By Harald Eraker
The NorWatch report "CO2lonialism" deals with two very different companies.
Tree Farms started their afforestation project in their 5,160-hectare lands in the Bukaleba forest reserve by Lake Victoria in 1996. The founder and main shareholder of the company is financier and forestry analyst Mads Asprem, and the third largest shareholder is the controversial Norwegian multi-millionaire Kjell Inge Røkke. The company also controls lands in Tanzania and Malawi.
The Norwegian Afforestation Group has its origins in the Norwegian foreign aid community in Uganda. The company got a deal with the Government for an afforestation project in the Kachung forest reserve in the autumn of 1999, and has not yet begun its operations.
"Please ask the Norwegain owners to allow us to continue to live here by making our subsistence from fishing and farming. We have nowhere else to go. Tell them that we are human beings."
34 years old Ratif Nakumusana, fisherman and farmer
Common to both companies is that their plantations will not just produce wood and timber. The companies are betting that climate change negotiations, at the Conference of the Parties in The Hague this fall, will give the green light for a more immediate and lucrative trade: The sale of carbon credits based on tree plantations in developing countries fixing atmospheric CO2.
Tree Farms has already struck a deal with Industrikraft Midt-Norge, giving this gas power developer an option to buy carbon credits from their plantations in East Africa. Allegedly, this applies to the Tanzanian plantations, because the Ugandan project is suffering from huge problems, both financially and due to land conflict. There are an estimated 8,000 farmers and fishermen living or working the land within the company's concession area.
"CO2lonialism" looks both at the present social and environmental impacts of the Ugandan projects, and at the role they might come to play if approved as "carbon plantations" in the future. The report concludes as follows:
"Everyone living and farming inside our area are illegal intruders. But we don't want to do the dirty job of chasing them out. We have told the forest authorities quite clearly that this is their responsibility."
Managing Director of Tree Farms, Odd Ivar Løvhaugen
- Both Tree Farms and Norwegian Afforestation Group have leased their land from the authorities for a bargain price. The authorities have virtually no capacity to assess what value the companies plan to generate, particularly through carbon trading. By leasing out areas for "carbon plantations", Uganda is giving away the option of changing land use in the future. The entire lease agreement resembles neo-colonialism.
- Tree Farms' project cannot be carried out without some 8,000 people, mainly farmers and fishermen, being evicted from the company's areas and thus deprived of their livelihoods. The potential for social conflicts and increased poverty is therefore great.
- Tree Farms is exploiting farmers by using their unpaid labour to clear and prepare the land that is to be planted with forest. The fact that the company has also collected payment from the farmers by collecting maize from them (as well as probably cash), makes what goes on at Tree Farms resemble a Middle Age feudal system but without the mandatory "nobless oblige" and with the farmers paying for the bulk of the investment cost of the plantation establishment.
- Due to farmers destroying the planted trees, to termite attacks on the eucalyptus trees, and to a lack of investments, TreeFarms' plantations are criticized for poor quality and a lack of progress. Moreover, the company's maize production for commercial purposes yields no revenue for the authorities, and is a questionable way of managing a forest reserve.
- While Tree Farms and Norwegian Afforestation Group stand to make large profits from the sale of carbon credits from their tree plantations over the next 25 years, Uganda will be left with a few hundred thousand dollars in return. The carbon-storing plantations have to remain carbon-storing plantations for the foreseeable future, depriving the country's authorities of the choice of regulating the areas for other purposes in the people's interest. Nor would the Ugandans be allowed to use the carbon forests for their own carbon accounts when they themselves face commitments, because the credits will already have been sold to governments and companies in the rich countries, which, today, have commitments under the Kyoto Protocol.
- There is great uncertainty as to the net amount of CO2 that will be removed and stored by the Norwegian tree plantations. The Ugandan market for wood is poor, and may, in the long run, contribute to make the investors feel that re-planting is not in their interest. Fires, political unrest, and upheavals are factors that make it hard to guarantee that the activities will be allowed to continue without obstacles. Another unknown factor is the impact of the monoculture plantations on the ability of the surrounding vegetation to remove and store CO2. The carbon account is particularly uncertain for Tree Farms' project, which implies the eviction of an estimated 8,000 people who may clear new areas and forests in order to earn a living. All of this may lead to a carbon account that does not reflect reality.
Norwatch Newsletter 5/00