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Land, Energy & Water

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Land, Life and Justice
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An investigation into cases of land grabbing in Uganda, focusing in particular on oil palm plantations in Kalangala, Lake Victoria. This report assesses the impacts on rural communities and on the local environment, and questions who benefits from these projects, by Friends of the Earth International.

Link to full report: Life, Land and Justice: How land grabbing in Uganda is affecting the environment, livelihoods and food sovereignty of communities [pdf]

Further resources: Life, Land and Justice in Uganda

Video of John Muniishya in Kalangala, Uganda, by The Source Project in association with FOE

24th April 2012 - Published by Friends of the Earth International 


Land grabbing occurs when land that was previously used by local communities is leased or sold to outside investors, including corporations and governments. Typically, the land is taken over for commodity crops to sell on the overseas market, including for agrofuel and food crops. However land grabbing also occurs to clear land for tree plantations (grown for carbon offsets), protected reserves, mines and can often result from speculative investments when funds predict a high rate of return from land investments.

Land grabbing is not a new phenomenon. For centuries, communities have been intimidated to abandon – or have been forcibly removed from – their land. However we are now witnessing a new aggressive land grab, driven by high food prices and growing global consumption, with multinational corporations, often in partnership with governments, seizing the land.

As a consequence, peasants, herders, fishers and rural households are being dispossessed of the means to feed themselves and their communities, local populations are being evicted and displaced, human rights are being violated, and the environment, as well as traditional community structures, is being destroyed.

In Uganda, the Government, keen to attract foreign investment, has allowed foreign companies to move onto large areas of land for a range of projects, including the development of a large scale oil palm plantations, carbon offset tree plantations and following the recent discovery of oil, for drilling.

This study examines a number of these projects in eastern, western and central Uganda, with a particular focus on the Kalangala palm oil project on Bugala Island in Lake Victoria, which is being developed as part of a government programme with backing from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Bank.

The study documents cases where land has been grabbed in Kalangala and elsewhere and looks at how local people have lost access to land and other natural resources. It also examines the wider impacts of the Kalangala project and the effects on the local economy, the way of life and the natural environment. It finds that although rural communities’ customary land rights are recognised under the Ugandan constitution, in practice, these rights are being violated. As a result, communities are being displaced and losing vital access to natural resources, including land for farming, firewood, forest products and in some places, water supplies.

Culturally important sites have been destroyed and local traditions and customs are being lost as the local population migrates and diversifies. Forests have been cleared to make way for the plantations and wetlands have been drained, damaging the rich natural biodiversity. The reduction in local food supply has meant more food has to be imported to the island, leading to increased food prices. As the plantation only offers low paid casual work, local people struggle to make ends meet. As a result there is a greater risk of food insecurity.

In the oil rich Albertine region, local communities are losing their land to oil companies and land speculators. The tree plantations being developed to seek carbon credits are replacing native forest with monoculture plantations of nonnative species such as eucalyptus and pine. Land conflicts and intertribal/ethnic crashes have occurred in some communities where land grabbing has occurred.

Land grabbing in Uganda is intensifying and spreading throughout the country. The development of industrial scale agriculture projects to supply global commodity markets is depriving local communities of access to natural resources, exacerbating rural poverty and aggravating the risk of food crises.

Action is needed to support the development of small-scale, agro-ecological agriculture projects, which allow local people to grow food for their communities and improve local food security.

The case of Uganda exemplifies a global trend. The food, energy and financial crises in recent years have galvanised corporations, rich governments and financial investors to look towards land and agriculture overseas to secure food and energy supplies and provide new investments/targets for speculative capital.

Underlying this is the global problem of highly inequitable consumption. Over-consumption of for example meat and dairy products and energy by the industrialised world, and increasingly by elites in the developing world, mean they consume the lion’s share of the world’s limited land. Stopping land grabbing will also require a change in consumption patterns to make them more equitable and bring them in line with the planet’s carrying capacity. Currently too many countries rely on other’s resources to sustain their standard of living – driving global inequity and poverty.

Friends of the Earth demands that the Government of Uganda:

• Conducts comprehensive research on the impacts of land grabbing

• Respects constitutional provisions on land tenure

• Respects and protects natural forests rather than promoting plantations at the expense of natural forests rich in biodiversity areas.

• Moves quickly to design, move a bill, enact and enforce a law to protect citizens who own land under customary tenure systems

• Stops grabbing land for agrofuels, carbon credit trading and other monoculture systems and instead supports policies and laws that promote agro-ecological farming systems and practices

• Complies with and enforces its policies regarding social and environmental impact assessments, including assessments of impacts on local/community based food production before the commencement of any project throughout Uganda

• Domesticates international treaties, conventions, protocols and any other binding agreements regarding land and sacred sites including the Voluntary Guidelines on Land and Natural resources tenure

• Holds International financial institutions (IFIs) and World Bank to account for funding projects that increase poverty through violation of community rights and subsequent land grabbing rather than those that reduce poverty 

Friends of the Earth calls on international Governments to:

• Immediately cease all large scale land grabs and return the plundered land to communities

• Implement genuine agrarian and aquatic reform programmes and implement actions agreed at the 2006 International Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development

• Target public investment towards peasant agriculture, family farming, artisanal fishing and indigenous food procurement systems that are based on ecological methods as outlined by the conclusions of the 2008 International assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development

• Reject the weak Work Bank Principles on Responsible Agricultural Investment (RAI) and instead base national and international governance structures on the ‘Voluntary Guidelines for land and natural resources tenure’ agreed at the Committee on World Food Security in order to provide secure access to land, forestry and fisheries for communities

• Abide by their treaties and conventions under international law, especially under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other Human Rights obligations with regard to stopping land grabbing

• Put in place policies to stop overconsumption: by scrapping agrofuels mandates and subsidies in the European Union and United States of America and tackling high meat diets in West

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