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DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS

UNFSS loses significance as critical issues affecting smallholder farmers are not mentioned – Criticized by Rights groups and experts

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By Witnessradio.org Team,

Touted and offered as a bridge to one of the 17 sustainable development goals by 2030 – a world free of hunger, the summit had nothing to offer to the small-holder farmers. It was a rubber-stump of the ongoing corporate assault on food sovereignty and security. They miserably offered hotdogs to vegetarians.

Despite prior warnings from smallholder farmers and those who understand their ecosystem and also speak for them that the summit was a fool’s gold, the organizers of the summit feigned ignorance and dismissed their views out of hand. They [orgainsers] were not moved by the inclusive ideals of food sovereignty and security. Instead, chose to sacrifice these ideals on the altar of primitive accumulation of wealth that they believe will only thrive after the corporate-funded food jihadists and crusaders have disintegrated and wiped out small-holder farming.

But for those that have thoughtfully followed the pre and post-summit forward-looking criticism labeled against the ongoing crony capitalistic food jihad and crusade – funded by Hunger and Food Insecurity bandit and warlord – the World Economic Forum – will not treat it as sour gripping, but will unreservedly agree with smallholder farmers and those that honestly speak for them.

The food-jihadists and crusaders at this indoctrinating summit spoke in similes and metaphors that subtly declared war on smallholder farmers. Except for a formal declaration of a food jihad and crusades against food security and sovereignty, the food-jihadists and crusaders kicked the smallholder farmers in the teeth.

On 23 September, the United Nations held its first-ever food systems summit in New York but critics say it did not address the real challenges faced by the indigenous people who contribute 70% of the world’s food through sustainable agriculture, a reason why groups representing small-scale farmers and Indigenous communities boycotted it.

Paradoxically, the organizers dangled “eradication of poverty’s a bait at the unsuspecting poor countries that entirely thrive on smallholder farming to justify the cooperate capture of the summit. However, it didn’t address pertinent issues of monopoly by a handful of transnational companies, land grab, food sovereignty, and security,

The questions raised by key stakeholders like Elizabeth Mpofu Small-scale organic peasant farmer from Zimbabwe and Edgardo Garcia Peasant leader from the Nicaragua Land Workers’ Association have not been addressed. Their opinions raised reservations shared by smallholder farmers and those that speak for them.

“A handful of transnational companies dominate the current global food and commodity trade. For instance, just two firms – Dow Dupont and Monsanto-        Bayer Crop Science – hold a 53 percent market share in the seed industry. Merely three firms own 70 percent of the global agrochemical industry that manufactures and sells chemicals and pesticides used on crops. This corporate concentration is also evident in the livestock breeding sector, animal pharmaceutical industry, farming machinery, commodity trade, and so forth.”

In his address at the food systems summit, the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said it was a solutions summit aimed at making transformative effects of food systems and a driver for the achievement of the SDGs by 2030.

However, groups who participated in the Global People’s Summit (GPS) on Food Systems, a parallel summit, are among the groups that boycotted the summit said the recently concluded UN Food Systems Summit (UN FSS) is just paving way for control of big corporations over global food systems and misleading the people through corporate-led false solutions to hunger and climate change.

The GPS on Food Systems, a Global South-led counter-summit to the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) co-organized by 22 regional and international organizations, which include; People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS), PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP), Asian Peasant Coalition (APC), Arab Group for the Protection of Nature (APN), Arab People for Food Sovereignty (ANFS), Eastern and Southern Africa Small-scale Farmers Forum (ESAFF), Indigenous Peoples’ Movement for Self-Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL), Coalition of Agricultural Workers International (CAWI) among others.

These groups are not the first ones to boycott the UNFSS, in July, 36 civil society organizations (CSOs) in Uganda and across Africa under the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) had ruled out their participation in the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) scheduled for September 2021 in New York, USA accusing the UNFSS of excluding the critical views of indigenous farmers in defining suitable food systems.

