World Rainforest Movement

Africa: Carbon sinks and money needs

Plantation projects using tree monocultures to sequester carbon being implemented in UGANDA by two Norwegian firms constitute a paradigmatic example of the rationale and the consequences of this kind of projects.

The Norwegian company Tree Farms established itself in Uganda in 1996, and has one afforestation project in progress. Additionally, the Norwegian Afforestation Group got the authorities’ agreement on a project in November 1999. The former –which operates in the Bukaleba Reserve– area has already started a project to set up between 80,000 and 100,000 hectares of plantations of pines and eucalyptus. Such scheme is very similar to that adopted by the Dutch foundation FACE in the Ecuadorian Andes and so are its consequences.

A recent research in the field performed by the Norwegian NGO NorWatch shows that both projects –and particularly the one of Tree Farms– have been possible thanks to the bargain price of the land leased to the companies and to the corruption reigning at decision-makers’ level in Uganda. Moreover, the Tree Farms project has already provoked the eviction of some 8,000 people from 13 villages from their lands –mainly farmers and fisherfolk– now occupied by the company. Local peasants even have to pay for the agricultural use of their own lands under the “taungya” system, and the company exploits them since their weeding and managing of trees during these first years is not paid. Uganda’s sovereignity is also under siege with this project, since during a period of 50 years, the country will not have the option to change land use, and, additionally Uganda will not be allowed to use these carbon sinks for its own carbon accounts.

The same forestry company Treefarms has announced a project to plant fast-growing pine and eucalyptus trees on 150 square kilometres of grassland plains in neighbouring TANZANIA. Taking into account this company’s sad record in Uganda, it is feared that such scheme will have the same deleterious consequences on people –especially poor peasants– and the environment. In a recent climate-related meeting in Bonn, the Tanzanian official representative pointed out the need to take into account not only forestry in itself but also the welfare of local communities. How can this view be reconciled with top-down carbon sink afforestation projects?

Given the economic crisis currently faced by many other African countries –particularly in the tropics– their governments will be probably prone to accepting any deals which may result in hard currency investments, regardless of the negative social and environmental impacts they will entail. Plantation-related carbon sink initiatives may well be one of them. Although the advantages for industrialized countries are obvious –cheap sequestering of their carbon emissions– it is equally clear that local people and their environment will suffer the consequences and reap no benefits. What Africa needs from industrialized countries is certainly not this type of “aid” and calling this a “Clean Development Mechanism” is –to say the least– an insult to African people, because no development at all will be involved in such carbon deals.