Aug 08, 2013
Thirty year old Noé Vazquez Ortiz was stoned to death while preparing for the opening ceremony of the 10th meeting of the Mexican Movement of People Affected by Dams and For Rivers (MAPDER) on Friday, August 2, in Veracruz, Mexico.
The event was due to open with a ceremony giving thanks to the soil and water – two key life-giving elements – to welcome attendees with an illustration of the local love for nature.
Noé was a craftsman who promoted culture through his work. He worked to raise awareness about the degradation of nature in the high mountains of Veracruz with Colectivo Defensa Verde and MAPDER.
The conference organizers immediately took steps to protect the safety of the participants. Tensions have been running high in host state Veracruz because of the construction of dams and concessions granted by the state authorities. Resistance to the dams has been strong in Amatlan de los Reyes where the meeting is taking place.
MAPDER's press release following the murder highlighted that hydroelectric dam projects have increased since 2010 in Veracruz. Attempts have been made to install 112 private dams so far. Protests opposing hydroelectric and mining projects have been met with an atmosphere of intimidation.
Gustavo Castro, member of Otros Mundos Chiapas/ Friends of the Earth México is one of the 200 participants who were already in Amatlan de los Reyes when the activist was killed. He told Real World Radio that he was very worried about the State’s role in the incidents because the municipal, state and federal governments, as well as human rights authorities were told about the event and were still unable to provide adequate security. This concern is even stronger considering that nowadays “the government is criminalizing any mobilization against mining, dams and other megaprojects”.
The two murderers of Vazquez Ortiz were caught and, despite the tension in Amatlan de los Reyes, organizers decided not to cancel the meeting, but to dedicate this 10th Meeting of MAPDER to the memory of Noe Vazquez Ortiz.
Aug 05, 2013
Two years ago, the UN's Environment Programme (UNEP) handed Shell a report detailing the devastation caused by the oil company's operations in Ogoniland and listing measures it should take to clean up this mess. Guess what? Two years later not one of these recommended measures has been implemented. Shell refused to meet Friends of the Earth Germany/ BUND for a handover of this petition in person, so we are handing over the signatures online. Follow hashtag #ShellCleanUp for more. Ask Shell to clean up its mess in Ogoniland. Send a message to Shell CEO Peter Voser through the form below.
Since this post was originally published earlier this month, the Dipped Products Glove factory, which had been the target of protests, has been ordered to relocate and may close pending further government invesitations.
The events are starkly reminiscent of the final stages of the demonstration in Cochabamba in Bolivia in the year 2000, when Victor Hugo Daza was killed. That protest was also against the privatization of public water.
The incident in Sri Lanka is a warning to the people of the terrible consequences of protesting against neoliberal and corporate interests. It is shameful how some politicians are painting a misleading picture of this incident, while media footage and eye witness testimonies clearly tell a different story.
The World Socialist Website reported:
“About 1,000 soldiers wearing flak jackets and armed with T-56 assault rifles were deployed to the area. Members of the army’s motorcycle brigade arrived in Belummahara at about 2 p.m. and immediately began harassing demonstrators, demanding they disperse.
About two hours later another group of soldiers were mobilized to Weliweriya to break up the demonstration. While the protesters eventually agreed to a directive from an army brigadier to disperse within five minutes, in the ensuing commotion, commandos suddenly started firing live rounds. Protesters were also attacked with long batons, tear gas and water cannon.”
On the surface, the protest is a water conflict. People were simply demanding clean water for their daily consumption and for the factory to be closed. However, on closer inspection, it is an issue of exploitation of a common good by a corporate giant and a business tycoon for corporate interest. The military was indirectly serving the businesses against the public interest.
A peaceful protest in Welivariya, Sri Lanka demanding clean water, ended with the killing of three people including a 17 year old school boy, Akila Dinesh (who was the only child in his family) and many others wounded. They were demonstrating against the Venigross Gloves Factory, located in Rathupaswela (about 17 km from Colombo, Sri Lanka), which has caused water contamination in a more than 3 km radius, affecting twelve villages.
