Give us back our land: Ugandan oil palm project taken to court over land-grab claims
February 19 - Farmers in Uganda evicted by oil palm plantations are
today presenting a lawsuit against a joint venture co-owned by oil palm
giant Wilmar International. They are claiming restitution for their
grabbed land and fair compensation for damages, three years after their
land was taken for plantation development.
Friends of the Earth International is backing the communities' land grab case, filed after three years of dialogue with the government and the company which has failed to bring them justice.
John Muyiisa, one of the plaintiffs said, "When I lost that land, I did not only lose my livelihood, I also lost my pension and a secured income for my children and grandchildren. I did all I could to get the land back - I even went to the office of the President of Uganda. Now I am looking to the court to provide us with justice."
Frank Muramuzi, director of the National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE)/Friends of the Earth Uganda said: "Wilmar and the other palm oil companies are aware of the fact that communities have been displaced but have to date not resolved the problems. This project was sold to the residents of Kalangala with promises of employment and a brighter future. But they were not fairly compensated for the loss of their livelihoods, and now without access to land face a daily struggle to get by."
The land grab occurred on the islands of Kalangala - situated in Lake Victoria, Uganda - in 2011, leaving at least one hundred small-scale farmers landless. Displaced smallholders received little compensation, if any.
The flagship oil palm project received initial seed money from the World Bank, which subsequently pulled out. Several governments also provide funding via the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
Wilmar International receives money from several European banks and financiers. In 2014 EU and US financiers had a total of €371 million worth of shares in the corporation, and €1.1 billion in loans outstanding to them. In the Netherlands, ING held more than €26 million in shares; the British bank HSBC held €298 million in loans, while BNP Paribas and Dutch Rabobank held €189 million and €111 million respectively. Deutsche Bank held €4 million in shares and €12 million in outstanding loans . Friends of the Earth groups in Europe and the US have regularly brought the case to the attention of Wilmar International and their European and US financiers .
Anne van Schaik, accountable finance campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe conducted a field visit in January 2015 to talk to John Muyiisa and other affected people, as well as to local leaders and government officials in Kalangala. Her experience made it abundantly clear there must be strong regulation to prevent European financiers supporting such damaging projects.
Despite voluntary environmental and social governance commitments from Wilmar International and its financiers, peoples' rights continue to be violated by their palm oil projects.
Anne van Schaik said: "This case clearly shows that we cannot expect companies and financiers to regulate themselves. We need strong rules for financiers in Europe to stop them from providing financial services to companies like Wilmar."
John Muyiisa and the other plaintiffs are now waiting for a hearing date in court in Masaka . If the judge sustains their complaint, over 100 farmers will receive compensation and the restitution of their land.
The project is carried out by Oil Palm Uganda Limited (OPUL). OPUL is a subsidiary of Bidco Uganda, which holds 90% of its shares. Bidco Uganda is a joint venture formed between Wilmar International, Josovina Commodities and Bidco Oil Refineries, a Kenya-based company. Wilmar International holds at least 39% of the shares of the joint venture and is providing technical expertise for the project.
Additional financing for the project came from the Ugandan government and the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). IFAD provides loans and grants to approximately 119 national governments. The court case comes after various attempts by NAPE/Friends of the Earth Uganda to resolve the land conflict by bringing all stakeholders together and initiating a commission to investigate the problems and provide recommendations.
The broken promises of Wilmar and its financiers: http://www.foeeurope.org/broken-promises-wilmar-financiers-220514
Against the tide: tackling palm oil in Indonesia: http://www.foeeurope.org/wilmar-rowing-against-tide-090514
European banks fuel land grabs in Uganda http://www.foeeurope.org/euro-banks-fuel-land-grabs-uganda-210513
For further inquiries and interview requests, please contact:
Anne van Schaik, accountable finance campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe
Tel + 32 2 893 10 20, email@example.com
Frank Muramuzi, Executive director NAPE/ Friends of the Earth Uganda
Tel: +256 414 530 181, firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com