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Communities Being Left Behind in the Fight for Land in Uganda

January 24, 2017
Deutsche Welle

By: Jennifer Collins

In a Uganda forest reserve, green goals and community land rights are at odds. It's a story being played out across Africa, as investors scramble to lease and buy vast tracts.

The company describes itself as Africa's largest forestry company, and has 45,000 hectares of standing woodland in Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda. On its website, it touts its green credentials, saying it trades in wood from its own plantations - thereby easing the burden on natural forest. It also sells emissions reductions, which allows businesses and countries to offset the carbon they produce. But it's also being accused of land grabbing.

Lofty ambitions that miss the point

These eco-ambitions coupled with the promise of investing in local communities tint the venture with social and environmental benefits. But the reality has fallen short. "Many thousands of people not only lived on this land, but their livelihood activities were tied to it," Kristen Lyons, a professor of environment and development at the University of Queensland in Australia, told DW.

"When Green Resources obtained its lease in order to plant trees for carbon offsets, that subsequently meant these people could no longer access this land that was vital to their lives and livelihood."

She acknowledges that Green Resources has taken important steps, including providing medical supplies and providing education scholarships for girls, as well as distributing seedlings and allowing the community access wood for fuel from thinning and pruning.

But that, she said, does not address the more pressing issue.

"What we overwhelmingly hear from the people is that these things are good, but they are not actually what is urgently needed - and that is secure access to land and water," said Lyons.

She recounted stories from local land users of having being "chased away" and subsequently denied access to the sacred forest sites, medicinal plants, water and cattle grazing areas they had previously used.