The UNFSS aimed at strengthening corporate control over food and agriculture through advancing neoliberal policies and false solutions for instance food fortification, genetic modification, industrial meat production systems, monoculture food production to climate change, hunger, and malnutrition which organizations and experts say are corporate-driven approaches that marginalize, criminalize and co-opt indigenous knowledge as well as eroding biodiversity.

The groups added that the summit which branded its self as the ‘People’s Summit and the ‘Solutions Summit,’ did not listen to the voices of marginalized rural peoples, nor forwarded real solutions to the food, biodiversity, and climate crises.

“The UN FSS has been under fire by civil society and people’s organizations for its blatant subservience to corporate interests. A true and legitimate People’s Summit should put the hungry and marginalized — landless farmers, agricultural workers, indigenous peoples, fisherfolk, rural women, youth, rural people living in occupied areas, and sanctioned peoples — at the helm of agenda-setting in the radical transformation of our food systems,” Razan Zuayter, global co-chairperson of the People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS), a member in the Global People’s Summit.

Michael Fakhri, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food said the summit has offered nothing to people to feed themselves and their families.

In an interview with the Guardian, Fakhir said the summit has unfortunately left many people feeling disappointed, including other UN human rights experts who participated in its preparation a situation that forced thousands to organize their own people’s summit and counter-mobilization over the past few days.

He added that even at the peak of the pandemic, the greatest threat to food security and nutrition was not because the food was unavailable, many people were not eating or not eating well because they lost their livelihood or home, could not afford to buy good food a situation brought by the corporate giants whose operations cause mayhem to local communities.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in 2020, between 720 and 811 million people faced hunger. And the recent trends of large land acquisition for commercial farming have further alienated the majority of smallholder farmers and exacerbated the hunger crisis.

In Uganda, like any other country, land rights are one of the pressing issues worth talking about. Whereas large-scale agricultural operations are increasing at a high speed, but local communities are not benefiting from them.

Often due to the desire to secure huge chunks of land for their operations, residents or landowners end up being evicted (violently) without any resettlement or compensation or paying them peanuts. This in turn breeds violence.

The land grabs that started in the mid-2000s have not ended. Almost land being occupied by companies’ plantations, owners of the land were evicted or the companies have intentions of evicting or grabbing the owners’ land. According to our research, we extracted only sugar cane plantation companies, amongst other companies working in Uganda on how they obtained land they are working on.

Families where Hoima Sugar Company is operating up to now live in refugee camps. Over 4000 locals were evicted by the company to pave way for its sugar cane farm.

Its sister company, Kiryandongo Sugar Company limited which operates in Kiryandongo and Masindi districts, did the same to residents. It is one of the multinationals that have forcefully and violently evicted people in the area. Estimates by a local defender of the evicted people move to over 36,000.

In 2013, Kakiira Sugar Works Limited, a subsidiary of Madhvani Group with help of a local land dealer Mr. Moses Karangwa evicted over 17,000 people in Kayunga district with funds from the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and Uganda Development Bank among others.

Atiak sugar factory owned by a Somali entrepreneur Amina Hersi Moghe encroached on over 1000 acres of 50 households in Amuru district.

Since 2016, Abid Alam’s Kassanda sugar Company which is funded by the Indian Government evicted over 6000 people in the Kassanda district.

The others also mentioned in land wrangles and grabbing include, Mayuge Sugar Company, Kinyara Sugar Company, GM Sugar Company, Sango Bay sugar Company, Sugar and Allied industries limited, among other companies.

The indigenous communities feel the land rights and other important issues were left out and thus the UNFFS lost its meaning. Millions of farmers are evicted and pushed into hunger by the operations of these large companies. Sadly the produces are just imported which leaves many citizens destitute and hungry with nothing to feed their families and no land to cultivate.

DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS

Breaking: Witness Radio and Partners to Launch Human Rights Monitoring, Documentation, and Advocacy Project Tomorrow.

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By Witness Radio Team.

