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Livelihood, Land And Investment

MONOCULTURE TREE PLANTATIONS – Uganda – Promotion of plantation agriculture – a disgrace to human kind and environment

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20 years of suffering monoculture effects in Uganda, more hectares of land benefiting local communities continue to be given out to investors for monoculture tree plantations. Forest give aways are done for the cheap, short term economic gains at the expense of environment and people, without proper assessment of the vital roles of the forest… 

Uganda like many other African countries is in the campaign drive of promoting plantations under the guise of creating income and other benefits for Ugandans, destroying a lot of natural resources including forests, wetlands and up hills. In the past ten years, thousands of hectares of forests have been destroyed and replaced by monocultures.

But Uganda shows, at the same time, a commitment internationally to forest protection and reducing deforestation as one of the countries in Africa participating in REDD+. After its Readiness Preparation Proposal (R-PP) was approved at the 9th meeting of the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF)’s Participants Committee (PC), based on the status of Uganda´s forest and its benefits for forest dependent communities and forest owners, Uganda will receive US$3.4 million to prepare a REDD-+ strategy, a reference scenario and a system of measurement, reporting and verification (MRV).

However, this commitment contradicts with the current expansion of monoculture plantations in the country. An example happened when in August 2011 the government decided to use the shortage of sugar in the country as an excuse to propose to give away 7,100 hectares of forest land to MEHTA, the owner of Sugar Corporation of Uganda (SCOUL), to expand its sugar plantation. People resisted, including reporting in the media, the local leaders and also CSOs while the international community was also made aware, amplifying the voices of Ugandans and forcing the government to halt the giveaway of the forest.

A country like Uganda, which is signatory to a number of conventions like CBD and Ramsar (on the issue of wetlands), shouldn’t have thought of giving the forest for the cheap, short term economic gains at the expense of environment and people, without proper assessment of the vital roles of the forest and also without understanding the various underlying causes that lead to failures within the sugar processing industries. It is worth noting that the current machinery used in the extraction of sugar from the canes is outdated. It dates back to the 1960s which means that the efficiency has gone down. In other words, sugar production could be increased by improving technology rather than converting more forest lands into arable land for more monocultures. And in spite of Uganda´s commitment in halting deforestation, projects like this one encourages deforestation and forest degradation

In the same vein, the Ugandan government is promoting oil palm plantations in Kalangala, funded by a number of financial institutions like IFAD/World Bank and oil palm companies like Wilmar and others. A lot of contradictions and violations have been recorded including disrespect of the CBD convention, with a lot of flora and fauna being destroyed. Again, the government has double standards promoting oil palm at the expense of natural forests and promoting REDD+ allegedly for the conservation of forests. Around 10,000 hectares of land have been planted with oil palm. People in Kalangala have been deprived of their rights to clean water and a sound environment, they are exposed to cultural erosion, their livelihoods have been compromised, and they face food insecurity just to mention but a few of the consequences.

Another example of a plantation project with impacts on local communities is in Kikonda, forest , in the Kyankwanzi district, where the South Africa-based firm Global Woods established a pine plantation in 2002, displacing traditional communities who have been using the forest reserve for agriculture. The impacts of that action are even being felt today.

Also REDD initiatives, as is the case with plantation development, have been causing impacts on local forest-dependent people in Uganda. For example, due to a REDD programme, the government evicted indigenous groups. The ‘pygmies’ of the Semliki forest have been living in the forests since time immemorial but the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) – in close collaboration with the National Forest Authority – evicted them as if they were encroachers.

Uganda must develop a mechanism that regulates plantation development in such a way that it does not override the existing natural forests and the rights of the local people. Any meaningful development should put people at the centre and include social aspects. Moreover, the case of Uganda reveals that a common approach is needed, so that both the forest destruction gets really halted and development projects like plantations do not have negative impacts on people and the environment but are set up in such a way that they can benefit people. Such a project design can only take place if people are meaningful involved and able to give their consent or not to development plans with huge impacts on their livelihoods.

