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Dark Green? GR CEO responds to report "The Darker Side of Green" 12/11/14

Dark Green?

by Mads Asprem, CEO of Green Resources

10 November 2014

Framtiden i vare hender, Spire and Utviklingsfondet arranged a ‘mini-seminar’ about Green Resources’ Ugandan operation in Oslo on 4 November without inviting Green Resources.   Green Resources is Africa’s leading reforestation company, having established more than 40,000 ha of plantation forests. We are a commercial forestry company that has sequestrated millions of CO2e, and created large environmental and social co-benefits.   It is ironic that less than a week after the publication of possibly the most serious report ever to be publish on the negative effects of climate change by IPCC, Framtiden i vare hender and Utviklingsfondet chose to attack what may be East Africa’s most successful private effort to combat climate change. 

In 2012, I received a report that some Australian students (which was how they presented themselves to our Ugandan management) visited our Ugandan plantation operations and met a number of our employees. Their report has now been published as a separate report ‘The Darker Side of Green’ by the Oakland  Institute in November 2014.   In 2013 we received a draft of the student’s report, which was riddled with mistakes.  GR’s Ugandan management provided comments to the report, but few of these have been taken account of in the published report and the published report is full of mistakes and unsubstantiated claims.   It is instructive that the Oakland reports contain nine pictures, and that none of them show any wrong-doings.  This is pretty representative for the entire report: there are few links between the evidence and the conclusions.  

GR has made mistakes, and we aim to make constant improvements.  Our all Ugandan management team is at the forefront of this.  We have worked with a number of NGOs and at times these have discovered wrong-doings and helped us improve our operations.   We are soon approaching 100 independent 3rd party audits of our operations, which is a constant challenge and driver for improvement.  If any of the findings in the Oakland report is correct, we will rectify them.   

I am very proud of the management of our Ugandan operations.  They have created a world class forest plantation that strive for the highest international standards for sustainable forest management, having receiving numerous world leading third party certifications, including for FSC, carbon projects and ISO.   As part of this, BFC is subject to annual audits and have shown a relentless willingness to improve on its operations, and Green Resources has more than 60% of all FSC certified plantation forests in Africa outside of South Africa. 

Here are our comments on some of the ‘findings’ in the Oakland report:

Eviction from the forest reserve?

No person has been evicted, by force or any other means, from the areas in Bukaleba and Kachung Forest Reserves where Busoga Forestry Company (BFC) has established plantations.  The suggestion that 8,000 people have been evicted from the forest reserves lack any basis in reality.  There has never been any ‘violent take over of land’, and the report present no substantial evidence of this.  When BFC received the planting licence in 1996, there were no or very little farming within the forest reserve, but since then, we have permitted farmers to utilise unplanted area for farming.  Farming in a forest reserve is against Ugandan law and therefore illegal, but BFC has never taken legal action against any of the farmers on this basis.  

There is no difference between farming in a Ugandan forest reserve and starting agricultural operations in a Norwegian Natural Park.  Both are illegal and aimed to protect the environment.  We are chocked by the Oakland Institute’s disrespect for age-old and legitimate Ugandan environmental and forestry legislation.  On the other hand, it should be pointed out that BFC has successfully negotiated with the Ugandan authorities to set aside significant areas for farming for the fishing villages located within the Forest Reserve, incompliance with Ugandan law.  

Interesting, the Oakland report present two pictures about grazing, one with young trees where there is a sign warning ‘NO GRAZING’, because mature cattle will damage the trees.  In a second picture, much more mature eucalyptus trees are shown together with a BFC sign and grazing cattle.  The story is clear:  BFC allows cattle grazing as long as there is no danger for damage to the trees. 

Denied access?

No villager has been denied access to forest reserve to undertake cultural activities.  In the report published by Oakland Institute (by Peter Westoby), there is picture of a sacred Walumbe tree, and as clearly can be seen from the picture, there is no ‘plantation pines growing close to’ it.  Quite the contrary, the pines are shown at a distance of many hundred meters down the hill behind the Walumbe tree.  In other locations, the plantations are closer to cultural sites, but BFC is in all instances following Ugandan law and best international practises for sustainable forest management, and if this is not the case.  

Over a ten year period, BFC protected a large area of natural forest on the Bukaleba Peninsula,  which is bordering Lake Victoria, as we do with all natural forest within our operations. This was a natural forest of high conservation value that we tried hard to protect against charcoal burning, logging and agriculture activities.  Our efforts to protect the natural forest created conflicts with elements of the local community, and a year ago, we handed back the forest to the National Forest Authority.   Since then, the forest has been decimated and less than half of it remains, representing an environmental disaster.  

It is correct, as the report states, that BFC (and the Ugandan National Forest Authority, as well as Ugandan law) denies people access to start agricultural activities in planted areas within the two National Forest Reserves.

Pollution of land and waterways?

It is incorrect that there is pollution by agro-chemicals.  BFC, as well as the rest of Green Resources, is an African leader in sustainable forestry management, and only use permitted herbicides.   In the Oakland report, there is a picture of a can of glyphosate, ‘a herbicide used at the seedling nursery Bukaleba’ and very extensively in Australia, California and in Norway.  Claiming that this has led to livestock deaths when we regularly follow prescribed procedures is ridiculous, as any expert would know.  Why should we not be allowed to use glyphosate in Uganda?   

 PDF available here