The affected people are living in rural villages, which depend entirely on wells for their water. There are no pipe water facilities and no monthly bills. The factory has released acidic effluent and given the untreated sludge as manure to local people, which, in turn, makes the groundwater acidic.
Farming families now cannot go to the paddy fields due to the pollution from the factory. They cannot even drink their own well water. Therefore, those people who have set up this polluting factory in such a pristine place should be held responsible for destroying lives and traditional livelihoods.
Affected people have a legitimate right to oppose this polluting factory. They also have a right to demand clean water, which is a basic need and a human right. They face the risk of contaminated food, even when they grow it on their own land. The water table will not be recovered in the next two to three decades. The factory, which was presented as a much needed source of local jobs, will instead be a burden on these communities for the foreseeable future.
Jul 26, 2013
On International Mangrove Day, we reflect on the urgent need to protect and preserve mangrove forests, such as La Tirana on the coast of El Salvador, and their fragile ecosystems
Mangrove forests, such as La Tirana on the coast of El Salvador, are part of a complex ecosystem that protects coastlines from erosion and filters coastal waters. Communities living in and around these forests depend on this natural resource for their livelihoods and care for the biodiversity of these fragile ecosystems.
Jul 25, 2013
The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) today (July 24, 2013) launched a new campaign titled "Publish What You Pump", which aims to fill the gap in the present Publish What You Pay and the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) processes.
At an event in Port Harcourt graced by representatives of civil society groups, community-based organizations and the media, ERA/FoEN said that although the NEITI processes have been ongoing for nearly 12 years, it has largely failed to sanitize the Nigerian petroleum sector or reduce the level of corruption as Nigeria loses nearly 500,000 barrels of crude oil per day, costing the nation nearly $8 billion dollars per year.
The initiative will require that institutions such as the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) set up appropriate guidelines for measuring oil and gas production as well as have the necessary tools to carry out their oversight functions.
In his presentation, ERA/FoEN Executive Director, Godwin Ojo said that today marks an important milestone in the launch of a national and global advocacy initiative which will address the lack of transparency and accountability in the oil and gas sector thereby posing a grave threat to national security and sustainable development.
The domestication of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) into the Nigerian context seeks to address poor resource governance and revenue mobilization to reverse the resource curse. Nigeria is endowed with abundant natural resources but is unable to utilize this for the wellbeing of citizens. As a result, poverty is rife, and more than 50 percent of its citizens live on less than US$2 per day. The Nigerian government is yet to properly account for the US$ 600 billion accruing from oil in the last four decades. We believe that given the necessary political will and prioritization, Nigeria can afford a National Basic income Scheme (NaBIS) of about N15,000 for all unemployed Nigerians if all the leaks, looting and theft of its resources are eliminated.
The Nigeria Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (NEITI) audits have unearthed a variety of discrepancies over the 10-year audit period and discovered nearly $2.6 billion dollars loss, tax evasion, and non-payment of royalties by the oil majors. In all counts, the oil majors failed to respect the NEITI findings but have ignored them with impunity.
The Publish What You Pump draws attention to the crime scene of ecological devastation, ecocide, and oil theft in the Niger Delta. It is time to hold oil companies and the presiding captains overseeing these rots and deaths corporately and personally accountable for the deaths and destruction they are helping to create.
The lack of transparency and accountability in the oil sector is leading to massive oil theft from the point of production to the point of sale. For example, it is the aspiration of the federal government to increased crude oil production to 4mbpd in the near future. We state categorically that government is already realizing its aspirations and producing well beyond 4mbpd that is far above the oil industry disclosed production rate that is averaging 2.4mbpd.
The recent disclosure in July that crude oil theft from pipelines has reached alarming proportion of 400,000 bpd is restricted to the Bush Refineries by local oil thieves. What about the more massive oil theft that is going on at the oil wellheads, flow stations, and export terminals that are directed at the international market? In addition to this, there are over 4,000 oil spills in the Niger Delta and not one has been effectively cleaned up. The volume of the spills averages at least 1 ExxonMobil Valdez spill per annum, that is, about 500,000-700,000 barrels spilled in the Niger Delta on a yearly basis.