Witness Radio, in collaboration with Dan Church Aid (DCA) and the National Coalition for Human Rights Defenders (NCHRD), is set to launch the Monitoring, Documentation, and Advocacy for Human Rights in Uganda (MDA-HRU) project tomorrow, 22nd February 2024, at Kabalega Resort Hotel in Hoima District.

The project, funded by the European Union, aims to promote the protection and respect for human rights, and enable access to remedy where violations occur especially in the Mid-Western and Karamoja sub-regions where private sector actors are increasingly involved in land-based investments (LBIs) through improved documentation, and evidence-based advocacy.

The three-year project, which commenced in October 2023, focuses its activities in the Mid-Western sub-region, covering Bulisa, Hoima, Masindi, Kiryandongo, Kikuube, Kagadi, Kibale, and Mubende districts, and Karamoja sub-region, covering Moroto, Napak, Nakapiripirit, Amudat, Nabilatuk, Abim, Kaabong, Kotido, and Karenga districts.

The project targets individuals and groups at high risk of human rights violations, including Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) and Land and Environmental Defenders (LEDs). It also engages government duty bearers such as policymakers and implementers in relevant ministries and local governments, recognizing their crucial role in securing land and environmental rights. Additionally, the project involves officials from institutional duty bearers including the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC), Equal Opportunities Commission, and courts, among others.

Representatives from the international community, faith leaders, and business actors are also included in the project’s scope, particularly those involved in land-based investments (LBIs) impacting the environment.

The project was initially launched in Moroto for the Karamoja region on the 19th of this month with the leadership of the National Coalition for Human Rights Defenders (NCHRD).

According to the project implementors,  the action is organized into four activity packages aimed at; enhancing the capacity and skills of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) and Land and Environmental Defenders (LEDs) in monitoring, documentation, reporting (MDR), and protection, establishing and reinforcing reporting and documentation mechanisms for advocacy and demand for corporate and government accountability;  providing response and support to HRDs and marginalized communities; and lastly facilitating collaboration and multi-stakeholder engagements that link local and national issues to national and international frameworks and spaces.

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DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS

Kiryandongo leadership agree to partner with Witness Radio Uganda to end rampant forced land evictions in the district.

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By Witness Radio team.

Kiryandongo district leaders have embraced Witness Radio’s collaboration with the Kiryandongo district aimed at ending the rampant violent and illegal land evictions that have significantly harmed the livelihoods of the local communities in the area.

The warm welcome was made at the dialogue organized by Witness Radio Uganda, Uganda’s leading land and environmental rights watchdog at the Kiryandongo district headquarters, intended to reflect on the plight of land and environmental rights defenders, local and indigenous communities and the role of responsible land-based investments in protecting people and the planet.

Speaking at the high-level dialogue, that was participated in by technical officers, policy implementers, religious leaders, leaders of project affected persons (PAPs), politicians, media, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), and development partners that support land and environment rights as well as the Land Based Investments (LBIs) Companies in the Kiryandongo district, the leaders led by the District Local Council 5 Chairperson, Ms. Edith Aliguma Adyeri appreciated the efforts taken by Witness Radio organization to organize the dialogue meeting aimed at bringing together stakeholders to safeguard community land and environmental rights in order address the escalating vice of land grabbing in the area.

During the dialogue, participants shared harrowing accounts of the impacts of land evictions and environmental degradation, including tragic deaths, families torn asunder, young girls forced into marriage, a surge in teenage pregnancies, limited access to education, and significant environmental damage which have profoundly affected the lives of the local population in Kiryandongo.

Participants attending the dialogue.

In recent years, Kiryandongo district has been embroiled in violent land evictions orchestrated to accommodate multinational large-scale agriculture plantations and wealthy individuals leaving the poor marginalized.

