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Accountable Development To Communities

Why UN Food systems summit is irrelevant to Uganda’s smallholder farmers: A case of capitalism pushing the poor away from family land

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Some of the community members affected by land grabbing in Kiryandongo District

By witnessradio.org team.

As the United Nations, is striving to end hunger, achieve food security through sustainable agriculture what they termed as one of the 17 sustainable development goals by 2030, Uganda still grapples with mass forced evictions being aided by International development financiers being hosted and protected by big nations.

In Uganda, the ‘development financing’ has exacerbated poverty, hunger among the local populations, threatened food security, and forced inhabitants to migrate to urbanized cities or working as laborers on large plantation farms established formerly on their land as the only means of looking for survival.

Ever since the mandate to set up the Food Systems Summit was taken over from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) by the UN secretary-general’s office in close partnership with the World Economic Forum, a private sector organization fronting corporate interests, the summit lost its relevance as far as smallholder farmers concept in Uganda is concerned.

The governance of the summit is under capture by “experts” known to be staunch defenders of industrial agriculture, and wealthy nations, which host many of the large multinational corporations and International Development Financiers, to drive their agenda.

In a bid to translate these aspirations into tangible results, the United Nations’ three-day pre-summit in Rome, which ended on the 28th day of July 2021…. in a lead up to the UN Food Systems Summit in September in New York City, US, made no mention of peasant agroecology, or indigenous ecological knowledge and it’s feared by smallholder farmers to be fronting corporates’ interests.

In a survey conducted by Witness Radio-Uganda on development projects (agribusiness, afforestation, carbon offset projects, mining, and infrastructure development) being financed by members of the World Economic Forum for the last ten years, both COVID-19 lock-downs inclusive, estimate that 1, 257,200 (one million two hundred, fifty-seven thousand and two hundred peasant families have been forcefully evicted or threatened with eviction from more than 5 million Ha.

Approximately 98.2% of the grabbed land or on the verge of being grabbed was agricultural land being used for subsistence farming by local peasants.

As we write this story, Nalumunye Betty, not real name, a small-holder farmer in Kawaala who grows yams to feed her family fears that an eviction facilitated by World-Bank financing of the expansion and construction of Lubigi Channel under the Kampala Institutional and Infrastructure Development Project (KIIDP-2) Project will take away her cheap and sustainable source of food.

She is not alone, there are many other smallholder farmers across the country including Kiryandongo district, 122 Km away from Kampala facing a related quandary. They are battling multi-national companies, including, Agilis Partners Ltd through its Asili Farms that received USD 1,200,000 from the Netherlands-based Common Fund for Commodities (CFC), a basket fund that gets part of its money from the European Union. Agilis Partners Limited is using the development finances to forcefully evict thousands of peasants off their land.

“Every eviction has a ripple effect and this country will have to pay dearly for it soon”, Mrs. Joan Bulyelari, one of the legal officers with Witness Radio – Uganda, noted with great concern.

“It is a double-edged sword. It takes away a live hood and leaves communities hungry. It breeds domestic violence, breaks families, forces children out of school. Just look at what is happening in Kiryandongo. Employees of multi-national companies are raping mothers and defiling children to defeat their spirited efforts to reclaim their land from multi-nationals”, she added.

By and large, agriculture plays a vital role in the Ugandan economy, and most of the persons evicted are smallholder farmers whose land is being targeted constitute 68% (sixty-eight percent) of all working Ugandans are employed by agriculture.

Small-holder farmers account for 89% (eighty-nine percent) of all land users in Uganda. They contribute up to 80% (eighty percent) of the annual total agricultural output, this includes food crops.

Conversely, this contribution seems to have been overlooked by key stakeholders’ aggressive advocacy, and blind funding by international financial institutions of large-scale mechanized agriculture without prioritizing the land rights of smallholder farmers, which is an affront to food security that has been guaranteed by small-holder farmers through their 80% (eighty-percent) contribution to the annual total agriculture.

According to the Country Director, Witness Radio-Uganda, Mr. Wokulira Geoffrey Ssebaggala, “It is time we rethink, and jealously protect the smallholder farmers’ contribution to food sovereignty, but that debate will only make sense if key stakeholders; governments, financial institutions, and international bodies take up the responsibility to finance community-led projects that cater for the protection  of land rights of smallholder farmers.”

“They should not just throw money at large-scale agricultural and development projects, especially, if they will involve the forceful land acquisition. These development finances are aiding instability in Uganda and worsening food insecurity yet it should alleviate such issues. This is akin to throwing pearls to pigs. International financiers, among other solutions, should set independent supervisory and audit units to ensure that there is prior, adequate, fair, and prompt compensation before any evictions ”, he advised.

In Rome, the priorities of the UN Food Systems were emphasized on paper as “hunger and nutrition, climate change and inclusion and equity but such can only be achieved if the summit remains an independent space for all to find lasting solutions to food security.

Earlier this month, one of Uganda’s dailies, The Daily Monitor, reported that a total of 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.