David Kureeba, National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE), F@B Friends of the Earth Uganda, e-mail: kureebamd@yahoo.com

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Livelihood, Land And Investment

Land grabs: Officials in Mubende district are colluding with economically powerful and politically connected people to grab local communities’ land.

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By Witness Radio Team

Justine Nakachwa (not her real name) had never thought of losing land she and her family had happily lived on for decades. Her dream of owning farmland had come true.

The land passed down to generations of descendants from the late 1970s was now being claimed by a renowned businessman. She got staggered.

“I was shocked by this news because I have spent most of my life here. Am wondering how he could acquire the land without the knowledge of the whole village.” She painfully revealed this while speaking to a Witness Radio-Uganda reporter.

The sixty-year-old is one of the community members of over 800 smallholder farmers in the three villages; Biwaalwe, Kabaale, and Kyagaranyi in Kanyogoga parish, Butologo sub-county in Mubende district currently facing eviction by Tubikaku Uganda Limited, a company owned by City businessman Desh Kananura.

The smallholder farmers have been practicing subsistence farming on this land to earn a living since the 1970s.

Intending to secure ownership and legalize it, they conducted a search and due diligence, which revealed that the land had no encumbrances.  In 2012, they applied for a lease. Sadly, the Mubende District Land Board declined to grant their request and instead awarded the lease of 906.4 hectares to a ghost company Tubikaku Uganda Limited.

The economically powerful and politically connected to grabbing the downtrodden land with the assistance of land board officials is rapidly growing in Uganda. With the aid of district land boards, cartels are increasingly disposing of smallholder farmers. This practice is now predominant in many districts in the country, especially Mubende district.

It is alleged that the District Land Board has previously leased people’s land to tycoons without following proper legal land acquisition procedures.

Seven years ago, a community’s land in Lwebigajji village in Mubende district of 226.5 hectares were grabbed by a local investor with the help of district land board officials. The community had lived on their land for over 30 years.

When the community showed interest in acquiring a leasehold on the land, the district land board of Mubende hurriedly offered the title to one Deo Semwogerere Mutyaba, a local businessman, who does not even own a decimal on the land.

Consequently, over 2000 families were affected. “In 2014, we requested the Mubende district lands board for a lease on this land, got surveyed using our efforts and resources, however upon returning the leasehold title in 2015, it had Semwogerere’s names as the owner of the land.” Grace Nantubiro, one of the community leaders said.

Samuel Wambi Mamali, a local businessman was also helped by the Mubende district land board officials to allegedly steal local community’s land covering three villages. These include Kyamukoona, Kijojolo, and Kalagala in Mubende District that have been occupied by locals for decades. The villages accommodate over 800 families.

The villagers indicated that Maamali fraudulently acquired a lease title he never applied for, did not consult community members on the land, nor at parish, or sub-county land committees that should have advised and guided on whether the land was lawfully being occupied and cultivated.

The few listed cases above are among several cases of grabbed land by wealthy and politically connected people in the Mubende district.  The trend of district land boards facilitating land grabs has left many local and indigenous communities landless.

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Livelihood, Land And Investment

A community of over 300 smallholder farmers conned as their land is sold to a local investor without their consent.

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By Witness Radio Team

As foreign agribusinesses take over Kiryandongo communities’ fertile land, other local investors are also eyeing the remaining land occupied by the poor families in the southwestern district of Uganda to grab their land.

A community of over 300 smallholder farmers in Ranch 22, Nyamuntende village in Kiryandongo district is being evicted by a local businessman Maseruka Robert who claims ownership of the land some have lived on for decades. Mr. Maseruka connived with some leaders in the community to grab land from the poor.

The evictions that started in August this year have caused the displacement of over 50 households so far on land measuring over 2000 acres without consultations or being fairly compensated. Crops belonging to residents, and houses were razed.

When evictions by multinationals soared in Uganda, the community acted swiftly to protect the interest on the land and avert a land grab. And in 2015, they applied for a lease of 49 years on the land from the Kiryandongo district land board which was granted to them.

