It recently came to the attention of Green Resources AS (GRAS) that through the Afrikagrupperna website, Facebook group, and other sites, a member, Karin Edstedt, has published two pieces about Green Resources’ Ugandan company Busoga Forestry Company (BFC), and their operations in Kachung, Uganda.

GRAS welcomes all feedback from our stakeholders and other interested parties. We take all criticism of our operations seriously, and endeavour to strive for continual improvement. Criticism received from reporters and other groups over the years led GRAS to discover issues with our operations, which were previously unknown to the company, and which we have sought to address. To do so GRAS developed new approaches to engaging with our communities, new company policies, and a more active and involved management. In addition, GR has undergone a number of external audits, to ensure objective monitoring of our activities.

In the past reporters have met with people in the villages associated with BFC’s project, but due to inherent biases that they hold, and an inexperience in working in the region, they have featured individuals who do not live in the village, and represented them as community members. In addition, some community members have stated to auditors, that some individuals believe that if they tell reporters bad things about the company, they will get more from the company. As such, it is vital for those who are interested in our work, and our engagement with the communities, at any of our sites, that they meet with our teams, and ensure that they are getting accurate information.

Whilst GRAS embraces feedback from our stakeholders, it is important that information which is published is correct, and objective. Unfortunately, there are a number of statements which have been made in the subject reports, which are inaccurate. In addition, the reporter failed to discuss the work with BFC team, did not meet with the management team in Jinga, did not provide BFC with an opportunity to discuss or comment on the findings, and as such, has delivered a biased, and at times faulty report. GRAS has reached out to Afrikagrupperna, and other organisations and reporters on a number of occasions to request that those visiting the communities that we work with visit our teams, discuss any issues they find with our staff, and give BFC the opportunity to clarify information, or correct any misleading information. However, again, this did not happen, and biased and misleading reports have been published.

As such, GRAS would like to clarify some of the issues highlighted in the report.

Under Section 32 of the 2003 ‘National Forestry and Tree Planting Act’ it states that “No person shall, except, for forestry purposes and in accordance with a management plan, or in accordance with a licence granted under this act, in a forest reserve or community forest… clear, use or occupy and land for – (i) grazing; (ii) camping; (iii) livestock farming; (iv) planting or cultivation of crops; (v) erecting of a building or enclosure”.

The ‘National Forestry and Tree Planting Act was put in place to “provide for the conservation, sustainable management, and development of forests for the benefit of the people of Uganda; to provide for the declaration of forests reserves for purposes of protection and production of forests and forest produce; to provide for the sustainable use of forest resources and the enhancement of the productive capacity of forests; to provide for the promotion of tree planting”. It is known that deforestation for cultivation and grazing of livestock is a significant driver of climate change, and environmental degradation, and that alternative wood sources are needed to help minimise the pressure on native forests. As such, this act, and the regulations therein, are seeking to address a number of environmental and economic issues.

Green Resources took over the licence that had previously been issued to the Norwegian Afforestation Group. When GRAS came to plant, it provided notice to all community members, and gave them time to harvest their crops. Whilst it is noted in the report that the cultivation activities within the forest reserve, by communities, are illegal, it posits that if BFC were not operating in the area, the communities would be allowed to continue cultivating the land. Based on the laws outlined above, and the current situation in Uganda, this is a false premise. The Ugandan government has been very active in curtailing all illegal activity within the forest plantations. In recent years their activities to prevent illegal activities have increased. Therefore, even if BFC were not in the area, the communities would not be able to continue using the land illegally for grazing and cultivation purposes.

GRAS recognises the difficulties that our communities face, and the company seeks to assist them within our means, and in ways which do not cause conflict with Ugandan authorities, or violate Ugandan law. In line with the aim to help our communities, BFC has implemented a food security project with the local communities that surround our Kachung plantation. As the reporter noted there was a drought in 2016, and in 2017 the farmers suffered from army worm infestations. What the reporter failed to note is that in 2017, despite the previous year’s drought, and the pests, farmers who were engaged in food security programs with BFC recorded good yields, and significantly better yields than those who did not take part in the project. As such, the claim that BFC is not helping to increase food security is incorrect. The company worked with 55 households on the maize production in 2017, and over 400 households obtained cassava cuttings for a trial project. In 2018 BFC will work with over 100 households, and the communities are already undergoing training for this year. Whilst the company is aware of the food security issues in the region, it is working with social development groups to provide assistance to help the communities use their land better, and deal with the issues they face. In addition, as the author notes in her reports, BFC employs local people providing them with income. In fact, over 99% of BFC’s employees are Ugandan, and the majority come from the local communities where the company operates.