The frequent oil spills and gas flaring has degraded the environment, destroyed livelihoods, led to human rights violations, violent conflicts, impoverishment and ecocide such that the Niger delta lies prostrate on a stretcher and panting for breathe.
Who Is Afraid of Metering?
The continued resistance of the oil companies to metering oil and gas at well heads and flow stations and the acquiescing of the regulatory agencies as well as other institutions of government can only point to collusion between the oil majors and powerful government officials who benefit from the oil theft. Indeed, in the oil sector, it is business as usual as the regulator has firmly become the regulated. During the recent Joint Senate Committee hearing on the Petroleum Industry Bill, while the oil companies are advocating for metering of crude oil at the point of sale, civil society groups are advocating for metering at the point of production from the oil well heads, flow stations and export terminals. The core issue affecting the oil and gas industry is the failure and or refusal of operators in the industry and regulatory bodies to publicly disclose or engage easily available scientific templates for precise measurement of the volume of all oil and gas produced in Nigeria, and at the different stages of the production process.
The Publish What You Pump Campaign has tremendous benefits. First, it effectively shatters the myths and misconceptions that it is technologically impossible to ascertain the volume of oil and gas produced on a daily basis in Nigeria.
Secondly, the PWYPC will reduce the level of waste, enhance revenue for infrastructure and social amenities provision. It will drastically reduce or eliminate oil theft if the technology to ensure scientific and real time precision metering of oil and gas flows at any point in the oil and gas production and supply are deployed. The current practice of solely relying on the oil sector for crude oil production figure is clearly unacceptable. Thirdly, the initiative marks a significant threshold in aggregating voices and actions of civil society groups, local communities, the media and all Nigerians towards achieving the critical mass required to effect fundamental changes in the way the Nigerian oil industry has been run in the last five decades.
Although the metering of the production line is important in the short term, it is the national shift in energy production and consumption from fossils to renewable sources of energy that are the more relevant for a shift towards a post petroleum economy that is imminent for Nigeria.
Jul 24, 2013
Endocrine disruptors in cosmetics: almost one third of products affected. Friends of the Earth Germany publishes study and iPhone-App.
Berlin: Nearly a third of cosmetic products in Germany, Austria and Switzerland contain endocrine disrupting substances. This is the conclusion of a study published today by Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland (BUND), the German section of Friends of the Earth. For the study, BUND searched the ingredients lists of more than 60,000 products for hormone mimicking chemicals: “The figures for the market leaders Beiersdorf (Nivea) and L'Oréal are especially alarming. Almost 50% of these companies' products that were analysed contain endocrine disruptors” says Sarah Häuser, BUND chemicals expert.
Endocrine disrupting chemicals were found in every product category: From shower gel, to sunscreen, lipstick, shaving foam, hair tinting lotion and deodorant. Most common are Parabens as preservatives and certain UV-filters. These agents can pass through the skin. A Swiss study showed that over 75 per cent of the women investigated had UV-filters in their breast milk.
The substances are being linked to the decrease of sperm quality as well as to breast, prostate, and testicular cancer. Especially fetuses, young children and teenagers are at risk, as the hormone system plays a key role in critical development stages.
Natural cosmetics were generally free of endocrine disruptors, which shows that it is possible to produce clean products: “Cosmetics are meant to make us pretty and not ill”, says Sarah Häuser, “When it comes to our health and especially the health of our children we should not take risks. BUND therefore calls on the producers to ban endocrine disruptors from their products.”
Because it is complicated for consumers to identify dangerous substances in the long ingredient lists, BUND now offers a free iPhone App. Jurek Vengels, BUND chemicals expert said: “Our ToxFox App enables consumers to scan the barcode of the products right away in the store and get immediate information if the cosmetic at hand contains endocrine disruptors. This makes it so much easier to choose “clean cosmetics”. What is more, you can also send a protest email to producers. We hope that market pressure will lead companies to review their position on endocrine disruptors.”