UNFSS is accused of excluding the critical views of indigenous farmers in defining suitable food systems, “We are deeply concerned that the current rushed, corporate-controlled, unaccountable, and opaque process for this summit will not lead to the transformation we envision of sustainable and healthy food systems.”, its statement read in part.

Globally, the International Peasants Movement, while christening the UNFSS as a ‘Scientific Group’ also views it as a composition of “corporate-sponsored actors who legitimize corporate-owned knowledge and technology systems, and hold peasant agroecological practices in contempt.”

Witness Radio Uganda will not take part in the Food Systems Summit, later in September 2021 in New York, instead joins other actors to reaffirm the need of the UN and other stakeholders to rethink approaches that have left smallholder farmers landless and threatening food security.

 

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Accountable Development To Communities

Thousands of smallholder farmers in Uganda have forcefully lost their land in exchange for carbon offset projects.

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By Witness Radio Team.

For over a decade now, a forest regulator, National Forests Authority (NFA) has donated tracts of land for indigenous and local communities to commercial tree growers/investors with funding from International Financial Institutions (IFIs) to offset carbon emissions in the global north.

With a lot of money for carbon offsets, individuals in NFA officials sacrificed the lives of poor communities. The land for the community is lost without following due process by NFA and its agents and investors. In all areas visited by Witness Radio – Uganda, non of the carbon offset projects have expressed views from victim communities, were never consulted, never sensitized, compensated, or offered alternative resettlement before forced eviction.

Since the early 2000s, NFA land giveaways are characterized by violence that has left hundreds of farmers tortured, arbitrarily arrested, and illegally imprisoned as others have lost lives. Evictions have been carried out by government soldiers, police, and security guards from private firms in the name of accommodating investors.

As a result of NFA land giveaways, hundreds of children have dropped out of schools and gotten into early marriage, evictees have to hire out land to bury their loved ones, some have been forced into refugee camps, and others have been reduced to laborers from landlords.

The latest victim of the NFA land giveaway is the 158 hectares of farmland belonging to over 1000 smallholder farmers which were given out to local investors for planting trees in the Llera ‘forest reserve’.

According to Odongo Martin, the Llera community chairperson said NFA violent forced evictions started in 2008 despite being resisted by the local communities.

“Our forefathers lawfully occupied and cultivated this land since 1930 but no one was informed about the existence of a forest reserve in the area until around 2008 when some unscrupulous people started saying that this is a forest reserve. Where was the government for all those 89 years?” Mr. Odongo Martin asked.

Before the Llera eviction, NFA since 2015 has violently evicted over 700 families off their 1174 hectares of land which was their source of food, shelter, and survival. The grabbed land by NFA is located in Yandwe village, Butuntumula Sub-County in Luweero district.

NFA said the evictees were encroaching the Mbale forest reserve. Some evictees told Witness Radio that their relatives lived on the land since 1915. The evictees remain dumped in destituteness, and their former land is turned into a eucalyptus forest belonging to some officials in NFA.

Around 2014, over 10,000 villagers were forcefully evicted by the NFA off their 500 hectares of land in 13 villages occupying the Bukaleba forest reserve in the Mayuge district. The NFA leased the land to the Norwegian Forest group, Green Resources. The evictees had occupied the land for over 30 years.

In the central region of Uganda, Namwasa and Luwunga ‘forest reserves’ in Mubende and Kiboga districts, close to 20,000 smallholder farmers got evicted by NFA. They allocated their land to New Forests Company, a UK-based company planting pine and eucalyptus trees. The evicted communities struggle to make ends meet up-to-date.

Section 5 of the NFA Act states that the Minister may, on the advice of the Board, after consultation with the local council and the local community in whose area the proposed forest reserve is to be located; and with the approval of Parliament signified by its resolution by statutory order, declare an area to be a central forest reserve. However, while gazetting communities’ lands, no consultations are carried out to seek landowners’ consent before land giveaways.

 

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Accountable Development To Communities

Breaking: Ministries, gov’t departments, and security organs in syndicate forced eviction of an urban-poor community to give way for an infrastructural project.

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By Witness Radio Team

Barely twenty-one (21) months after a team of lawyers foiled a forced eviction of urban poor families to give way for a drainage channel construction, ministries, government departments, and security organs are again up in arms carrying out forced evictions.

This second forced eviction is another attempt by the government to run away from the free, prior, and informed consent and provide a fair and timely compensation responsibility to a community affected by an infrastructural project. Now National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) is disguising as ‘evicting wetland encroachers’ a move targeting the urban-poor families’ land.

In December 2020, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the Kawaala Zone II community in Kampala district received an eviction notice of 28 days without any explanation from the government. Accompanied by armed soldiers, representatives of the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) turned up at Kawaala village and started placing a red “X” on many structures and explaining that they were earmarked for demolition.

The first foiled forced eviction by KCCA was hiding under the Public Health Act Cap 281 which states that in the event of contravention of any of the public health rules related to the erection of buildings, the local authority, without prejudice has the right to take proceedings for a fine in respect of the contravention and may by notice require the owner either to pull down or remove the works.