One of the reports states that “20-40 households has to leave their homes in the forest reserve”. This statement is entirely incorrect. No individuals moved from their homes in relation to BFC’s plantation activities as there were no individuals living in the area where BFC’s operations take place. Whilst activities such as grazing cultivation were displaced, no communities were moved from areas planted. GRAS does not engage with forced eviction, and even has communities living within its plantations in other regions in Uganda.

In addition, the report claims that individuals who were cultivating land within the reserve were arrested when the company began its activities, and that there was violence perpetuated on our communities. GRAS and BFC have no knowledge or information to support these claims. however, if anyone from the local population was intentionally harmed during the process, this is exceptionally unfortunate. Green Resources fundamentally objects to violence, and would in no way support, or take part in, such activities.

The articles also claim that GRAS has been involved in ‘Land-grabbing’. However, BFC does not own the land, its holdings are no larger (and are often much smaller), than many other forestry and agricultural companies in the country, and the company is not doing it at the expense of land stewardship. As such, by regular definitions of land-grabbing this is a misleading claim. BFC is assessed under a minimum of three internationally recognised organisations who have all determined that BFC has not committed land-grabbing, and is operating in a responsible manner, environmentally, socially and economically. As such, GRAS questions the validity of the claims made by the reporter.

Finally, the report ends by quoting disputed reports that have criticised the project. However, none of the clarifications on the inaccuracies of those reports are covered. The reporter claims that she has ‘come to the same conclusion’, however, the conclusion is based on faulty information. The basis is that if BFC were not operating in the area, communities would be able to use the land, they would have food security and be able to provide for themselves and their families. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Despite whether or not BFC was in the region, the communities would have been moved off the forest reserves and illegal activities would have been halted in the region. As such, without BFC, communities would be facing the same issue of reduced land access, but with none of the support that BFC provides. In addition, this posits an unverified claim – that the communities were food secure and were in a better position before BFC began its operations. However, based on assessments in the area, it is evident that communities in the region did not have food security. In addition, they did not have access to fresh water (which BFC has provided through boreholes), they did not have adequate medical facilities (BFC has built a health centre and provides medication). As such, the comparison is not: Communities with adequate land, producing food, versus, communities with less land.

The appropriate comparison from before BFC to after BFC should take into all the benefits the company provides. As such the before situation was: Communities with more land, poor farming techniques, little resources, severely susceptible to drought and pests, no improved roads (therefore minimal access to other villages or markets), with no job opportunities, no fresh water access, and no medical facilities. The after BFC situation is: Communities with less land, improved farming techniques (through training) to use the land they do have better, provision of resources to deal with pests, improved roads, increased job opportunities (and training/skills development), improved access to fresh water, and a health centre. The recent socioeconomic survey conducted by a specialist and reviewed by academic peers concluded that whilst the communities around Kachung still had a number of socio-economic issues, they have benefitted from BFC’s operations in the region.

Finally, the reporter should consider, that the choice is not between BFC having its operations in the region, versus the BFC not having operations and the communities gaining access to the land. The choice is between BFC, a highly monitored organisation, with dedicated environmental and social staff committed to achieving sustainable and net positive operations, that is scrutinised by numerous international bodies, having its operations in the region; versus an alternative company, who most likely will not have such stringent environmental and social standards, and will only do the minimum required by Ugandan law. GRAS would posit, that whilst there is always room for improvement, we are having a positive impact on our communities, and we continually strive to do better, and as such, we are the best partner for our local communities. As always, GRAS is happy to discuss the project with interested stakeholders, and welcomes them to come and visit the Uganda office in Jinja. In addition, GRAS welcomes those who would seek to come in and talk to the company about ways in which it can improve its operations.

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