Along with the iPhone app, BUND has also released a web-form and a mobile website through which consumers can check cosmetics.
However, to date, the service is only available in German. As the system identifies products through their barcode, which can be different from country to country. It might not work very well outside Germany, Austria or Switzerland.
The study, the app and the web-form are all available at www.bund.net/toxfox
Jul 23, 2013
Why the end of the Kalimantan Forests and Climate Partnership is important
Australia has shut down the Kalimantan Forests and Climate Partnership (KFCP), leaving most of the project's targets unmet. When announced in September 2007, the US$47 million project was described as aiming to protect 70,000 hectares of peat forest, re-flood 200,000 hectares of peat land, and plant 100 million trees. But a 2012 report on the project by Erik Olbrei and Stephen Howes, two academics at the Australian National University, found that only 50,000 trees had been plantecd and none of the peat had been re-flooded.
The main results AusAID currently points on its website are monitoring and research activities, payments for participation, and the formation of a “forest management unit” that's developing a 35 year plan (without 35 years of future funding). Beyond these shortcomings, the project also highlighted recurring issues with REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) schemes – particularly land rights.
The KFCP was part of a larger $273 million climate change aid program to demonstrate that “forest carbon offsets” were a viable way to reduce carbon emissions. Bold claims were made about its capacity to demonstrate effective ways to reduce emissions from deforestation and land degradation in Indonesia, and to incentivise sustainable livelihoods for local communities. But after five years of blundering, the main results AusAID can point to are monitoring and research activities, payments for participation, and the formation of a “forest management unit” that's developing a 35 year plan (without 35 years of future funding). Meanwhile, Kalimantan is rapidly expanding palm oil and coal production.
A crucial failing was that the project did not establish community support or consent. In an interview with ABC’s The World Today, Patrick Anderson of Forest Peoples Programme explained that he has visited the KFCP project area several times and “there isn’t broad community support for the project”.
Yayasan Petak Danum (YPD), a Kalimantan indigenous organisation stated in 2011 that the project did not realise Free Prior and Informed Consent or meaningful community participation. They expressed no confidence in project staff. The Forest Peoples Programme have documented the issues also.
Lack of community ownership of the project has caused problems. YPD have repeatedly asked the project staff to assist recognition of customary Ngaju Dayak knowledge in producing program activities but elicited a limited response.
The program has been essentially outsourced to international organisations. Some community members have been active on social media reflecting on what went wrong. Upon hearing the news of the project’s end, Norhadie Karben from Mentangai Hulu, a village in the KFCP commented on the relationship between the KFCP failure and the history of international conservation organisations operating in the area.
“Since 2004, many international organisations are coming to the village to rehabilitate former Peat Land Development Project (PPLG 1 million hectares of agricultural land taken by New Order). The presence of the project in 2006 CKPP make people confused because since their presence they started to restrict access into the forest and land rights. In 2009 the KFCP reappeared in the local community creating conflict and confusion about the status of our land which is 120,000 hectares.”
Deddy Ratih, of WALHI (Friends of the Earth Indonesia), further noted, “AusAID and the KFCP staff have failed to support conservation programs that are environmentally effective and sensitive to the rights of indigenous people in rural Indonesia. The KFCP is a missed opportunity to empower local communities to develop their sustainable livelihood practices and address the drivers of land conversion in Kalimantan.”
Commenting on the implications for REDD/REDD+ schemes, Isaac Rojas, Forest and Biodiversity coordinator at Friends of the Earth International, said “The work around KFCP is important for FoEI because it is one of the largest REDD project in Indonesia. The experience in Kalimantan helps us understand REDD in reality, its real impacts on communities and the logic behind these false solutions to pressing global problems.” he said, “Indonesia is very important for forest issues. Approximately 80% of Indonesia’s emissions come from the conversion of peatlands (45%) and forestlands (35%).