Upon Witness Radio – Uganda’s investigation of the intended eviction, it was discovered that KCCA was to use the targeted land for Lubigi drainage construction using the World Bank funds under the second phase of the Kampala Institutional and Infrastructural Development Project (KIIDP-2). In reality, without consultation and compensation, individuals within the authority were grabbing land from the urban poor to amass wealth.

On 23rd August 2022, NEMA and other government departments and ministries under the protection of the military and anti-riot police descended on gardens for families in Kawaala Zone II, a victim community of KIIDP 2, and cut down food crops and demolished houses belonging to over 100 families.

As hundreds pondered their next move, Mrs. Nabuduwa Lucia was weeping to recount the memories of her well-established home and garden that had been demolished by the NEMA officials. She said she had been given 4 hours to vacate the premises but she had lost where to take her family of 5.

Nabuduwa, 54, heard one of the officials communicating to his fellow evictor, “don’t waste your time demolishing that house, just burn it, and won’t take seconds to be destroyed” She was terrified.

She added that “I came from Mbale and settled on this land which was bought for me by one of my children with his hard-earned money. I have been living here for many years and have been able to feed my grandchildren. My house, sugarcanes, yams, banana plantation, eucalyptus trees, and mangoes were all destroyed.” she cried aloud.

Nabuduwa is not the only one. Mr. Ssemulyo Richard had seated next to his wife and children. He also lost everything during the evictions.

“I am here and my family of 10. I don’t have where to take them. I don’t have food or land. I also don’t have money to relocate to other places. Here is the place I have called home and lived for most of my years,” he said.

The community being evicted claimed that they were waiting for compensation from KIIDP-2 for the lost properties and land for drainage construction.

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Accountable Development To Communities

Breaking: Court dismisses a criminal case against a community land rights defender for want of prosecution.

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By Witness Radio Team.

Kiryandongo. A criminal trespass case against a community land rights defender has been dismissed over the prosecution’s failure to adduce evidence before the Chief Magistrate Court that pinned the community defender on the alleged charges.

On 27th October 2021, Kiryandongo Chief Magistrate Court charged Otyaluk David with criminal trespass and remanded him to Masindi prison. He was later granted court bail and since then, he has been traveling 48 kilometers to and from court every fortnight.

Before he was presented before a court, Otyaluk was kidnapped and illegally detained in Kiryandongo Central Police Station (CPS) cells for five (5) days for trespassing on a piece of land he (Otyaluk) had lived and cultivated since he was born.

In the afternoon of 21st October, two (2) armed men cladding Uganda People Defense Forces (UPDF) uniform and police personnel raided Otyaluk’s home and got him kidnapped to an unknown destination. UPDF soldiers guard Kiryandongo Sugar Limited plantations.

“On the day of his kidnap, Otyaluk was found praying in his house. In a blink of an eye, the defender was rounded up and bundled onto a vehicle owned by Kiryandongo Sugar Limited, forcefully evicting us off our land. We later learned that he was taken into evictor’s facilities where he was kept for some time before being transferred to Kiryandongo CPS” A family member remembers.

A family member further added that before the kidnap, Otyaluk’s family had lost about 12 acres of land to Kiryandongo Sugar Limited.

“Company workers under the protection of soldiers brought a tractor and plowed acres of semi-mature maize, beans, sorghum, and sim-sim. We were only left with a small piece of land where our house sits and we are currently trapped in the middle of a sugarcane plantation” a family member added.

Since the trial period was announced, the prosecution failed to bring witnesses to pin Otyaluk for trespassing on his land. It was only on the 19th of July, 2022 during a court session, one Adamuru Peter, allegedly to be a company manager turned up as a company representative but not as a witness.

In her ruling last week, a magistrate at Kiryandongo Magistrate court discontinued the trial of Otyaluk and dismissed the case.

Otyaluk is one of the luckiest among hundreds of community land and environmental rights defenders currently under persecution to have his case dismissed. It’s an order of the day for the community land and environmental rights defenders to be kidnapped, arbitrarily arrested, and tortured on orders of investors for their work of mobilizing the communities to desist land grabs.

Kiryandongo Sugar Limited is among multinationals forcefully evicting over 35000 local and indigenous people off their land to give way to large-scale agribusinesses.

Kiryandongo Sugar Limited is one of the many companies owned by the Rai Group of Mauritius. The dynasty owns several other companies in DR Congo, Kenya and Malawi, and Uganda. A dynasty owns companies such as West Kenya Sugar (which owns Kabras Sugar), Timsales Limited, Menengai Oil Refineries, Rai Ply, and Webuye Panpaper.

In Uganda, the Rai Group of Mauritius owns Nile Ply limited, Kinyara Sugar Limited, and Masindi Sugar Limited among others. One of its directors is a shareholder of a British Virgin Islands company, listed in the Panama Papers database recently.

The same company has fraudulently gotten a license to replace part of Bungoma natural forest with a sugarcane plantation.

“Court has shown today that the company is maliciously arresting us to keep us in jails. To weaken our hearts, wasting our time and resources. They intentionally do this because we refused to surrender the land we have lived on for years. It is shaming that the government has failed to protect the rights of the poor people.” The defender noticed.

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