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The Church Admits to Violations

The Church of Norway has, through Opplysningsvesenets Fond (OvF), made a show of ethical investments in tree-planting companies in Mozambique. But the reduction in poverty and the afforestation remained on paper only. OvF now admits that agricultural land has been stolen from farmers with small holdings and original forest has been cut down.
Artikkelen er mer enn to år gammel. Ting kan ha endret seg.
The Church of Norway has, through Opplysningsvesenets Fond (OvF), made a show of ethical investments in tree-planting companies in Mozambique. But the reduction in poverty and the afforestation remained on paper only. OvF now admits that agricultural land has been stolen from farmers with small holdings and original forest has been cut down.

ovf chikweti
Through the Nordic fund Global Solidarity Forestry Fund (GSFF), Opplysningsvesenets Fond (OvF), which belongs to the Church of Norway, invested in four different forest companies in Mozambique. The companies were supposed to plant trees and create employment opportunities for the local population and, in accordance with the fund’s statutes, be subject to strict ethical criteria.

The planned ethical investment has, however, received massive criticism. A series of organisations and representatives from Mozambique authorities have charged the companies of expelling farmers with small holdings, removing original forest and occupying cultivated land to make room for the tree plantations. They claim that OvF’s investments have worsened the local population’s life circumstances.

The Criticism Is Correct
OvF has been confronted with the criticism several times. The Future in Our Hands contacted the fund in December 2011, when the South African environmental organisation GeaSphere started up a petition to make OvF stop the investments.

First the fund answered negatively by posing queries about the origin of the charges and the credibility of the sources. In an e-mail a few days later the tone had changed: “We are very concerned about the allegations in the petition and shall look into the matter more closely.” Judy Velle Hafredal, public relations advisor in OvF, wrote.

Six months later they apologised profusely. The investigation showed that the charges against the Nordic investment fund were justified. The companies had committed several serious violations against the local population in the area. OvF’s presentation of the tree planting as an ethical investment was starting to crack.

Problems with Concessions
One of the charges directed at OvF’s companies in Mozambique is that the rights to land had not been well secured and that the farmers had been deprived of arable land.

When investors obtain a permanent concession to land areas in Mozambique, the villages are to be included when deciding which areas are to be reserved for tree planting, which areas the village is to retain for cultivation of food and which areas are to be reserved for water supply. This has not happened in Mozambique, and the companies that OvF has invested in through GSSF have planted forest in areas that should have been reserved for food production.

“We have not found documentation that this has been clarified with the villages, and especially with the women, who traditionally are responsible for food cultivation in Mozambique,” Harald Magne Glomdal, departmental head of OvF, wrote in an e-mail to The Future in Our Hands. He continued, “There is much to suggest that forest has also been planted on areas that should have been reserved for food production.”

For every hectare where new forest is planted, an equal amount of preserved forest is to be established, according to the statutes of GSFF’s investments. But on the ground in Mozambique the managers of GSFF have proceeded quickly. They have not documented the appearance of the land areas before the tree plantations were established, and much indicates that the companies have cut down original forest to make room for the plantation:

“It is difficult to state with certainty, but indirect evidence indicates that original forest has been cut down, although on a small scale,” Glomdal wrote to The Future in Our Hands.

Several critics have also accused the companies of chasing away the local population. Glomdal can not guarantee that this has not happened. “It has not been documented that small farmers have been driven away, nor is there documentation to prove the opposite,” he told The Future in Our Hands.

Believes in New Management
Early last summer the management of GSFF were fired. The challenges they left behind are huge, but Glomdal believes that the new management will be able to solve the situation in Mozambique.

“The new management have made sure that a contact body is set up between the villages and the company. This body has established where there is to be food cultivation and where forest,” he told The Future in Our Hands.

He added, “The new management have introduced photographic documentation of the area before any intervention, and an assessment of the areas. The forests will be ISO-14001-certified, and documentation is a part of the certification. The aim is to be FSC-certified, but then they would have to have been in operation for at least 5 years according to FSC requirements. By first going for ISO 14001, they receive the documentation needed to attain FSC certification after 5 years.

“How does OvF feel about the information you have on GSFF’s investments in Mozambique and the present situation?” The Future in Our Hands queried.

“OvF is satisfied with the moves now made by the new management in Mozambique. Many new policies have been drawn up in the company, and data systems and procedural descriptions have been obtained to get the project running smoothly again,” Glomdal answered and added that it is out of the question to withdraw investments from the forest fund:

“OvF has, together with Vesterås drift in the Church of Sweden, been the ones to start the project. We are working to find another management company with more forest and private-equity experience, so that when we reduce our participation, we can entrust the project in the safe hands of someone who can carry out the good intention in a better way.”

“What will OvF do with the investments in GSFF in the future?”

“We have a 15-year contract for investments, entered into in 2006, which the fund can not get out of in any way. We shall give the new administration a chance to show what they can accomplish, and we shall try to find a professional administration (management??) agency to take on the responsibility for the investment,” Glomdal concluded.