Approximately 35 REDD demonstration projectshave been undertaken in Indonesia.”
The project's failure has implications for international experimentation with carbon trading and carbon offsetting. The REDD+ reductions are a controversial form of carbon abatement, involving payments for conservation activities that reduce emissions. The research on carbon and other “payment for ecosystem services” schemes suggests that they do not guarantee global emissions reductions, nor do they tackle administrative and structural reforms necessary to halt deforestation.
Friends of the Earth groups have also taken issue with the political use of aid money to boost the carbon market agenda. Australia and Indonesia presented the KFCP program to the UNFCCC in 2008 as a model project when they expressed their preference for a market approach to REDD+.
REDD projects also cause land rights issues with alarming regularity and Kalimantan has been no exception. Deddy Ratih commented, “A key aspect of deforestation and land degradation is the lack of formal rights held by indigenous and rural people in Indonesia. The KFCP did nothing to assist local communities to assert their customary rights and develop capacity for sustainable land management. Over five years the project has produced no significant environmental outcomes. It created conflict in local communities and confusion about the status of their land.”
Rebecca Pearse, spokesperson for Friends of the Earth Australia, also highlights the project’s failure to deal with land tenure issues in the project area. Rather than engaging with political, administrative and legal processes related to land tenure problems, the project went ahead arguing that community management rights can contribute to reform of tenure (p. 25).
Writing in New Matilda Pearse comments that this was another promise unmet, “The KFCP exacerbated conflicts about the status of land. Community concerns about the ways the project was implemented have been in circulation for some time.”
The KFCP is a failed trial in carbon pricing and has caused plenty of grief for local communities. It illustrates ongoing troubles in forest carbon schemes dedicated to this model.
The Australian government continues to maintain that the KFCP was created to “demonstrate a credible, equitable and effective approach to REDD+ and inform discussions and negotiations on climate change.” It appears that the KFCP project mirrors the ongoing problems with carbon and other “payment for ecosystem services” schemes, suggesting that they do not provide the win-win-win ‘solutions’ advocates claim.
There is clearly much to learn from the KFCP, and discuss publicly about what concrete lessons can be taken from this experience.
This post is based on articles written for New Matilda (Beck Pearse) and REDD-Monitor (Chris Lang).
Jul 08, 2013
Malaysia-based Sime Darby, one of the world's largest producers of palm oil, is developing oil palm plantations in Liberia, swallowing up farmlands and forests used by local communities to sustain their livelihoods. Affected communities have organised to demand that their rights be recognised by the company and its international shareholders
May 03, 2012
3 May 2012 - Responding to concerns raised by Friends of the Earth International and others about the impacts of land grabbing, The World Bank claims that land lease deals in developing countries can reduce hunger and poverty, and build sustainable agriculture. The facts tell otherwise.
Does leasing or purchase of land in developing countries have the potential to improve agricultural productivity and the livelihoods of small farmers?
A recent World Bank blog post, responding to concerns that we raised in our land grabbing campaign, claims that this is a real possibility. It is also a theme pursued in the World Bank annual meeting on land and poverty. Yet the facts tell otherwise.
Recent reports on land grabbing show that in reality, land grabbing displaces thousands of communities, is causing violent conflicts, undermines livelihoods and does not generate promised jobs (See for instance Oxfam and the Oakland Institute). In fact, the World Bank’s own report on land grabbing fails to find evidence of the benefits of land grabs. Instead it reports that
'many investments…failed to live up to expectations and, instead of generating sustainable benefits, contributed to asset loss and left local people worse off than they would have been without the investment'.
The cases detailed by the Bank study found overwhelmingly negative impacts while any benefits remained confined to theoretical possibilities.
Hunger and poverty
The Bank clings to the theory that land deals, if conducted properly, can reduce hunger and poverty and build sustainable agriculture, even if this is contradicted by the evidence. The latest of this is the release of world’s largest database of land deals struck since 2000. The results from examining 1,006 deals are startling.
