Dark Green? Green Resources CEO responds to Oakland Institute's new report

Monday, November 3, 2014

Dark Green? A response from Mads Asprem, CEO of Green Resources, to OI's latest report, The Darker Side of Green: Plantation Forestry and Carbon Violence in Uganda. The Institute shared the findings of the report with Mr. Asprem on October 6, 2014 and then resent a message following a lack of response from him and the company. Here we publish the unedited version of the letter received today. Authors of the report will soon provide a response to this communication from Mr. Asprem.

Fremtiden i vare hender, Spire and Utviklingsfondet is arranging a ‘mini-seminar’ about Green Resources’ Ugandan operation in Oslo on 4 November without inviting Green Resources.   Green Resources is Africa’s leading reforestation company, having established more than 40,000 ha of plantation forests. We are a commercial forestry company that has sequestrated millions of CO2e, and created large environmental and social co-benefits.   It is ironic that less than a week after the publication of possibly the most serious report ever to be publish on the negative effects of climate change by IPCC, Fremtiden i vare hender and Utviklingsfondet chose to attack what may be East Africa’s most successful private effort to combat climate change. 

In 2012, I received a report that some Australian students (how they presented themselves and came across) visited our Ugandan plantation operations and met a number of our employees. Their report has now been published as a separate report ‘The Darker Side of Green’ by the Oakland  Institute in November 2014.   In 2013 we received a draft of the student’s report, which was riddled with mistakes.  GR’s Ugandan management provided comments to the report, but few of these have been taken account of in the published report and the published report is full of mistakes and unsubstantiated claims.   It is instructive that the Oakland reports contain nine pictures, and that none of them show any wrong-doings.  This is pretty representative for the entire report: there are few links between the evidence and the conclusions.   

GR has made mistakes, but we are focused on making constant improvements and our all Ugandan management team is at the forefront of this.  We have worked with a number of NGOs and at times these have discovered wrong-doings and helped us improve our operations.   We are soon approaching 100 independent 3rd party audits of our operations, which is a source for constant improvement.  If any of the findings in the Oakland report is correct, we will rectify them.  So far, however, we cannot find that any of the ‘findings’ are correct, and work behind the report is of unusual low quality.  

I am very proud of the management of our Ugandan operations.  They have created a world class forest plantation that strive for the highest international standards for sustainable forest management, having receiving numerous third party certifications, including FSC, carbon projects and for ISO.   As part of this, BFC is subject to annual audits and have shown a relentless willingness to improve on its operations, and Green Resources has more than 60% of all FSC certified plantation forests in Africa outside of South Africa. 

I am not surprised when my black colleagues at times feel there might be a strong portion of racism involved when white NGOs ignore their hard and successful work and when some NGOs, activists and ‘academics’ seem to want Africans to continue to live their romantic lives in straw huts.    We are also surprised about the lack of fact checking by academic institutions, including NMBU, and that opinions can be portrayed as ‘research’.

Here are our comments on some of the ‘findings’ in the Oakland report:

Eviction from the forest reserve?

No person has been evicted, by force or any other means, from the areas in Bukaleba and Kachung Forest Reserves where Busoga Forestry Company (BFC) has established plantations.  The suggestion that 8,000 people have been evicted from the forest reserves lack any basis in reality.  There has never been any ‘violent take over of land’, and the report present no substantial evidence of this.  When BFC received the planting licence in 1996, there were no or very little farming within the forest reserve, but since then, we have permitted farmers to utilise unplanted area for farming.  Farming in a forest reserve is against Ugandan law and therefore illegal, but BFC has never taken legal action against any of the farmers on this basis.  

There is no difference between farming in a Ugandan forest reserve and starting agricultural operations in a Norwegian Natural Park.  Both are illegal and aimed to protect the environment.  We are chocked by the Oakland Institute’s disrespect for age-old and legitimate Ugandan environmental and forestry legislation.  On the other hand, it should be pointed out that BFC has successfully negotiated with the Ugandan authorities to set aside significant areas for farming for the fishing villages located within the Forest Reserve, incompliance with Ugandan law.  

Interesting, the Oakland report present two pictures about grazing, one with young trees where there is a sign warning ‘NO GRAZING’, because mature cattle will damage the trees.  In a second picture, much more mature eucalyptus trees are shown together with a BFC sign and grazing cattle.  The story is clear:  BFC allows cattle grazing as long as there is no danger for damage to the trees. 

Denied access?

No villager has been denied access to forest reserve to undertake cultural activities.  In the report published by Oakland Institute (by Peter Westoby), there is picture of a sacred Walumbe tree, and as clearly can be seen from the picture, there is no ‘plantation pines growing close to’ it.  Quite the contrary, the pines are shown at a distance of many hundred meters down the hill behind the Walumbe tree.  In other locations, the plantations are closer to cultural sites, but BFC is in all instances following Ugandan law and best international practises for sustainable forest management, and if this is not the case.  

Over a ten year period, BFC protected a large area of natural forest on the Bukaleba Peninsula,  which is bordering Lake Victoria, as we do with all natural forest within our operations. This was a natural forest of high conservation value that we tried hard to protect against charcoal burning, logging and agriculture activities.  Our efforts to protect the natural forest created conflicts with elements of the local community, and a year ago, we handed back the forest to the National Forest Authority.   Since then, the forest has been decimated and less than half of it remains, representing an environmental disaster.  

It is correct, as the report states, that BFC (and the Ugandan National Forest Authority, as well as Ugandan law) denies people access to start agricultural activities in planted areas within the two National Forest Reserves.

Pollution of land and waterways?

It is incorrect that there is pollution by agro-chemicals.  BFC, as well as the rest of Green Resources, is an African leader in sustainable forestry management, and only use permitted herbicides.   In the Oakland report, there is a picture of a can of glyphosate, ‘a herbicide used at the seedling nursery Bukaleba’ and very extensively in Australia, California and in Norway.  Claiming that this has led to livestock deaths when we regularly follow prescribed procedures is ridiculous, as any expert would know.  Why should we not be allowed to use glyphosate in Uganda?   

About participants at the seminar

Erling Borgen:  At the end of 2012 Erling Borgen published a film about Green Resources activities in Tanzania.  The film included a number of false accusations.  Borgen and his team paid people to act out scenes shown in the film that did not nor has happened in reality, according to the actors.  Despite of repeated requests, Borgen denied providing a copy of the 2012 film.  We guess it is best for the filmmaker that nobody in Tanzania sees the film.

Tor Arve Benjaminsen:  Has published several articles about Green Resources which include information that has been proven incorrect by the company, and would be inconsistent with the more than 50 independent audits conducted on the company.  Benjaminsen have continued to repeat old statements that Green Resources has proven false.   Benjaminsen’s statements about GR lack academic rigour and his unsubstantiated accusations have been reported to the Ethics Committee of NMBU.