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Livelihood, Land And Investment

Sweden postpones carbon payment to Uganda tree farm where locals have been evicted

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A planned disbursement of SEK 10 million by the Swedish Energy Agency (SEA) for emissions reductions produced by the Kachung plantation in Uganda, owned by the Norwegian company Green Resources, has been delayed due to on-going concerns about the project. Development Today has learned that the Swedes were about to give a green light last week but put on the brakes.

The delay coincides with the publication of the Berkley-based Oakland Institute’s third critical report on the Kachung plantation. Entitled “Evicted for Carbon Trading,” the report was released last Thursday (August 29), and presents evidence that farmers have over the years been evicted by Green Resources and its Ugandan subsidiaries to make room for the plantation. It also raises questions about the validity of certification received by the project from three international bodies, including the Forest Stewardship Council and CDM.

Ola Westberg at the Swedish Energy Agency tells Development Today that the payment delay is not related to Oakland’s report, which the agency rejects out of hand.

“As far as we can see the report contains no new information and the conclusions arrived at by Oakland do not match those of the independent audit that we have implemented,” the agency writes in a statement released one day after the Oakland report was published.

Rather, the delay is related to the Swedish Energy Agency’s own assessment of the project, Westberg says.

The Swedish agency had planned for a transfer last week of certified emissions credits produced by the Kachung plantation in Uganda and approved by the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism – equivalent to 192,000 tonnes of CO2.

“The plan was to go through with the transfer last week,” says Ola Westberg at the Swedish Energy Agency to Development Today. Once the credits are transferred, the agency has 30 days to pay SEK 10 million to Green Resources, which owns the plantation. Westberg says the agency is “still reviewing the progress report from Green Resources. [The transfer] could happen any day, but probably not this week … There will be no transfer of certified emissions credits until the agency is satisfied.”

PAYMENT SCHEDULE

The plantation, located in Northern Uganda, is surrounded by 17 villages. Though the land being used by Green Resources to plant pine trees is formally owned by the government, thousands of people have used the area for farming and cattle grazing. While the company plans to earn SEK 35 million by selling carbon credits to the Swedish state, the treatment of people in the area has been at the heart of the controversy that has dogged this project for almost a decade.

Back in 2011, the Swedish Energy Agency signed a SEK 35 million agreement with Green Resources for the purchase of 365,000 tonnes of carbon emissions reductions from the company’s pine plantation in Kachung, Northern Uganda. The payments would be made over a 20-year period, with the first disbursement of SEK 1.2 million taking place in 2013.

According to the agreement’s payment schedule, a second disbursement for emissions reductions achieved during the five-year period (2013-2017) was to be made last year.

But the cooperation was frozen in 2015 when media reports and the energy agency’s own site visits revealed that the situation of affected people was worse than Green Resources had led the agency to believe. The agency stated in a press release at the time that “villagers were deprived of vital resources and experienced threats and violence, and there is a lack of clarity regarding ownership in the reserve.”

Following the freeze in 2016, Green Resources presented a road map detailing how it would improve its dealings with communities affected by the plantation. This included a ten-point action plan on areas like food security, water availability, cattle grazing and roads. The Swedish agency welcomed the move, but warned that future carbon payments were “conditional on the implementation of concrete actions to improve the situation.”

The agency stated: “We believe we can do more for local people by taking responsibility and making demands on Green Resources … than by pulling out of the project.”

AUDITS

Since then, the Swedes have called for two independent audits – one published in March 2017 and the other in November 2018, both carried out by the South African consultancy EOH– to assess Green Resources’ progress on the ten points in the action plan. The first audit was largely positive, but found that “no significant actions” had been taken to boost agricultural land productivity, diversify income-generating activities and improve food security. It also referred to several ongoing court cases related to land ownership disputes, urging the company to find a solution “as soon as possible.”

Development Today has obtained a copy of the second EOH audit. It points to numerous shortcomings: “Food security, ineffective communication … complaints from communities associated with corruption, land-rights issues, as well as community access to forest resources” are areas of significant concern. Green Resources is deemed by the consultants to be “partially compliant or non-compliant” on a range of key interventions. “Most … lack specific measurable key performance indicators,” making it difficult to assess compliance. In spite of a commitment to undertake road maintenance after the rainy season, “no firm plans for this are in evidence as yet.” The consultants found “no water quality monitoring data for the current year [or] … a planning schedule for natural water point rehabilitation interventions.” Moreover, the EOH report states, “the provision of health centre support and provision of drug supplies to these facilities has seemingly not been undertaken for the 2018 period.”

Westberg says Green Resources has made improvements in several areas since the 2018 audit, but that the Swedish Energy Agency is still assessing the progress.

