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Inter Press Service

Uganda: Carbon Trading Scheme Pushing People off Their Land

Wambi Michael

MOUNT ELGON, Uganda - With the
world’s attention focused on climate change, one of the methods
suggested to reduce global carbon emissions is causing the displacement
of indigenous persons as western companies rush to invest in
tree-planting projects in developing countries.

The term
carbon trading refers to commercial approaches to promoting
environmental responsibility. Under carbon trading programmes,
companies that release greenhouse gases can either agree to reduce
their emissions or buy the right to keep on polluting.

The United Nations considers carbon markets as an efficient system to
guide investments toward cutting greenhouse emissions. The clean
development mechanism (CDM) under the Kyoto Protocol allows two types
of forestry offsets: reforestation of previously forested areas and
afforestation where threes are planted in areas where forests have not
existed for over 50 years.

One such an investment in Uganda, by the Dutch organisation called
Forests Absorbing Carbon-dioxide Emissions (FACE) Foundation, has
generated controversy as indigenous people known as the Benet have been
displaced to clear the way to tree-planting projects.

The FACE Foundation is working with the Uganda Wildlife Authority in
the afforestation of Mount Elgon in Eastern Uganda. The Uganda Wildlife
Authority-FACE Foundation project involves planting of trees inside the
boundaries of Mount Elgon National Park.

The idea is that FACE Foundation assists with the planting of 25,000 ha
of trees to absorb carbon dioxide and hereby offset emissions from a
new 600 MW coal-fired power station in the Netherlands. FACE Foundation
then sells the offsets to GreenSeat, a Dutch carbon-offset business
with western clients, mainly airline companies.

Early last year GreenSeat calculated that a mere 28 dollars covers the
costs of planting 66 trees which ‘'compensates'’ for the carbon-dioxide
emissions of a return flight from Frankfurt to Kampala.

The project has a guaranteed lifespan of 99 years but indigenous communities in the mountain are bitterly opposed to it.

Moses Mwanga, chairperson of the Benet Lobby Group, an organisation
pushing for the rights of the Benet, told IPS during a visit to the
area that the evictions have caused indescribable suffering to the
Benet who are now living as squatters, having lost their land and other
belongings to armed park rangers.

"As we talk now, people are living in pathetic conditions.
When the evictions took place many government officers came here but
they have not helped us. It is one year later but we still have a lot
of harassment by Uganda Wildlife Authority rangers.

"Whenever we want to access things like bamboo, which our people used
to survive on, or land for grazing for our animals, or if we collect
honey, people are arrested. People have even lost their lives," he

Mwanga said they were uprooted from their homes on land that have now
been turned into forest. "You know, when you say forest, the impression
is that these Benets might have moved from somewhere else and entered
the forest. The story is not like that. The story is that we are
indigenous people who have lived in Mount Elgon since time immemorial.

"So it is home for us -- it is not a forest. But the government
gazetted in 1993 to become a national park without our knowledge. So
when you say that we are in a forest that statement disturbs us because
it is our home but always injustices have been done against us," he

In 1993, a year before the Uganda Wildlife Authority-FACE Foundation
tree-planting project started, the Ugandan government declared Mount
Elgon a national park and, with that, the people living within its
boundaries have been deprived of their rights.

Uganda Wildlife Authority warden in Mount Elgon, Richard Matanda,
denied that the eviction of the Benet from Mount Elgon had to do with
the FACE Foundation project.

"Those people had encroached on forest land and the area had to be
conserved. So they were removed to replant the area with trees for
wildlife conservation. And whatever we do in these areas -- even
evictions -- have to comply with principles of responsible forest
management and the laws of Uganda," he claimed.

According to figures published by Oslo-based market analysis firm Point
Carbon, the CDM provided for 32 billion dollars in certified emissions
reductions trade in 2008 -- more than double the previous year’s

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