Environment And Renewable Energy
Indian agribusiness sets sights on land in east Africa
Workers at an 11,000 hectare farm in Bako, Ethiopia, run by the Indian company Karuturi. Photograph: Xan Rice
Indian agribusiness companies are ready to spend $2.5bn buying, or renting for decades, several million hectares of cheap land in Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda in what could be some of the largest farming deals struck in Africa in the last 50 years.
But in a separate development, plans for a US-based investment company to lease up to 1m hectares of South Sudan for only $25,000 a year appears to have stalled following protests by local communities over the potential “land grab”.
A delegation of 35 Indian investors, including food conglomerates McLeod Russel, Kaveri Seeds, and Karuturi Global, has been touring Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda for the last week to seek land to grow palm oil, maize, cotton, rice and vegetables, largely for the burgeoning Indian market.
Karuturi said this week in Dar es Salaam that it was ready to spend $500m acquiring and developing 200,000 hectares of land for palm oil, 150,000 for cereals and 20,000 for sugarcane. This is in addition to $400m the company is spending to develop 100,000 hectares in Gambella province in Ethiopia. The investors have said they are each ready to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on what is some of the cheapest land in the world, being offered on decades-long leases for as little as $1.50 per hectare per year.
“There is huge potential for the agriculture sector in east Africa,” said Karuturi’s managing director, Sai Ramakrishna Karuturi. “The region has 120m hectares of arable land, the same size of arable land India has.”
The deals, if concluded, would swell growing concerns for the “land grab” phenomenon now taking place around the world. According to the UN, (pdf) at least 60m hectares of land, mostly in Africa but increasingly in Latin America, have been bought or leased for up to 100 years as western hedge and pension funds have moved to buy land as an alternative investment to property, and wealthy Middle East countries have sought land to grow food after food riots and droughts. China, Saudi Arabia and Egypt as well as many smaller Middle East countries have led the deals.
Cash-strapped developing country governments have largely welcomed the “foreign direct investments”, arguing that they have millions of hectares of surplus land suitable for intensive arable farming. In addition, they say, the companies guarantee to provide thousands of jobs.
But there has been growing alarm at some of the handouts and tax exemptions in favour of the companies, potentially at the expense of local communities. Many of the projects have barely started producing food, but tens of thousands of people are expected to be evicted, and land traditionally used by pastoralist farmers is being fenced off. In addition, many companies are being allowed to grow food primarily for export despite increasingly hungry home markets.
“No one should believe that these investors are there to feed starving Africans, create jobs or improve food security,” said Obang Metho of Solidarity Movement for New Ethiopia. “These agreements – many of which could be in place for 99 years – do not mean progress for local people and will not lead to food in their stomachs. These deals lead only to dollars in the pockets of corrupt leaders and foreign investors.”
“Most of these deals are characterised by a lack of transparency, despite the profound implications posed by the consolidation of control over global food markets and agricultural resources by financial firms,” said a recent report by US based Oakland Institute , following an investigation into contracts being agreed in six countries.
However, the largest land deal in South Sudan, where as much as 9% of the country’s land is estimated by Norwegian analysts to have been bought in the last few years, is thought to have stalled after unrest by local communities. Texas-based Nile Trading and Development had reportedly agreed a 49-year lease of 600,000 hectares of Central Equatoria state for around $25,000 a year with an option to increase its holding to nearly 1m hectares. The company, headed by former US ambassador Howard Eugene Douglas, would have been allowed to exploit all natural resources, including oil, and to apply for UN-backed carbon credits that could provide it with millions of dollars a year.
But the deal is believed to have stalled after the community of Mukaya Payam in Lainya county, Central Equatoria state, appealed to MPs and the president of South Sudan. “We the chiefs, elders, religious leaders and the youth of Mukaya Payam unanimously, with strong terms, condemn, disavow, or deny the land-lease agreement reached on 11 March 2008 between the two parties,” said the community in a letter to MPs.
