By: Nicky Milne
Date: September 21st 2016
Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation
BUKALEBA FOREST RESERVE, Uganda (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Deep within a pine and eucalyptus forest on the shores of Lake Victoria in southern Uganda, a parcel of land is pitting a Norwegian timber company against more than 10,000 villagers who say its "green" project is costing their homes and livelihood.
The land in dispute is 500 hectares within an area of about 6,500 hectares in the Bukaleba Forest Reserve, leased for 50 years in 1996 by Uganda's government to privately-owned Green Resources, one of Africa's largest forest companies.
Green Resources, whose 2,500-strong workforce has planted 41,000 hectares of forest in Uganda, Mozambique, and Tanzania, said it was proud of its environmental credentials, harvesting logs used across East Africa and selling into the carbon credit market.
Located 120 km (75 miles) from both the capital, Kampala, and the Kenyan border, the plantation at Bukaleba is in an ideal spot for wood production for use both in Uganda and for export.
But rather than being welcomed by the local community, the Ugandan project stands accused of evicting villagers who have lived on the land for generations and depriving them of livelihoods by taking land used to grow food or graze livestock.
"When we first arrived here, life was comfortable. We were farming and harvesting enough food, but those things are no more," said Olga Akello, who has lived in the Bukaleba forest for over 30 years.
"They took away our farmland and we have become beggars."
To appease villagers, President Yoweri Museveni pledged to allocate them 500 hectares of the leased land but this "promised land" has yet to materialize, setting communities against the company in a complex land dispute echoed across Africa.
Green Resources Director Teddy Nyamaizi Nsamba said this was a matter for the government to resolve as it was not within the company's mandate to hand over this land.
The company is proud of its efforts to help the communities, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview at Green Resources offices in Jinja, Uganda's second city.
Its website refers to benefits including creating jobs, supplying medical equipment to health centers, drilling bore holes for water, sponsoring girls through secondary education, and running HIV/AIDS awareness activities.
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