Ugandan farmers call on UN to end disastrous palm oil project
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For years, Friends of the Earth has been supporting farmers in Uganda’s Kalangala Islands to fight back against a palm oil land grab that has turned them from subsistence farmers and fishers, with a small but diverse income stream, into wage laborers on palm oil plantations that were once their own land.
It’s been a controversial campaign because the palm oil effort is financed by the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development, and joint partner Wilmar International has insisted that the project is beneficial to local farmers.
But last week, a local farmers’ association called on the United Nations to sever its ties to BIDCO, the company that runs the project.
The Bugala Farmers’ Association urged the UN Development Programme to investigate a partnership between its offshoot, Business Call to Action, and Bidco Africa, a Kenyan-based edible oil and consumer goods firm which has evicted over 100 Ugandan subsistence farmers from their land with inadequate or no compensation. According to the Association’s press statement, the company has now destroyed more than 7,500 hectares (18,500 acres) of rain forest and smallholder farms on Bugala Island in Lake Victoria. The operation is one of Africa’s largest palm oil plantations in partnership with the local government, and according to local people, has been an unmitigated disaster for both the environment and the local economy. The deforestation has become so bad that the World Bank, originally the project’s sponsor, withdrew support.
The BFA announced last week that it had delivered a petition to the UNDP’s offices in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, in January. The petition described the partnership as a “tragedy for smallholder farmers and a major stain on the reputation of the UNDP”.
The BFA says that over 100 people have lost their land with little or no compensation as a result of the deforestation of more than 7,500 hectares of rainforest and smallholder farms on Bugala Island as part of the project and there are now fears of food shortages.
The UNDP has yet to respond to the petition which was presented by BFA on January 28. A lawsuit filed by the local farmers, and supported by Friends of the Earth, is still underway.
Image credit: Friends of the Earth International
Image caption: Farmer Edward Okello in Kalangala, Uganda in 2013.