President Salva Kiir responded: “This issue has to be addressed according to your will. You are the government and you have powers.”
In a separate study, the US-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs, has concluded that much of Paraguay, Uruguay and Bolivia in Latin America has been acquired by foreign companies to farm.
“In Paraguay, Argentine firms and individuals own about 60% of the 3m hectares of land used to cultivate soy. Foreigners own 19.4% of all Paraguayan land and Argentines own almost all of the 500,000 hectares of Uruguayan soil designated for soy cultivation, while foreigners own 25% of the country’s total arable land,” say the authors. Foreign agribusiness investors own or rent over 1m hectares of Bolivia, according to the report.
“Instead of allowing their lands to be exploited by multinational corporations, these Latin American countries must wean themselves off foreign demands and make their own food security their top priority,” say the authors.
Original Post: The Guardian
Defending Land And Environmental Rights
Leaders adamant on ending charcoal trade
The authorities of Paibona Sub-county in Gulu District have blamed political leaders for promoting massive tree cutting for commercial charcoal production.
Mr Joseph Otim, the National Forestry Authority (NFA) sector manager, in an interview on Friday, said local leaders at sub-county and district levels connive with charcoal dealers in the guise of raising revenue.
“One of the biggest challenges in forest governance in this country is that the people who should be taking action are relaxed. The ones in office, the foresters, and the leaders at all levels view charcoal trade as a lucrative business. So everyone looks at what goes into their pockets, at the expense of conservations,” Mr Otim said.
He said some of the forest officials have been targeted and threatened by such leaders, especially whenever they impound forest products.
“Another challenge is the people who are highly placed and connected in the security organs who issue threats,” Mr Otim added.
During a field assessment by the district authorities to map deforestation in the area last week, heaps of cut trees being burnt for charcoal were found but no dealers found on site.
But in Akor and Ayweri villages that have chunks of deforested land, there are 193 registered commercial charcoal dealers. Some of these dealers were found on site and have been asked to abandon the trade. For fear of prosecution, some of the dealers withheld their identities. They, however, told Daily Monitor that they cannot abandon charcoal business because it is their only source of livelihood.
Mr Jackson Ayoli, the chairperson of Paibona Sub-county, however, said leaders cannot fight commercial charcoal burning because it is a major source of revenue.
He noted that the sub-county collected Shs3 million in the Financial year 2021/2021 from taxing charcoal and other forest products. From the September to November 2022 quarter, Mr Ayoli said the sub-county collected Shs3.1 million from forest-related products.
“Forest products are one of the major sources of local revenue in this sub county and without it, paying the allowances of the sub-county councillors and other staff would be a huge challenge,” Mr Ayoli said.
The Sub-county Chief, Mr David Kercan, said Paibona projected to collect Shs 16 million in local revenue in the last Financial Year (2021/2022). Local revenue sources include local service tax, trading licenses, and operations from Non-Governmental Organisations. “However, we realised only 67 percent of local revenue projections, translating to Shs 10,720,000 out of Shs16 million,” he said.
Ms Betty Aol Ocan, the Gulu City Woman Member of Parliament, said local governments should be innovative and find other sources of revenues.
The Global Forest Watch says Gulu District lost 988 hectares to illegal logging and charcoal burning in 2021—an equivalent to 440,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.
It is also estimated that between 2001 and 2021, Gulu lost 38,700 hectares of tree cover.
Source: Daily Monitor
Environment And Renewable Energy
EACOP Partners With Surveyors Body as Pipeline Land Acquisition Nears Completion.
The East African Crude Oil pipeline Company (EACOP) Ltd on Wednesday entered a partnership with the Institute of Surveyors of Uganda (ISU) which will see them work together to among others bolster local capacities ahead of the construction of the regional oil pipeline.
Through this arrangement, USU undertook to conduct training of EACOP staff and offering internship programs for university students from universities of Makerere, Ndejje and Kyambogo.
