the Nile.”

In one of the most extraordinary deals, buccaneering New York investment firm Jarch Capital, run by a former commodities trader, Philip Heilberg, has leased 800,000 hectares in southern Sudan near Darfur. Heilberg has promised not only to create jobs but also to put 10% or more of his profits back into the local community. But he has been accused by Sudanese of “grabbing” communal land and leading an American attempt to fragment Sudan and exploit its resources.

Devlin Kuyek, a Montreal-based researcher with Grain, said investing in Africa was now seen as a new food supply strategy by many governments. “Rich countries are eyeing Africa not just for a healthy return on capital, but also as an insurance policy. Food shortages and riots in 28 countries in 2008, declining water supplies, climate change and huge population growth have together made land attractive. Africa has the most land and, compared with other continents, is cheap,” he said.

“Farmland in sub-Saharan Africa is giving 25% returns a year and new technology can treble crop yields in short time frames,” said Susan Payne, chief executive of Emergent Asset Management, a UK investment fund seeking to spend $50m on African land, which, she said, was attracting governments, corporations, multinationals and other investors. “Agricultural development is not only sustainable, it is our future. If we do not pay great care and attention now to increase food production by over 50% before 2050, we will face serious food shortages globally,” she said.

But many of the deals are widely condemned by both western non-government groups and nationals as “new colonialism”, driving people off the land and taking scarce resources away from people.

We met Tegenu Morku, a land agent, in a roadside cafe on his way to the region of Oromia in Ethiopia to find 500 hectares of land for a group of Egyptian investors. They planned to fatten cattle, grow cereals and spices and export as much as possible to Egypt. There had to be water available and he expected the price to be about 15 birr (75p) per hectare per year – less than a quarter of the cost of land in Egypt and a tenth of the price of land in Asia.

“The land and labour is cheap and the climate is good here. Everyone – Saudis, Turks, Chinese, Egyptians – is looking. The farmers do not like it because they get displaced, but they can find land elsewhere and, besides, they get compensation, equivalent to about 10 years’ crop yield,” he said.

Oromia is one of the centres of the African land rush. Haile Hirpa, president of the Oromia studies’ association, said last week in a letter of protest to UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon that India had acquired 1m hectares, Djibouti 10,000 hectares, Saudi Arabia 100,000 hectares, and that Egyptian, South Korean, Chinese, Nigerian and other Arab investors were all active in the state.

“This is the new, 21st-century colonisation. The Saudis are enjoying the rice harvest, while the Oromos are dying from man-made famine as we speak,” he said.

The Ethiopian government denied the deals were causing hunger and said that the land deals were attracting hundreds of millions of dollars of foreign investments and tens of thousands of jobs. A spokesman said: “Ethiopia has 74m hectares of fertile land, of which only 15% is currently in use – mainly by subsistence farmers. Of the remaining land, only a small percentage – 3 to 4% – is offered to foreign investors. Investors are never given land that belongs to Ethiopian farmers. The government also encourages Ethiopians in the diaspora to invest in their homeland. They bring badly needed technology, they offer jobs and training to Ethiopians, they operate in areas where there is suitable land and access to water.”

The reality on the ground is different, according to Michael Taylor, a policy specialist at the International Land Coalition. “If land in Africa hasn’t been planted, it’s probably for a reason. Maybe it’s used to graze livestock or deliberately left fallow to prevent nutrient depletion and erosion. Anybody who has seen these areas identified as unused understands that there is no land in Ethiopia that has no owners and users.”

Development experts are divided on the benefits of large-scale, intensive farming. Indian ecologist Vandana Shiva said in London last week that large-scale industrial agriculture not only threw people off the land but also required chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, fertilisers, intensive water use, and large-scale transport, storage and distribution which together turned landscapes into enormous mono-cultural plantations.

“We are seeing dispossession on a massive scale. It means less food is available and local people will have less. There will be more conflict and political instability and cultures will be uprooted. The small farmers of Africa are the basis of food security. The food availability of the planet will decline,” she says. But Rodney Cooke, director at the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development, sees potential benefits. “I would avoid the blanket term ‘land-grabbing’. Done the right way, these deals can bring benefits for all parties and be a tool for development.”

Lorenzo Cotula, senior researcher with the International Institute for Environment and Development, who co-authored a report on African land exchanges with the UN fund last year, found that well-structured deals could guarantee employment, better infrastructures and better crop yields. But badly handled they could cause great harm, especially if local people were excluded from decisions about allocating land and if their land rights were not protected.

