Response from the Oakland Institute to CEO Mads Asprem’s letter in reaction to the report, The Darker Side of Green: Plantation Forestry and Carbon Violence in Uganda
The recent release of our report has engendered a written response from Green Resources’ CEO, Mr Mads Asprem, received on November 3, 2014. Here we clarify a number of issues he has raised.
To begin, Mr Asprem claims that Associate Professor Kristen Lyons and Dr. Peter Westoby misrepresented themselves as students while working in Uganda, and in their approach to engaging with him and/or Green Resources staff. With over twenty years experience working as social researchers in international contexts, the researchers have developed clear procedures related to professional conduct in the field. Given that Associate Professor Lyons met with the Ugandan Director of Green Resources, Mr. Isaac Kapalaga, at least four times over two years, it is strange that the company did not understand the researchers’ role and positions.
In October 2013, all research participants – including representatives from Green Resources, as well as government departments, non-government organizations, and community members who had participated in this research – received a summary report, with an invitation to provide feedback on the findings. This input would inform the final conclusive report, which we have now published. Mr. Isaac Kapalaga made a phone call to Dr. Lyons confirming receipt of the summary report, and raised concerns with some of the findings. While a stated commitment was made that the company would provide a written submission, this was not received. The summary report was subsequently sent to Mr. Mads Asprem (CEO) and Ana Meyer (Senior Carbon Associate) in November 2013. No written feedback was received on the summary report. It is therefore simply not true the company provided feedback that was ignored.
Mr. Asprem also questions the ‘low quality’ of the research, and alleges a lack of evidence. He also claims there are few links between the evidence presented and conclusions of the report. To clarify, the research published in this report is the result of extensive fieldwork as it relates to the impact of Green Resources’ activities. It is based on evidence drawn from a rigorously applied and well-documented research methodology – including interviews and focus group discussions with over 150 affected villagers. The evidence in our report includes the voices from those largely sidelined in debates, and yet whose livelihoods are profoundly impacted by Green Resources’ activities.
We have a number of responses to specific comments Mr. Asprem has made about the research findings:
- In contrast to Mr. Asprem’s claim that no person has been evicted where the company has established plantations, our research revealed many people describing being forcibly evicted – sometimes violently – from land now licensed to Green Resources. The eviction process was described as having profound adverse impacts on life and livelihoods. While changes in Ugandan law over a number of decades has increasingly privileged the rights and interests of private investors – including enabling the privatization of national government land – the eviction of people from this land is neither just nor fair. For a company with a stated commitment to poverty alleviation and community development, the livelihoods of those evicted should be a top priority instead of hiding behind the laws passed by the Ugandan government which work against its own citizens.
- It is simply not useful, as Mr. Asprem suggests, to liken farming in a Ugandan forest reserve as the same as doing so in a Norwegian National Park. The history of Ugandan policy settings has, at times, actively encouraged crop cultivation and animal grazing in central forest reserves, including the area now licensed to Green Resources. Levels of food insecurity, poverty and land shortages are also acute in Uganda, and as such, comparing this situation to Norway is insensitive to the particular challenges being experienced in Uganda.
- Mr. Asprem states the company allows cattle to graze as long as there is no danger to trees. This stands in contrast to many voices included in this report, which describe being denied access to licensed land, not only for grazing animals, but also to undertake cultural activities. In addition, many villagers we spoke to described being constrained from access to cultural sites, and in some cases specific sites being destroyed to make way for the establishment of plantations. While Green Resources has obtained a longterm license over public land to engage in commercial activities, local people who seek to do the same have been vilified as criminals.
- It is shocking to be accused of being racist, and as wanting “Africans to continue to live their romantic lives in straw huts”. In contrast to these claims, our report has provided the space for affected community members to share their experiences by speaking for themselves about the impact of the arrival and conduct of Green Resources. These voices seem to be ignored by the company, and one goal of our report is to ensure that poor and vulnerable people are not spoken for in development debates, but rather are able to speak for themselves.
- Green Resources claims to have created a world-class forestry plantation that strives for the highest international standards for sustainable forest management. Its CEO further claims that the company leads possibly “East Africa’s most successful private effort to combat climate change,” our report demonstrates that international standards have failed to take account of the impacts of this project for local livelihoods and food security.
- The repeated efforts to malign a respected journalist/film maker and academic does not fare well for Mr. Asprem, particularly when the individuals targeted have previously clarified issues that he raises. Seeking to discredit the character of one’s critics is not helpful and is a distraction from the important questions raised by those who have studied on the ground the activities of the company.. We are glad to read that Mr. Asprem says, “If any of the findings in the Oakland report is correct, we will rectify them.” There is an urgent need to take action to ensure those already at the margins do not have their livelihoods further jeopardized by the activities of this corporation. We invite Green Resources to act swiftly to address the social and environmental problems and issues identified with their activities, and exposed in this report and not try justify them just because they are deemed to be legal since allowed by a government that fails to ensure rights of its own citizens.