Overwhelmingly investors are targeting poorer countries with weak land tenure security, largely poor countries in Africa. Sixty-six per cent of land acquired is from countries that have above average hunger combined with a high share of GDP from agriculture. But almost two thirds of the crops produced are for possible non-food use. This is not all. In all the cases with available information (393), export is the principal aim of the production. Domestic markets are of marginal concern.
A clear and ugly picture emerges. Investors are looking for countries with cheap and easy access to land to give them high returns and export food. But these countries are the most at risk of hunger. As the analysis shows, the dependence of the poor in these countries on agriculture means few other jobs are available.
While the World Bank talks of 'helping small holders catch the wave of rising interest in farmland', smallholders are being pushed into hunger and poverty by these very land grabs.
The top ten crops grown in acquired land paint a clear picture of what kind of use the land is being put to:
1.Palm Oil 16 M hectares
2.Jatropha 14 M hectares
3.Maize 8 M hectares
4.Rice 6 M hectares
5.Eucalyptus 5 M hectares
6.Sugarcane 5 M hectares
7.Trees 4 M hectares
8.Rubber 4 M hectares
All these crops bar one (rice) are demanded by various commodity markets ranging from agrofuels to carbon markets to animal feed that provide huge profits for agribusiness and investors that speculate on them. None other than maize are staple food crops in Africa.
What about claims of sustainable agriculture? The largest share of land acquired is from forested land - 24% of all deals and 31% of their total area. Forests are being converted to plantations by land grabs.
The World Bank paints this grim picture as an abstract worry of Civil Society, while at the same time continuing to press for more land investment.
Less than a month before the World Bank land conference, its Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) announced that it was providing $2.9 million in political risk insurance to the UK's Unifruit Ltd for the construction of a 1,000 ha farm in the drought prone district of Ethiopia that will produce fruit and vegetables for export to European supermarkets. This is the latest in a string of MIGA protection for land grabbers.
Land grabbing in Uganda: the World Bank's involvement
The World Bank denies its involvement with the expansion of palm oil in Uganda. Yet according to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)
'The World Bank was strongly involved in the design of the project and was cooperating institution from the start until August 2004. It played a key role in facilitating negotiations between the Government and the private investor. (…). Both institutions made important contributions to project supervision, although they focused primarily on the Oil Palm Subproject and gave very little attention to the Essential Oils Subproject.'
The World Bank was also involved in technical appraisals of the project and, according to IFAD, its 'supervision reports show a high degree of commitment to and knowledge of the project. The Bank was able to use its influence to push forward negotiations on the selection of the private investor and it performed an important mediating role'.
Documents from the Agriculture Ministry of Uganda show the World Bank was involved in the projects final sign off and launch. To date, the company involved, BIDCO, claim a partnership with the World Bank on their website.
After the project was up and running, the World Bank withdrew as it feared the project would not comply with its internal forestry safeguard policies, although these were threats raised by initial Environmental Impact Assessments. The key concern is that through decades of support for market based land policies and export oriented industrial agriculture the World Bank has set the stage for land grabbing. Now, all the talk of transparency, good governance and responsible investments by the Bank and others hides the brutal reality behind it.
Access to land: a human right
Access to land and resources has long been recognised as vital to ensure food and livelihoods for the world’s rural poor. Social movements have long warned that land grabbing forecloses vast stretches of lands and ecosystems for current and future use by peasants, indigenous peoples, fisherfolk and nomads, seriously jeopardising their rights to food and livelihood security. It captures whatever water resources exist on, below and around these lands, resulting in the de facto privatisation of water.
The violation of international human rights law is an intrinsic part of land grabbing through forced evictions as well as the introduction of non-sustainable models of land use and agriculture that destroy natural environments and deplete natural resources, the blatant denial of information, and the prevention of meaningful local participation in political decisions that affect people's lives.
Stop land grabbing!
This is why Friends of the Earth International along with several of the leading civil society actors campaigning on land grabbing is supporting the call of farmers’ organisation La Via Campesina that the World Bank has no legitimate role in land policies. We are demanding that it is governments who must step up to their responsibility and take urgent steps to stop land grabbing, rather than listen to those that assist it.