OAKLAND INSTITUTE REPORT

The Oakland Institute’s latest report on Kachung criticises the EOH audit from 2017, which stated that “no person had been displaced or evicted” and that the company did not acquire “Kachung land forcefully.” Oakland’s report includes facsimiles of eviction notices signed by Green Resources’ Ugandan subsidiaries. “The eviction notices and letters released with this report make it clear that [EOH]’s claims are false,” Oakland writes.

The authors also take to task the most recent certification by the Forest Stewardship Council, which took place in May 2019. Oakland questions FSC’s claim that that there are no “current unresolved disputes over tenure and use rights,” and there are “effective dispute and grievance procedures that is accepted in the community.”

Commenting on the eviction notices, Westberg does not dispute that evictions took place. The plantation is on national forest reserve land where people are not permitted to live, he says: “Compare it with the situation in Sweden and Norway. What would happen if someone settled in our national forest reserve?  That would also be against the law. There are laws there as well as up here in Scandinavia. That is how I made sense of it.”

The Swedish agency states that it invited Oakland Institute to have dialogue and to participate in the investigation of the project on-site in Uganda, but Oakland has declined.

Asked why they did not participate in SEA’s investigation, Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of Oakland Institute, says to Development Today: “It is very obvious that what the people of Kachung need is not another audit. What they need is true action from the Swedish Energy Agency to stop facilitating this land grab by Green Resources and effectively address the issues and problems communities face as a result of the project.”

Green Resources has funding from two Nordic development finance institutions, Norfund and Finnfund.

Rasi Rajala, Communications Director at Finnfund, says he appreciates Oakland Institute’s concern for smallholder farmers in Uganda. “We encourage them to visit the Green Resources plantation and discuss more closely with the local team there. As for their latest report, it does not appear to contain any substantial new information,” he says.

Like the Swedish Energy Agency and Finnfund, Norfund finds there to be “limited new information” in the Oakland report. “We have no reason to doubt that the audits conducted by FSC and other auditors have been of a high standard,” Inger Nygaard, Communications Manager at Norfund, says.

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Livelihood, Land And Investment

Government orders arrest of notorious land grabber in Mubende district.

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By Witness Radio team

The government of Uganda has ordered the Police in Mubende to oversee the arrest of a  land grabber in the Mubende district whose evictions have caused suffering to residents in Mubende for over a decade.

The Prime minister of Uganda, Rt Hon. Robina Nabbanja while meeting the affected residents at her home in Kakumiro district ordered the arrest of Milly Naava Namutebi and halted all activities carried out by a land grabber on people’s land. She further made it clear that all residents remain on their land till her visit to ascertain the true owner of the land.

For over a decade, Naava has been carrying out forced evictions in the area with the assistance of the area police which has rendered people homeless. People have lost land, lack food, children are not schooling and families have broken as a result of her unending violent evictions. Defenders have been framed and arrested, whereas others have been beaten in evictions.

Over 3.5 square miles belonging to 4000 residents have all been taken by the wealthy investor without consent from the owners.

Over 60 residents of Kirwanyi in Kiruma sub-county led by their Chairman Bangirana Innocent pitched camp at the Prime minister’s home in protest of the increased and violent evictions of Naava and her men and wanted the prime minister’s intervention to save them from being evicted.

According to the residents, Naava with the protection of police officers was harvesting people’s crops including maize claiming she wanted to use the land. The residents informed Witness Radio that they have been on the said land for generations and wonder how Naava came to own it.

One of the victims, Mr. Lubuuka Godfrey who had over 20 acres of maize told the Prime minister that casual laborers attached to Naava and guarded by the police officers slashed all his plantation and ordered him to leave the land immediately.

“I direct the District Police Commander (DPC) of Mubende and the Resident District Commissioner (RDC) to withdraw the four police officers guarding Naava, and thereafter arrest her for causing distress to the people.” The Rt Hon Prime minister said.

At least 30 houses and hundreds of hectares of crops especially maize were destroyed in the recent violent evictions, according to a community land rights defender, Mr. Ssesazi Christopher.

Naava has on several occasions been arrested and charged for violently evicting people without compensating or resettling them. In July 2022, Naava together with his people at large were arrested, arraigned before the magistrate court in Mubende, and charged with 20 counts including forgery, malicious damage, fraud, and criminal trespass among others.

The Rt Hon Prime minister’s order comes after Naava defied directives of not evicting people on land that were given by the Minister of Lands, Hon Judith Nabakooba. Last year, Nabakooba visited the affected communities and directed no further evictions citing investigations into the land ownership.

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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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