However, unbeknownst to them, schemers would take advantage of this opportunity to grab their land. Earlier, the residents whose land is located on Ranch 22 Block 8 Bunyoro Ranching Scheme entrusted Wilson Sikhama, Ochema Richard, and a few other community members as their leaders in 2016 during the requisition of the land.

According to the residents, initially, the application processes unfolded as they had planned, however, Sikhama and Ochema allegedly connived with other people not known to the community to drop the names of some of the community members whom they had entrusted and replaced them with Julius Isingoma, Gerald Tumusiime, Messanger Gabriel Wabwire, Musokota William John and Simon Mwesige.

Residents further added that the land was titled in the names of the seven people who excluded the villagers. In 2019, when the community expected the location forms of the land per person, they understood that the land they had acquired was sold to one Maseruka Robert without their notification by Sikhama and the group.

In the same year 2019, the community ran to court seeking its intervention to regain the ownership of their land. The community was led by one of their own Mbabazi Samuel. In a blink of an eye, Mbabazi allegedly reached an agreement with the aforementioned group. On the 22nd of October 2020, he allegedly sold the said land to a group of people (Mr. Sikhama’s group) at One Hundred Million Shillings (100,000,000 equivalent to USD 26,483.79) without the approval of the community he represented.

After completion of the sale, the group of schemers sold the land to Maseruka who is now evicting the community.

In our interview with Maseruka, he failed to explain how he acquired the land but, insisted that he wanted the community to leave his land. “These people should leave my land because I want to use it, this is my land.” He maintained.

Some of the evictees whose houses were destroyed had relocated to their neighbors’ homes for fear of what would befall them. A 42-year-old widow and a mother of 10 said Maseruka’s accomplices destroyed her house leaving her destitute.

“These people wanted to give me 700,000/= (185.39) for the 15 acres of my land. When I resisted, they began destroying what they found including my house. They told me the money they were giving me was enough for me to vacate.” She explained.

The chairperson of the affected community, Mushija Caleb said his people are being forcefully evicted because they refused the peanuts given to them as compensation. He reiterated that his people don’t want to leave their land.

“They should not think of compensation irrespective of the amounts they are willing to offer because people are not interested in surrendering their land,” he added.

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Accountable Development To Communities

A self-claimed landlord who caused the imprisonment of six community land rights defenders on false charges was aligned before the court and charged with 28 counts.

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Naava while entering court cells at  Mubende.

By Witness Radio Team

A magistrate court at Mubende has charged a self-claimed landlord with 28 counts plus murder. Naava Milly Namutebi caused the arrest of six community land rights defenders, falsely accused them of murder, and got imprisoned for three years without trial. 

Naava’s appearance before the court followed shortly after the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) dropped murder charges against six community land rights defenders. These include; Tumusiime Benjamin, Bagirana Innocent, Habana Domoro, Miyingo Gerald, Byangaramani Charles, and Byekwaso Fred.

Naava was charged along with Bulasio Musoke, Richard Mugagga, Henry Kaaya, among others. They were not allowed to answer any charges as the court had no power to make legal decisions and judgments on charges read to them.

The prosecution alleges that Naava and others still at large, committed offenses in areas of Mubende and Kampala districts between 2006 and 2021.

From 2012 to date, Naava got help from the senior army, police, and other public officers in Mubende orchestrated violence and committed human rights violations/abuses while forcefully evicting over 4,000 people off their land. 

The land being targeted measures 3.5 square miles covering villages including Kirwanyi central, Kirwanyi East, Kirwanyi West, Nakasagazi, Kituule A, Kituule B, Kibalagazi A, Kibalagazi B, Kakkanembe, Bukyambuzi A, Bukyambuzi B, Kisende, Mulanda, Kituule central, Kirwanyi A, and Butayunja in Kirwanyi and Kituule parishes in Butoloogo Sub County in Mubende district.

Naava and others accused were remanded to Kaweeri prison until 19th/July/2022. 

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