The initiative will provide a three-months training and internship placement for selected participating university students twice a year during the breaks between semesters.
The Institute of surveyors of Uganda (ISU) has over 2200 members that brings together land surveying, quantity, surveying, valuation surveying, mining, and hydrological surveying professionals whose mandate is to promote professional surveying practices that can enhance the quality of services under the various surveying disciplines in Uganda.
Speaking during the MOU signing ceremony held in Kampala today, EACOP Managing Director Martin Tiffen said while they are currently employing several surveyors registered with ISU, they needed a platform for a stronger collaboration.
The partnership is hoped local content and capacity building in the oil sector in Uganda
“We have been consumers of services of different kinds of surveyors…but this agreement is a way for some of our staff to improve on their professional qualifications” he said“It also gives us a mechanism to receive students who need (internship) positioning into our organization.”
On his part, Dr. Nathan Kabwami, the President Institute of Surveyors echoed the significance of commitment of EACOP to the partnership with the Institute of Surveyors of Uganda to facilitate the delivery of quality training to future surveyors that will work on this incredible project.
“I thank EACOP for this commendable skilling initiative and urge all University students who meet the criteria for this program and are interested in being part of the transformation of Uganda’s oil and gas industry to embrace it.” He said.
Meanwhile, Mr Tiffen revealed that EACOP is progressing well with the process of acquiring land for the pipeline.
Since February last year when the oil Final Investment Decision was signed, Tiffen says over three quarters of project affected persons (PAPs) have been paid off.
There is a total of 3648 PAPs spread across 170 villages where the oil pipeline will pass through inside Uganda.
The EACOP MD also revealed that so far, construction of new houses for people for displaced families is nearly complete and that all 180 houses will be handed over to the owners early this year.
Environment And Renewable Energy
Ugandan communities battle to benefit from mining on their land
Communities in Karamoja face an uphill task organising to beat international capital and authoritarian politics.
Rupa, Uganda – A handful of artisanal miners stand shirtless in an open pit, breaking boulders that glint white in the sun. Nearby, soldiers stand sullenly at the gate of the Sunbelt Marble Mine and Factory, owned by Chinese businessmen who have sunk $13m into the project.
These are the two faces of the mining rush in the Karamoja region of northeast Uganda: small-scale freelance miners, toiling with basic equipment for scant reward, and a mix of wealthy foreign and local investors protected by the state.
Here in Rupa, a sub-county of Moroto district, the locals have seen companies come and go, buying up land and dividing communities. So in 2017, when they got wind that a Chinese company was coming, they were determined to do things differently: this time, they were going to organise.
It was a pioneering attempt to ensure that local people benefitted from mining, building on customary ownership and exploiting little-used provisions of Ugandan land law.
But the story of how it worked – and how it did not – shows just how hard it is for communities to organise in the face of international capital and authoritarian politics.
Many of the 1.2 million people in Karamoja are cattle-keepers, driving their herds across grasslands managed by clan and custom. The rains are fickle, so negotiating access to pasture involves an element of give-and-take.
But the mining companies that are exploring the region want something solid and immovable: the minerals that lie beneath the soil, including marble, limestone, copper and gold.
In the early 2000s, the army forcefully disarmed the gun-wielding cattle-raiders who once roamed the plains, and speculators rushed in during the ensuing peace.
“The first businesspeople who came were taking over the land,” says Simon Nangiro, chairman of the Karamoja Miners Association, which represents small-scale miners in the region. “Companies come with military accompaniments … [They’re] negotiating behind the scenes with people who are vulnerable.”
According to the mining cadastre, the government has granted full mining leases in Karamoja to four companies – Sunbelt, Tororo Cement, DAO Marble and Mechanized Agro – across 79 square km (31 square miles) of land.