Apr 23, 2012
John Muyiisha and his community in Kalangala, Uganda, have lost their land. One day, BIDCO, a Kenyan company, arrived and told him that the land was now theirs. Bulldozers came that flattened the ancient forest and John's coffee plants. The company planted oil palms instead. With just 2 acres left to make a living, John and his community are now fighting for the right to their land. This is their story.
Apr 04, 2012
In Uganda whole communities are being displaced and scattered as the political elite offer up land to international buyers without a thought for those living on it. Betty Obo from Friends of the Earth Uganda explains how this practice is taking hold on the African continent and beyond.
Some foreign investment firms have called it the next ‘golden’ commodity. Many analysts, global human right groups and civil society organizations have called it neocolonialism. If I may be sentimental, I want to call it the new slavery. But this is a type of slavery of another kind. While in orthodox slavery people were sacrificed to foreigners, in this slavery, land is sacrificed and local ownership is lost along with local sovereignty. The political elite who are facilitating the land grabs want everyone to believe it is development.
In Africa, land is owned communally – according to ethnic/tribal groupings. A small percentage is owned individually or privately. In Uganda, less than 35% of land is privately owned, with the remaining land held in common.
Most African nations do not have sufficient mechanisms to protect local rights and take care of local interests, livelihoods, and welfare. Insecure local land rights, inaccessible registration procedures, vaguely defined productive use requirements, legislative gaps and other factors all too often undermine the position of local people when they are up against multinational companies working hand-in-glove with the political elite. The people become slaves in their own countries.
Land grabbing is the large-scale purchase or lease of farmland usually to outside interests. It is often described as using only idle, under-utilized and or uncultivated land. In Uganda it is the top leadership that initiates the land grabs for global land thieves. Whole communities are being displaced and scattered.
The major global driving force behind land grabbing is food security. The practice purportedly aims at increasing food production to feed the growing global population and targets mostly valuable land –fertile farm lands, forest land, water bodies, and land where high-value extractable minerals are found. For example, in the Albertine region in Western Uganda where large deposits of crude oil were recently discovered, many communities have already transferred their land rights to powerful Ugandan elites and foreigners.
In Africa, where land grabs are most pronounced today, there is in reality no idle land anywhere. To some extent, there is uncultivated and or underutilized land in some parts of Africa, but this does not justify usurping land rights from the rightful owners at a give-away price or no cost at all to those who want to put the land to a more profitable use. In any case, “putting land to profitable use” frequently translates into destruction of nature and converting semi-wild land into vast monocultures. The trees that are being imposed onto the local landscapes –Pine and Eucalyptus – create biological deserts that ultimately help to extend Sahara Desert southward. These agribusinesses are often high water users, destructive to the soil, and using highly polluting agrichemicals.
Governments have increasingly sought to take over plots of land on behalf of business, using the doctrine of Eminent Domain, or compulsory purchase. However, under the United Nations human rights system, governments are expected to seek the free prior informed consent of local populations though debates continue over whether “consent” is too high a standard and “consultation” is a more reasonable benchmark.
Sustainable development is not a reality unless it includes respect for human and land rights. Land is central to people’s identity, livelihoods and food security. It is also central to sustainability – be it cultural, economic or social – because it forms the physical basis of sustainability. Unfortunately laws and policies being designed today in Africa in general and Uganda in particular seem to have as a primary goal the stifling of human and land rights in the quest to make it easy to grab land.
Large-scale land acquisitions under plantation agriculture appear to recognize host communities only in the form of semi-skilled class of farm laborers, while others are marginalized or displaced. Sadly, local communities are rarely adequately informed about the land concessions that are made to private companies. Besides, the food grown on such land from Africa does not benefit the hungry and malnourished populations in Africa; it is nearly always for export.
