Special Reports

Kalangala Oil Project: A Curse Or Blessing?

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page http://conduco.dk/wp-admin/includes/class-wp-plugin-install-list-table.php geneva;”>New research by Friends of the Earth International, healing http://curarlaimpotencia.com/wp-content/plugins/jetpack/class.media-summary.php a non-governmental organization, shows communities in Kalangala living and working on land acquired for palm oil plantations have been displaced, often with no compensation or alternative livelihood options.

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Speaking to Chimpreports on Tuesday evening, Friends of the Earth Uganda campaigner David Kureeba said: “Imagine giving someone shs1m as compensation for 20 acres of land. Where can it take this person?”


He further said the cost of oil palm fruits was low compared to prevailing market rates, adding the oil palm project had worsened the food security crisis in the region.


“Communities also complain of rising food insecurity on the island since large areas that formerly produced food crops for local consumption have been converted to oil palm. The Government is responsible for protecting its citizens and it must stop facilitating forced purchase of land for investors,” said Kureeba.


He observed that about 3,600 hectares of forest have been destroyed, negatively affecting the environment and livelihoods of local people.


The findings show that many of the displaced communities were promised that through joining the project they would be able to legalise their claim on the land, but this has not happened

Some of the workers at the oil palm project in Kalangala (Courtesy photo)


Kureeba also noted that workers at the oil palm project were exposed to “excessive use of agrochemicals in plantations.”


“They have inadequate gears. It is not proper to be exposed to herbicides.”


The Oil Palm project in Kalangala is a Government initiated and led project through VODP (Vegetable Oil development Project) with other investors through a Joint Venture between Wilmar Group of Malaysia, Josovina Commodities of Singapore and Bidco Oil Refineries of Kenya each a leader in their field.


The joint venture between the three led to the formation of Oil Palm Uganda Limited and Bidco Uganda Limited.


Put together, the project is considered the single largest foreign direct investment in Uganda in recent times, crossing over $150m.


The first phase of the project was completed in 2011, and despite a number of social and environmental problems raised, the second phase of the project is currently going ahead.


The second phase will expand palm oil plantations onto several more islands.


Activists say the project is being promoted as a poverty-reducing endeavour, “yet it is causing displacement, food insecurity and deforestation.”


Government has since described the project as the “most promising agro industrial project in Uganda.”


Bidco A Curse Or Blessing?

Efforts by Chimpreports to reach Bidco Uganda officials were futile as the “right person to talk to press was out of office.”


But the company website material shows the oil palm project represents a connection to not only the people but also to the land.


“Oil Palm Uganda/ Bidco Uganda Ltd not only adheres to global criteria for sustainable land usage, it has also helped to develop them. These include a zero burning policy, erosion control and soil conservation. In addition to driving macro economic growth, the project is also infusing Uganda with state-of-the-art-agro-technology, local skills development, thousands of jobs and a plethora of downstream activities.”

Jobs

Bidco also says Africa currently imports over $ 100 Million worth of Crude whereas the same can be produced locally generating jobs and income for the farmers and saving the exchequer of a huge lump sum, notwithstanding the fact of putting idle grassland to positive and sustainable use.


It further states that fishing had been the only source of income on the island prior to the Oil Palm Project taking place.


Bidco also contends that the investment is bringing to the country a fully integrated value chain, creating and retaining wealth within Uganda and at its peak the project will make Uganda fully self-sufficient in edible oils, removing the need for nearly $100 million of oil imports per year.


It adds the Kalangala Oil Palm project is not only an investment towards Uganda’s economy, but an opportunity to immensely improve the quality of life on the Island.


The company argues that so far, 1200 workers have been recruited; including local university graduates and a community has been created, completed with housing and a recreational area.


“Oil Palm Uganda Limited and its partners in the projects have invested in social infrastructure. The Roads are now passable all year round and the water points can be accessed with ease. Other forms of Infrastructure and services are in the pipeline including electricity, schools, religious and medical centers.”


World Bank quits

The Vegetable Oil Development project (VODP) was initiated in 1998 by the Government of Uganda, the World Bank and the International Fund of Agricultural Development (IFAD).


The stated goal of the project was to tackle poverty and increase palm oil production for domestic consumption in Uganda. In 2004, the World Bank withdrew from the project on the grounds that it might not comply with the Bank’s internal forestry policies.


The project has also received $12 million in financing from the Government of Uganda and $20 million from IFAD. The agreement commits to planting 40,000 hectares of palm oil in total.


The first phase of the project aimed to plant 10,000 hectares of oil palm in the Kalangala islands, which involved conversion of about one quarter of the land on the main island, Bugala.4 So far, says the research group, only 7.500 hectares has been planted.


The activists say although IFAD claims that the project has provided employment, its own analysis shows that 95 percent of the jobs provided by the plantations go to migrant workers brought in from other parts of Uganda, not to local communities.


“The migrant workers are paid wages far below the average wage on the island. A large proportion of the palm oil plantations are in areas previously covered by natural forest. Based on IFAD reports, media outlets and interviews with community members, we estimate that 3,600 hectares of forest have been destroyed to make way for the palm oil plantations,” the report noted.


“Two villages have registered complaints that their main water sources have been rendered unusable by pollution or by the plantation blocking access to them and that this has left the hundreds of people without access to clean water…the project has also fuelled land speculation, encroachment and community conflicts: wealthy landlords from the mainland have tried to acquire more land on the island without regard for prior land tenure arrangements.”

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