According to various reports, including findings from Witness Radio’s 2020 research Land Grabs at a Gun Point, the forceful land acquisitions in Kiryandongo have significantly impacted the livelihoods of local communities. It is estimated that nearly 40,000 individuals have been displaced from their land to make room for land-based investments in the Kiryandongo district. However, leaders in the district also revealed in the dialogue that women and children are affected most.

The Kiryandongo Deputy Resident District Commissioner, Mr. Jonathan Akweteireho, emphasized that all offices within the Kiryandongo district are actively involved in addressing the prevalent land conflicts. He also extended a welcome to Witness Radio, acknowledging their collaborative efforts in tackling and resolving land and environmental issues in the district.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we all know that the land rights together with environmental rights have been violated in our district, but because we don’t know what our rights are, because we have not directly done what we could to safeguard our rights and now this is the time that Witness Radio has brought us together to safeguard our rights. I want to welcome you in Kiryandongo and be rest assured that we shall give you all the necessary support to help us manage these rampant cases,” Ms. Adyeri said in her remarks during the dialogue meeting.

The team leader at Witness Radio Uganda, Mr. Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala expressed gratitude to the participants for their active involvement in the dialogue and revealed that Witness Radio’s objective is to find a holistic solution to the escalating land disputes in Kiryandongo district serving as an example to other districts.

“We are here to assist Kiryandongo district in attaining peace and stability because it stands as a hotspot for land grabbers in Uganda. Mismanagement of land conflicts in Uganda could potentially lead to a significant internal conflict. Everywhere you turn, voices are lamenting the loss of their land and property. Kiryandongo, abundant with ranches, suffers from a lack of a structured framework, which amplifies these land conflicts. The influx of wealthy investors further complicates the situation,” Mr. Ssebaggala disclosed.

Within the dialogue, Mr. Ssebaggala emphasized the need for the Kiryandongo district council to pass a by-law aimed at curbing land evictions as an initial step in addressing the prevalent land injustices.

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DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS

A breaking alert! A community land rights defender is kidnapped from his home.

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Kassanda, Uganda: a community land rights defender is missing after unidentified men cladding Uganda police uniform raided his home at around 10 PM local time, his wife has revealed.

Julius Ndagize is one of the community land rights defenders in Kassanda district advocating for the compensation of over 10,000 people illegally evicted from their land by the New Forest Company (NFC) in 2008 to plant monoculture trees.

In early 2020, evictees rose again to revive their demands to repossess their land following NFC’s failure to resettle and compensate them for the human rights violations and damages.

Evictees further narrate that ever since NFC grabbed their land, they have experienced increased deaths among children due to malnutrition and hired out land to bury their relatives who have died. All children who were attending school at the time of eviction have dropped out of school, while others have gotten married at a tender age. Furthermore, many families of the evictees have since broken up, and the list of long-standing impacts goes on.

“Our home was raided by unidentified men in police uniform at 10 PM local time. When they reached home, they banged on the house door and demanded that I should open the door. Upon opening, they forcefully entered the house without identifying themselves, with no explanation. Instead, they asked the whereabouts of my husband. They searched while throwing house properties in every direction until they got him and took him to an unknown direction. Said Mrs. Ndagize

She accused Uganda police of stealing Uganda Shillings 350,000, which is equivalent to about USD 90, which they found in their bedroom. She said the money belonged to a local women’s savings association, of which Mrs. Ndagize is the treasurer.

Since 2011 NFC has benefitted financing from international banks and private equity funds, including the European Investment Bank (EIB) with five million Euros (almost US 6 million dollars) to expand one of its plantations in Uganda; The Agri-Vie Agribusiness Fund, a private equity investment fund, had invested US 6.7 million dollars; the World Bank’s private sector lending arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the UK bank HSBC with around US 10 million has caused unimaginable pain to hundreds of households and continued to suffer gross human rights abuses, mainly in Mubende district.

Lately, NFC has benefited from the carbon offset financing from several financiers, including the Dutch Development Bank (FMO).

Witness Radio has commissioned search for the lost person, but no success had been reached by the time of writing this article.

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