Water is also controversial. Local government officers in Ethiopia told the Observer that foreign companies that set up flower farms and other large intensive farms were not being charged for water. “We would like to, but the deal is made by central government,” said one. In Awassa, the al-Amouni farm uses as much water a year as 100,000 Ethiopians.

• This article was amended on 22 March 2011. Owing to an editing error the original said that more than 13 million people in Ethiopia need food aid. This has been corrected.

Original Post: The Guardian

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Banks have given almost $7tn to fossil fuel firms since Paris deal, report reveals



Among world’s top 60 banks those in US are biggest fossil fuel financiers, while Barclays leads way in Europe.

The world’s big banks have handed nearly $7tn (£5.6tn) in funding to the fossil fuel industry since the Paris agreement to limit carbon emissions, according to research.

In 2016, after talks in Paris, 196 countries signed an agreement to limit global heating as a result of carbon emissions to at most 2C above preindustrial levels, with an ideal limit of 1.5C to prevent the worst impacts of a drastically changed climate.

Many countries have since promised to reduce carbon emissions, but the latest research shows private interests continued to funnel money to oil, gas and coal companies, which have used it to expand their operations.

Eight in 10 of the world’s most eminent climate scientists now foresee at least 2.5C of global heating, according to the results of a Guardian survey published last week – an outcome expected to lead to devastating consequences for civilisation.

Researchers for the banking on climate chaos report, now in its 15th edition, analysed the world’s top 60 banks’ underwriting and lending to more than 4,200 fossil fuel firms and companies causing the degradation of the Amazon and Arctic.

Those banks, they found, gave $6.9tn in financing to oil, coal and gas companies, nearly half of which – $3.3tn – went towards fossil fuel expansion. Even in 2023, two years after many large banks vowed to work towards lowering emissions as part of the Net Zero Banking Alliance, bank finance for fossil fuel companies was $705bn, with $347bn going towards expansion, the report says.

US banks were the biggest financiers of the fossil fuel industry, contributing 30% of the total $705bn provided in 2023, the report found. JP Morgan Chase gave the most of any bank in the world, providing $40.8bn to fossil fuel companies in 2023, while Bank of America came in third. The world’s second biggest financier of fossil fuels was the Japanese bank Mizuho, which provided $37.1bn.

London-based Barclays was Europe’s biggest fossil fuel financier, with $24.2bn, followed by Spain’s Santander at $14.5bn and Germany’s Deutsche Bank with $13.4bn. Overall, European banks stumped up just over a quarter of the total fossil fuel financing in 2023, according to the report.

Tom BK Goldtooth, the executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, which co-authored the study, said: “Financiers and investors of fossil fuels continue to light the flame of the climate crisis. Paired with generations of colonialism, the fossil fuel industry and banking institutions’ investment in false solutions create unlivable conditions for all living relatives and humanity on Mother Earth.

“As Indigenous peoples, we remain on the frontlines of the climate catastrophe, and the fossil fuel industry targets our lands and territories as sacrifice zones to continue their extraction. Capitalism and its extraction-based economy will only perpetuate more harm and destruction against our Mother Earth and it must come to an end.”

Critics of the report said its methodology, which relied on investigating deals reported by financial market data companies such as Bloomberg and Refinitiv, meant researchers did not have a detailed view of what was being financed, and by whom.

Specifically, syndicated loans, bond issues and underwriting arrangements often involved several banks with varying levels of exposure. And financing to fossil fuel companies to fund transition technology projects could not be distinguished from financing for new oil wells, they said.

Spokespeople for Barclays, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Deutsche Bank and Santander all emphasised that their organisations were supporting energy sector clients’ transitions toward more sustainable business models. Mizuho declined a request for comment.

Source: the

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Minority tribes demand inclusion into national setup



JINJA | A group of the minority tribes have ramped up advocacy for a constitutional amendment seeking to be officially recognition as citizens of Uganda.

Members of the Ik ethnic minority tribes say they find difficulty to access essential government documents like land titles, national identification cards, passports coupled with hardship to access social services.

Uganda is home to a number of minority groups spread in different districts, some of these tribes are not legally recognised in the laws of the land

They are advocating for recognition through a constitutional amendment, since they can’t access some government programs and important documents of the land like national IDs, passports and land tittles.

Daniel Lokolo, a member of the IK community in Kabong District, says they find challenges in land ownership, since they live in forests and the laws of Uganda grant all forests rights to National Forestry Authority hence many of them have been evicted by government agencies like Uganda wildlife Authority and NFA yet forests have been their ancestral land since their origin.

