1 November 2015
Responses Compiled by:
Teddy N. Nsamba, Senior Plantation Manager and ESG Director
Mads Asprem, CEO
Jonas Alsgren from TV4 called the GR office on 26 October 2015 to talk about Kachung and on 27 October 2015 he provided the following questions to Mads Asprem via email. On 31 October 2015, Alsgren conducted a telephone interview with Asprem. We understand that a team of journalists from TV4 visited Kachung for 5-7 days at the end of September 2015, posing as tourists. At no point did TV4’s team contact the responsible management for GR Uganda to check any facts of clear up any misunderstandings. We are also under the impression that the TV 4 team did not contact the National Forestry Authority (NFA), the statutory body that manages all central forest reserves in Uganda. We believe an encounter with NFA would have enhanced their understanding of forestry policy and laws in Uganda as well as the historical perspective of Kachung Central Forest Reserve (CFR).
GR understands that the program will be shown Tuesday 3 November.
Below are the questions asked by TV4 and GR’s answers:
TV4: ‘We have been in villages in Kachung and interviewed many poor farmers who previously had land where you planted the forest. Many of the villagers told us that they got expelled from the area with help of police and soldiers. Some of them were beaten and arrested.
What is your comment to this?’
GR: First of all, GR is very proud of what we have achieved in Kachung. It is one of 10 FSCTM certified forest plantations (licence number FSC-C107952) in Africa outside of South Africa and Swaziland, and it has CDM and CCBA certifications. It is probably the only forest plantation in Africa that is certified against all these three standards, ensuring that the plantation follows high international practice for sustainable forest management, ESG responsibilities and carbon sequestration. This has been accomplished by our all-Ugandan management and employees, whom TV4 unfortunately did not seek to meet.
We have and may still be making mistakes in our operations and in our relationship to the local communities. We are dedicated to continue to improve our operations and rectify any justified or negative issues raised by local stakeholders. To improve the complaints process and the corrective actions required to follow up any complaints, we are in the midst of implementing a new Grievance Mechanism, which has been rolled out for our Tanzanian operation, and is in the process of being implemented for our Ugandan operations.
With regards to the land issues in Kachung, Uganda’s National Forest Authority (NFA) has provided several tree planting licenses in Kachung Central Forest Reserve and Green Resources holds the largest of these tree planting licenses. When new planting started in the Reserve almost 10 years ago, a part of the forest reserve was utilized for shifting agriculture by local farmers. We will continue to try to establish the exact figure with the use of 10 years old satellite images when we can obtain such images.
Farming and livestock grazing in a Forest Reserve are illegal according to Ugandan law, the same way that cultivating land in a Swedish nature reserve would also be illegal. In 2007, when the NFA told the local farmers to stop cultivating land in the Forest Reserve because it would be returned to a forest plantation, we believe most of the farmers re-located their ‘gardens’ to vacant land outside of the Forest Reserve. The relocation was a long process where the farmers were allowed to harvest their crops and got significant time to leave the land. The last agricultural plots within the reserve were harvested in 2010.
Unfortunately, Green Resources had to bring one case of a farmer cultivating in the wetlands within the Forest Reserve to the police after several warnings from GR management and Local council leadership. Cultivation is not only a breach of the law governing Central Forest Reserves, but also a breach of the general environmental legislation in Uganda. It is also a breach of FSC’ criteria for sustainable forest management and the protection of wetlands, and would possibly put Kachung’s FSC certification under threat.
Moving agricultural plots is a normal part of the local practice of subsistence shifting agriculture. Green Resources does not think this process had any impact on the overall size of the land cultivated by the local farmers or the amount of food produced by the local villagers, but this was certainly inconvenient for individual farmers.
When the NFA officials asked the farmers to stop operating in the Forest Reserve, they were accompanied by the Environmental Police, which is part of the NFA. We do not believe that at any time there were regular police or soldiers involved in this process. If anyone from the local population was beaten in this process, it was terrible, probably unlawful, and should be dealt with accordingly. Green Resources would certainly object to any such practice.
TV4: ‘Do you feel any responsibility here?’
GR: We are respnsible for any negative effect our activities have on the surrounding communities. We will investigate these allegations and what we can do to rectify any wrong-doings. In particular, GR will not establish new plantations in areas where the afforestation activities will lead to an overall reduction in the food production. Independent of this, we had originally agreed with Energimyndigheten of Sweden (the Swedish Energy Agency (SEA)), the buyer of carbon credits from Kachung, that we should work to improve the agricultural operations of the farmers living in the areas around the plantation. This has not happened to a satisfactory degree, and GR will implement a new plan to rectify this short-coming.
Importantly, Green Resources would like to constantly improve its relationship with the local community, and we will now review these and other issues in full. Representatives of SEA recently visited Kachung as part of a long planned review of the project, and they suggested some important actions that we will implement.