It has also issued licences for exploration to dozens of other local and foreign companies on roughly 4,000 square km (1,544 square miles) and is considering applications on nearly 5,000 square km (1,931 square miles) more.
Documents like leases, licences and land titles are how the modern state speaks – but it is a language foreign to Karamoja, where ownership is rarely written down and only a quarter of people can read.
“Here in Karamoja we have a customary land tenure system,” explains John Bosco Logwee, an elder in Rupa and one of the leaders of organising efforts there. “As a result, people [from outside] looked at the land and thought it does not belong to anybody.”
In Uganda as a whole, an estimated 80 percent of the land is held customarily although exact figures are hard to come by. The problem of proving who owns what worries everyone from activists, who warn of land grabs, to the World Bank, which wants to spur rural property markets.
Under the 1998 Land Act, communities can create “communal land associations” (CLAs) to defend their collective land rights. More than 600 have been incorporated nationwide, often with World Bank support.
Some of the first to be established were in Karamoja, where 52 were set up in 2012-2013 by a non-governmental organisation, the Uganda Land Alliance. According to Edmond Owor, its former executive director, the CLAs had some early successes in fending off fraudulent investors. But in 2016, the Alliance itself collapsed due to internal governance problems, leaving the fledgling CLAs on their own.
“The creation of a CLA is a very easy process, and that’s where the easy work ends,” says Simon Longoli, executive director of the Karamoja Development Forum (KDF), a civil society group based in Moroto. “We find it very difficult to trust a piece of paper to ensure the rights of the community over a piece of land.”
What people really needed, he thought, was organising and capacity building to assert the rights they had on paper. In short, they needed power.
Communities in Rupa had been at the forefront of Karamoja’s mining rush. A 2014 report by Human Rights Watch described how two foreign-owned companies had come to the area and started exploration without the consent of the locals.
“International capital has come into Karamoja, it has allied itself with powerful political and military elites at the centre, facilitated by influence peddlers,” says David Pulkol, a Rupa indigene who formerly served as a member of parliament, government minister and head of Uganda’s external intelligence agency. “Those three are in the same bed, dispossessing the ordinary people of their livelihoods.”
So in 2017, the three clans of Rupa sub-county joined their CLAs together to form the Rupa Community Development Trust (RUCODET), taking out the formal title to the land on behalf of 35,000 people.
Longoli and his KDF colleagues arranged training for the trust’s leaders in negotiation and other skills. No other community in Karamoja had organised on such a scale to take on mining companies.
The arrival of the Sunbelt mine would give RUCODET its first major test. Under Ugandan law, all minerals belong to the government. But landowners have “surface rights” to the land itself, which have often been trampled by mining companies.
Now, thanks to RUCODET, the Chinese investors would have to negotiate with the community. “It was tough,” says Logwee, the elder. “We had no experience before of that kind of thing.”
Sunbelt had strong backing from Operation Wealth Creation, a sprawling Ugandan military programme that started out giving seeds to farmers and was now helping build fruit factories, disburse credit and develop the minerals sector.
The programme is led by Salim Saleh, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s ubiquitous brother, whom many consider the second-most powerful man in the country. He is a feared general with extensive business interests, who has been accused by UN experts of grabbing resources during the 1998-2003 Congo war – an allegation he has always denied.
As part of the negotiations, a team from RUCODET travelled 400km to Kapeeka, where a Chinese-owned industrial park has been constructed close to Saleh’s personal residence. Longoli of KDF says that some leaders in RUCODET and in local government were taking calls from Saleh himself to get an agreement signed.
Major Kiconco Tabaro, a spokesman for Operation Wealth Creation, claims that it was not directly involved in the negotiations but has “a strategic working relationship with all ministries, departments and agencies of government” to “help bring about socioeconomic transformation”.
It was hard to say no to a man like Saleh, and the leaders of RUCODET did not. In 2018, they signed away surface rights to 3.3 square km of land to Sunbelt for 21 years, receiving compensation of 1.8 billion shillings ($500,000), they say.