“For generations we have been staying in mountains and forests but during demarcations by government agencies, they categorise our land as gazetted areas hence we can’t get lamd tittles on our land,” he said.

He added their great grand parents lived in forests for security reasons because they would evade attacks from Karamojangs and Turkana.

Stephanie Adupa, from the Tepeth/Soo community and the coordinator of Karamoja indigenous minority group, predicted their extinction if government doesn’t intervene.

“We the Soo of Mount Moroto we were evicted by government agencies and also the majority Karimojong also invaded our land hence we have nowhere to stay,” she said.

Chris Lopeyok Karenga, a civil rights activist and a member of the Mening group in Karamoja says minority groups should be catered for in terms of representation at different levels of government, including Sub County, district to Parliament.

“We also need our voices to be heard but we have no representatives at all levels, hence we want government to consider it,” he said

Paska Kerisha, from the Department of Peace and Justice in Moroto Catholic Diocese, says because minority groups are always isolated, they live in hard to reach areas like mountains and forests therefore, access to social services is still a challenge.

“For example, in Moroto, we have the Tepeth who live in the mountains, you find that their children face difficulties to access schools in lower areas, even medical services are inaccessible which has increased mortality rate of pregnant mothers and infant mortality in the communities,” she said.

During a stakeholders meeting in Jinja, officials from National Planning Authority said they working on modalities to ensure all their demands are catered for.

Sylvia Ngeyi, the coordinator of African Peer Review Commission, said they held a study in 2018 and some of their findings indicated that they the indigenous minority communities are facing a number of historical challenges hence government is coming up with strategies to address their challenges

Emmanuel Katumba, the head of Commission African Peer Review Commission, revealed that their findings indicate that majority of the minority groups are missing out on government programmes but they’re doing proper documentation and validation thereafter solutions shall be found.

He encourages the minority groups to embrace the forthcoming mass population and housing census where their details shall be captured accurately and they will be catered for in all spheres of life.

Notable among the marginalised tribes include Ik, Tepeth, Soo, Banyala, Batwa among others, whereas some are recognised in the constitution majority are not included.


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Trees for Global Benefits: “Climate neutral” burgers in Sweden. Starvation in Uganda



The Swedish fast food chain Max Burgers AB claims to have had more than three million trees planted in the tropics. “Planting trees is an effective way to remove carbon dioxide,” the company states on its website. “Since 2018, MAX has been funding trees that capture the equivalent of 110% of our entire value chain’s greenhouse gas emissions.”

But a new investigation by Staffan Lindberg in the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet reveals that some of the farmers in Uganda who planted trees for Max Burgers carbon credits are now cutting down the trees and making them into charcoal. The farmers faced starvation, because the trees were planted on their farmland.

Max Burgers buys carbon credits from a project in Uganda called Trees for Global Benefits, that has been running since 2003. The project is managed by a Ugandan organisation called Ecotrust.

Under the scheme, farmers plant trees on their land and receive income from the sales of carbon credits. It is certified under the Plan Vivo standard.

According to the Plan Vivo website,

The project operates as a market-based solution that reduces unsustainable exploitation of forest resources and the decline of ecosystem quality, while diversifying and increasing incomes for rural farmers and their families.

In 2013, the project won an award from SEED, which was founded by UNEP, UNDP, and IUCN. In a video produced by SEED, Pauline Nantongo Kalunda, the executive director of Ecotrust, says, “The main objective of this enterprise is to combine carbon sequestration activity with livelihoods improvements.”

Kalunda is on the Board of Trustees of Plan Vivo.


The hunger forest

Lindberg calls the Ecotrust project the “hunger forest”. Ecotrust persuaded farmers to plant trees on land where they grew crops. But the farmers had only small areas of land. When the trees took over the land, the farmers could no longer grow food for their families.

The Aftonbladet investigation is not the first critique of the Trees for Global Benefits project. In 2017, Elina Andersson and Wim Carton from Lund University wrote a study that highlights problems with the project. “Our study shows that there is widespread confusion among farmers about what the project is basically about,” Andersson and Carton write.

Farmers did not know who was buying the carbon credits.

One farmer said,

They do not have many benefits, these carbon trees. They are not easily grown and they take time. I had to replace so many of them because they dried out. They started to dry from the top and then they refused to grow. I wouldn’t plant these trees again, but rather eucalyptus and maybe some fruit trees.

Farmers had to pay the full cost of replacing damaged and dead trees, regardless of whether the trees were damaged by fire, vandalism, insects, or wild animals.