With regards to the formalities around the land compensation claims, this is Government land and any compensation due would be the responsibility of the Government. GR is paying a meaningful amount of ground rent to NFA as part of the tree planting license conditions. If GR had not planted in this area, somebody else would most likely have done so, but they would probably not have followed international standards for sustainable forest management nor created the same standard of forest plantation as Green Resources has established. Green Resources does not believe that the livelihood of the local villagers was negatively affected by the tree planting activities in Kachung. Quite the opposite, we provided paid work for 100s of people at the peak, and are the largest local employer. When the forest is mature and harvesting starts, additional employment and economic development will start.
TV4: ‘Why have you decided to not give the villagers any financial compensation?’
GR: Much more important than any financial compensation is to contribute to the improvement of the local agricultural practices. GR has successfully done this in Mozambique, and we will step up this work in Uganda. There is no lack of agricultural land as such in Uganda, the problem is poor utilization (unsustainable agriculture practices) and low crop yields from existing farm land.
The Republic of Uganda is the owner of the land. If any compensation is due at the Central Forest Reserve, it would be the responsibility of the NFA or the Government. GR is paying a significant annual rental fee for the land, compensating the authorities for the use of the land.
TV4: ‘The villagers also told us how they had their livestock confiscated when the animals accidentally got too close to the plantation. In order to get back their cows, they have had to pay hefty fines. What is your comment to this?’
GR: It is unfortunate that it is illegal for livestock to graze within Ugandan Forest Reserves. Livestock grazing would be good for all forest above 2-3 years, and actually reduce our costs and fire risk, but most importantly improve the livelihood of the local population and represent a positive interaction between the community and the Company. GR would like to see these laws and regulations changed.
Green Resources is not confiscating any animals and have never charged or collected any fines for animal grazing. When livestock is found grazing in the forest, the animals are held until the owner come to collect them and sign an acknowledgement of receiving the animals. This acknowledgement includes a promise not to bring back the animals into the forest. At the third incident, the Chairman of the sub-county is informed. At no stage has GR referred any case of grazing to the police. However, fines might be issued by the local authorities at the sub-county level or the police, but we are not aware of any instances where this has happened. GR is undertaking an internal investigation following complaints identified by SEA about GR staff demanding fines for cattle grazing, which would be a serious breach of the GR employee policies.
TV4: ‘Villagers in Kachung have sued Green resources and NFA to claim their land back or given financial compensation. A lawsuit is ongoing since in 2008. Why don’t you come with a settlement with the peasants?’
GR: It is the Republic of Uganda through the National Forest Authority (NFA) that is the land owner in Kachung Central Forest Reserve. The Forest Reserve is one of many in Uganda, and was established in 1952. To our knowledge, there have been no housing settlements in the Forest Reserves, at least not since 2006, which is the year before GR acquired Norwegian Afforestation Group, which held the planting license at the time.
GR is the largest of several companies with a tree planting license in Kachung Central Forest Reserve for a period of 50 years. We pay an annual license fee, and these tree planting fees accounts for a major source of revenues for the NFA. NFA started issuing the first tree planting licenses in Uganda about 20 years ago, when it became clear that the Government did not have its own resources to replant/ establish new forest in the deforested Forest Reserves.
The afforestation activities in these Forest Reserves are one of the main, and possibly the most effective, activities to halt deforestation in Uganda. The new plantation forest sequestrate carbon, and provides building materials, energy-wood and other wood based products that replaces wood from natural forests that are under constant pressure of deforestation.
TV4: ‘You have issued CERs to the Swedish Energy Agency. To get the amount CERs approved, you hired Det Norske Veritas. The chairman of DNV, Leif-Arne Langøy, is also part owner of Green Resources (he is the Vice Chairman and shareowner in The Resource Group, TRG). According to rules of the CDM board the verifier should not have any financial or personal interests in the project and company being monitored/ verified. Green Resources have a clear bias verifier. What is your comment to this?’
GR: Green Resources is using several carbon certification companies, based on the list of accredited auditors provided by UNFCCC and DNV is one of the accredited auditors. Kachung has been validated and verified by TUV SUD and DNV accredited auditors respectively. The former could not verify the project according to UNFCCC rules for large scale projects and GR had to call for a separate auditor to verify the project. Kachung has produced officially verified and issued tCERs, and if there have been any problems with this process, it would be an issue for UNFCCC. GR has so far been spreading the certification work among the available accredited companies, with costs and delivery times being the key criteria. Any issues about conflict of interest would be for UNFCCC or Veritas to decide on. It is correct that The Resource Group TRG AS is a shareholder in Green Resources. However, Leif-Arne Langøy is not a shareholder in The Resource Group TRG AS or any company with ownership in this company.