News / Africa

British Forest Firm Suspends Ugandan Operations Over Peasant Evictions

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Douglas Mpuga

More than 500 tree plantation workers in Uganda are set to lose their jobs after a U.K.-based forestry company which hired them decided to suspend plantations for this year in the wake of what it called bad publicity.

The New Forest Company (NFC) accused by Oxfam International of illegally evicting some 20,000 Ugandan peasants from arable land to plant trees has now suspended operations.

“We heard that that this company is going to leave some jobs in Uganda but we are not aware it is going to completely close down its operations [in Uganda], said Penny Fowler, Oxfam’s Private sector Manager. “We are obviously disappointed that there will be job losses at the company.”

Oxfam’s concern about the operations of the company in Uganda, she said, is that more than 20,000 people were evicted from their land to make way for the forest plantation without compensation any compensation and without adequate consultation.

Fowler said the problem was not unique to Uganda. “Our research, along with other organizations looking into this issue,  is that vast areas of land have been sold, leased or licensed [to international investors] over the last 10 years or so with a low level of transparency about what was happening.”

In addition, she said, in some cases these deals are taking place without the rights of the people affected by those deals being protected.

An earlier report by the NGO identified 227 million hectares (561 million acres) of land - an area the size of northwest Europe – as having been reportedly sold, leased or licensed, largely in Africa and mostly to international investors in thousands of secretive deals since 2001.

Analyst believe many of the world’s poorest people are being left worse off by the unprecedented pace of land deals and the frenetic competition for land.

Fowler said Oxfam is in favor of increased private investment in Africa and other parts of the developing world to help people get out of poverty.  But the key point, she added, is that “those investments are done in a responsible way that protects people’s human rights.”

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