Andersson and Carton write about the “flawed basis on which the local population had the opportunity to make informed decisions regarding participation” in the tree planting project.

Contracts were written in English which few of the villagers speak.

Almost all the farmers they spoke to said they did not know how much compensation they would receive from the project. One farmer told Andersson and Carton that,

People planted trees before they knew how much they would get. And they did not negotiate the price with the buyers. So they don’t know if they got all their money, or if they just got half of it. If you tell prices in terms of percentage, how can an old man understand? They are not giving the correct information. transparency is lacking. Most people don’t even know what they are selling.

Lack of land is a major problem in the project area, Andersson and Carton note, particularly among the poorest households.

“It cannot be ruled out that,” they write, “through the project, poor small farmers risk being locked into a type of land use for a long time that reduces their ability to adapt to deal with temporary crises as well as long-term changes, which in the worst case can mean long-term negative effects on their life situation.”

They also note that payments from Ecotrust are often greatly delayed or not received at all.

In 2019, an article in the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter took a critical look at the Trees for Global Benefits project.

And in 2022, Global Forest Coalition published a report about the project with the title, “A case study on the failures of carbon offsetting”. The researchers spoke to more than 100 community members. They write that,

The clear message from all communities was that the project was not delivering its promised benefits, and participants were growing increasingly bitter and desperate.

The lead author of the report was David Kureeba, a programme officer with Friends of the Earth Uganda.

The report concludes that the Trees for Global Benefits project “is one of a growing number of global greenwashing exercises that are not only failing to reduce the amount of carbon being released into the atmosphere but also inflicting adverse environmental, social, and economic impacts on the local communities involved”.

“A chance to earn money”

Aftenbladet’s journalist Staffan Lindberg and photographer Niclas Hammarström travel to the project area in Uganda. There they find farmers cutting down the trees, to sell them as charcoal.

A farmer called Samuel Byarugaba tells Lindberg that a man from Ecotrust turned up eight years ago. He said Ecotrust could offer the family a chance to earn money.

Samuel signed the contract despite having only two acres of land, and the fact that all his land was being used to grow food. He didn’t receive a copy of the contract. The man from Ecotrust later showed him how to plant the trees, seven metres apart. That was the only education he received about tree planting.

After three years, the trees formed a canopy over the food crops. The trees took the light, the water, and the nutrients. Samuel’s sweet potatoes and bananas died. Nothing could grow under the trees. Samuel, his wife, and 15 children and grandchildren were without food.

He tells Lindberg,

“I used to be something called a model farmer. People came to me to learn about farming and I was proud to show our farm. We had enough food to eat our fill and were able to sell the excess. Now everything disappeared.”

The first payment from Ecotrust should have come in the first year. When it arrived, one year later, it was equivalent to a little more than US$100. Enough for a couple of weeks of food.

Samuel has only received two more payments of the same amount since then. He has been forced to beg from relatives for his family to survive.

Lindberg reports that now he’s cutting all the trees down. He will plant bananas and sweet potatoes again.

“My children have no food”

Rosset Kyampaire is a widow, and mother of four. She has only one acre of land. Ecotrust still persuaded her to sign the contract.

She planted 200 trees on her land. After two years, the beans and cassava withered. After three years, she had no harvest at all.

After eight years, she has received no money from Ecotrust. Instead she got excuses: “This is how white people work,” and “Have patience,” and “It will arrive later this year.”

To survive, she has to work as a day labourer on other people’s farms. She earns less than US$1.5 a day. It’s not enough.

“I am so stressed,” Rosset tells Lindberg. “My children have no food.”

She has already started cutting down the trees. “It’s my only chance,” she says.

Where is the food? Look around, where is it?

Jorum Baslina is a local leader in the village of Kigaaga. He also joined the project. “Ecotrust just wants to grow as many trees as possible,” he tells Lindberg. “They urge us: plant more!”

Jorum says there is no transparency. Ecotrust did not tell the farmers how much they would receive, or why the money has not been paid. He shows Lindberg a contract, written in English, and says that,

Many here can barely write their own names. And almost no one knows English. Why don’t we get the agreement in our own language? And why doesn’t it say how much we should get?

Jorum has acted as a spokesperson for other people involved in Ecotrust’s project. He says that of the 100 farmers he’s in contact with, only six or seven are happy with the project and they had unused land to plant on and were the first to join.

“The rest of us are much poorer than before,” Jorum tells Lindberg. “Almost everyone has started cutting down the trees or is planning to do so. Where is the food? Look around, where is it?”