By one yardstick, that was a lot of money. Small-scale miners in Rupa say they get just 100,000 shillings ($28) from traders for filling a 7-tonne truck with stone, a task which takes four people at least a week.
But Sunbelt expects gross revenues of $30m a year, according to the 2021 manifesto of the ruling National Resistance Movement – making the payout to RUCODET equivalent to one week’s turnover. A spokesman for Sunbelt declined an interview request for this story.
The leaders of RUCODET used 100 million shillings ($28,000) to set up 94 educational scholarships for schoolchildren and university students. Some of the rest was handed out as cash to community members.
But there was protest from those who felt left out and mutterings that money was misused or even stolen – allegations which Logwee dismisses as “speculation”. Three people familiar with the matter told Al Jazeera that the lawyer who advised RUCODET charged 400 million shillings ($110,000) for his services, which included the cost of surveying and titling the land.
Then tragedy struck. The leader of RUCODET was a man called Marjory Dan Apollo Loyomo, a brother of the former spy chief Pulkol. “He was very strong, he was very charismatic, he was very committed,” recalls Longoli. He was also the elected chairman of Rupa sub-county, which meant he had to represent his people in disputes.
In 2019, after a decade of peace, the armed cattle-raiders started to make a comeback. Loyomo had disagreed with aspects of the army’s handling of the issue.
On December 17 that year, according to the UN Human Rights office, the army called him to a military detach in Rupa. It had impounded cattle after a raid; local people were angry. Loyomo, as sub-county chairman, tried to deliberate with the officers. A soldier shot him dead.
The regional army commander was transferred soon afterwards. His successor, Brigadier General Joseph Balikudembe, says that he cannot comment on the incident due to ongoing proceedings against the soldiers involved.
Nobody that Al Jazeera spoke to wanted to speculate on the reasons for Loyomo’s killing, but everyone agreed that it was a devastating setback.
“The loss of a torchbearer, the founder chairman, has been a very big loss for RUCODET,” says Logwee, who has succeeded him to the role.
“He was fighting really for his people,” argues Joyce Nayor, an activist and Rupa resident who is critical of the trust’s current leadership. “Since he died, RUCODET has also died a natural death.”
Hardly any local people got jobs in the Sunbelt mine, Al Jazeera heard on two visits to the area with local activists. Some small-scale miners have been allowed to remain in a corner of the land that was allocated to the company, where they break boulders for sale.
They complain that Sunbelt tried to push them into an ever-smaller area and take away the traders who would buy their stone – and that RUCODET has done little to help.
“RUCODET is there in name only,” says Isaiah Aleu, a miner.
Land trusts and CLAs are promising tools for communities to defend their rights, say land campaigners. But there is no consensus about how they should navigate turbulent political waters.
Pulkol is now helping build RUCODET’s capacity through the Africa Leadership Institute, a non-governmental organisation he leads. He thinks the best hope for Karamoja is to work with investors and government for shared benefits, rather than to block them altogether.
Longoli, the activist, is not so sure. Often when it comes to minerals, “the best deal is just no deal”, he says. “RUCODET, because of pressure from above or pressure from within the institution, was in a hurry to close deals.”
Yet he remains hopeful that organisations like RUCODET can be the basis for something better. “These are not perfect but they give a bridge somewhere,” he says.
The next test is coming soon.
In Loyoro sub-county of Kaabong district, 100km (62 miles) to the north, a new company called Moroto Ateker Cement is exploring for limestone. Pulkol, representing the local government of Moroto, sits on its board.
The state-owned Uganda Development Corporation has a 45 percent stake in the project. The seven clans of Loyoro have started the process of forming a trust, after the RUCODET model.
Meanwhile, in the bush, surrounded by soldiers and tsetse flies, exploratory drilling machines bore down into their land.
Source: Al Jazeera
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