Multinational companies have taken advantage of unclear legal frameworks and community ignorance to easily acquire millions of hectares of land with the backing of some states. Besides, after acquiring large areas of land, they often enjoy tax exemptions, repatriation of profits; no export restrictions and other subsidies in exchange for the kickbacks they offer.
In Uganda, for example, since the 1990s, government has enabled foreign firms to acquire large areas of natural forests and farm land to foreign investors under the pretest of development. BIDCO Uganda Ltd, a subsidiary of BIDCO Kenya, a Malaysian Company acquired over 30,000 hectares of natural forest land in Kalangala Islands in Lake Victoria to establish palm oil plantations with financial support from the World Bank.
The project promised jobs to local youth but the jobs have not come. It promised tarmac roads, electricity and health centers but these have not yet been provided. Operations of BIDCO are leading to pollution of water and fisheries by chemical fertilizers; dwindling of common forests on public land accompanied by cultural erosion; food insecurity, spiraling food prices; malnutrition; population displacement and changes to the local climate.. Expansion of BIDCOs plantations will lead to the destruction of the legally recommended 200m buffer zone (i.e. from the shore of Lake Victoria to lowest edge of plantations) and a decline in tourism. Malaria infection is on the rise as forest cover and climate change effects proliferate on the island.
The Ugandan Government has also attempted to sell Mabira natural forest reserve in central Uganda to foreign investors to establish a sugar cane plantation, but have met stiff resistance from the citizens backed by the international community. For now, Ugandans can say they have won that battle but the war is still on. Who knows? The power of money may eventually eat up the forest. Government’s reason for sacrificing this important ecosystem is the rising price of sugar!
The Madhvani Group of Companies (an Indian Company), with backing of government, has recently been given by government over 40,000 hectares of communal land in northern Uganda to establish a sugar cane plantation and build a sugar factory. The Madhvani Group says they want to increase sugar production and address the soaring sugar prices in the country. However there is a thriving school of thought especially among civil society that believes government and Madhvani have entered in secret deals with some foreigners to grow sugar cane for agro-fuels. The affected communities, backed by the area politicians, resisted the land grab and have since dragged the company to the courts of law. Despite all this, land grabbing continues in Uganda.
The power of food security in development and socio-political stability should not be but is being underestimated by governments of Africa. Food security will continue to be used as a political weapon by the land grabbers to hoodwink African governments and their peoples into relinquishing their land rights for peanut payments. This reason has been used in many Africa countries – Gabon, Nigeria, Ghana, Congo, Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Sudan … name it. And the land has gone and gone forever. It is now part of other countries producing food primarily to feed citizens of those countries. What still remains cannot sustain food security!
We know the problem, but what are the solutions?
Individuals and communities have a continuous relationship with the land they live on and benefit from. Some have legal rights, other don’t. After a deal has been struck, some individuals and groups are willing to move, some aren’t; some are willing to negotiate a better price or other terms of resettlement, and some prefer defending their rights using all the means at their disposal. This all depends on how transparent the process has been. Communities need to be involved from the beginning.
When communities refuse to move, a company may turn to the State for assistance. In some such cases, the State may decide to deploy force, a step which has often led to human rights violations, sometimes grave ones. Such a contentious process violates many human rights, such as the right of peaceful protest, the right of participation, the right to property, the right to life, the right to equality before law, and the right to an adequate standard of living. The communities must know their rights, including the rights of vulnerable groups such as women and children.
All companies have human rights responsibilities and should be aware of inherent risks of being complacent in actions governments take claiming they do so to ensure development, but which instead lead to abuses. For example, when the state (or its agents) uses force to secure land for public or private use, it is illegitimate and illogical when measured against internationally guidelines.
Under the United Nations “Protect, Respect, Remedy” framework for business and human rights, all companies have the responsibility to respect human rights. Business interests should not infringe upon the rights of others, and should undertake due diligence before and during any business activity, to ensure that its actions are consistent with its responsibility to respect human rights. Companies must adhere and meet their obligations. This is part of the greater solution to land grabbing: respect for human rights.
Without observing this, our future food security and survival is doomed.