“We are starving”

Ecotrust came to Herbert Rukundo’s farm nine years ago and promised that the trees would bring money, every year. Herbert tells Lindberg that,

We dreamed of being able to keep the children in school and maybe rebuild the house a little so that it was beautiful, even buying a motorcycle to drive to church. Instead we were forced to starve. Now we’ve chopped it all down and turned it into charcoal.

Last year, Herbert cut down all his trees. Not long afterwards, the coordinator from Ecotrust visited his farm and accused Herbert of breach of contract. The Ecotrust coordinator threatened that if Herbert did not replant all the trees he would have to face the police and prison.

Hubert replied that as things are, “We are starving.”

Hubert tells Lindberg that Ecotrust didn’t want to listen. “Now I can’t sleep at night,” he says.

Mauda Twinomngisha wanted to send her three daughters to university. “I wanted them to have a better life than me and my husband had. It was for their future that we signed up,” she tells Lindberg.

But when the food disappeared, she had to take the girls out of school. All three have been married off as child brides, aged 14, 15, and 16.

Two years ago, Mauda decided to cut down the trees. “Then a woman from Ecotrust came here,” she tells Lindberg. The woman was very angry. She told Mauda to remove her bananas and plant trees. “But we had no choice,” Mauda says.

Wilson Akiiza and Violet Mbabaazi planted 600 trees on their three acres of land. “Now we have no food”, Wilson tells Lindberg. “Ecotrust never explained how much money I would get, only that it would come every year. Now I am the coordinator for 89 farmers who are part of the project. Nobody has food.”

Robert Sunday has also cut down all his Ecotrust “carbon trees” and made charcoal with them. With the money from the charcoal, he will buy cassava plants.

In the 10 years since he planted the trees, he received two payments, of about US$50 each.

He has only one acre, from which he used to feed 10 people. “Ecotrust must have understood that the family would never make it,” Lindberg writes. “Nevertheless, they were pushed to plant.”

Auditor: “Food security not an issue”

Aftonbladet’s research team visited nine farms in two districts, Hoima and Kikuube. All of them planted trees for Ecotrust on land that they previously used for growing crops. Hunger was the result.

One family received no money at all. All of the others received fewer payments than the contract promised. Ecotrust has not explained to any of them why the money has not been paid out.

None of the nine families has received enough money to cover the cost of food lost to the “carbon trees”.

None of the families could explain how carbon trading works, who bought the carbon credits, or how much money they should have received. Most of them did not receive a copy of the contract they signed.

Two of the families told Lindberg that they were forced to marry off underage daughters.

One eight of the farms, all or some of the trees have now been cut down to make way for food crops. The timber has been sold as charcoal.

Lindberg acknowledges that the Aftonbladet research is not comprehensive. Several thousand farmers are involved in the project, spread over a large area.

But David Kureeba, the lead author of Global Forest Coalition’s 2022 report about the project, tells Lindberg that the problem is widespread and systemic. “We are 45 million people crowded in Uganda,” Kureeba says, “and the vast majority are already living on the verge of starvation. They have no land to spare.”

The Global Forest Coalition report is based on interviews with more than 100 farmers. That report came out 18 months ago. “Since then the situation has worsened further,” Lindberg writes. “Why haven’t those responsible reacted?”

Under Plan Vivo’s rules, the project has to be inspected every six years. The most recent audit was in 2019, carried out by Environmental Services, Inc, a US-based company.

The lead verifier was Guy Pinjuv, who has since moved on to become Senior Advisor for Carbon and MRV (Measurement, Reporting, and Verification) at Conservation International.

A 2017 article describes Pinjuv’s US$600,000 house that he built in Nevada on a one acre plot of land that he bought for just US$150,000 in 2014. In the article, Pinjuv describes his work:

“If someone wants to slow down deforestation, I’m the guy who goes and checks to make sure they calculated everything correctly. And if there’s a tribe there, I’m the guy who goes and meets the chief and makes sure they’re not planning a revolution . . . that sort of stuff.”

The 2019 Environmental Services audit report states that, “In general food security does not appear to be an issue and project activities are maintaining or increasing food production.” There is no mention of the systemic hunger that, as Lindberg writes, “seems to be integrated into the core of the project”.

“Africa’s poor, who did the least to cause the climate crisis, will pay the price when we have to change,” Lindberg writes.

Lindberg highlights the inequity of the situation. “At Swedish hamburger restaurants, guests order from climate-neutral menus. In the hunger forest, the children wait in vain for food.”


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