UNDP urged to investigate partnership with farming firm

25 Feb 16

A Ugandan farmers’ association has called on the United Nations to sever its ties to an agriculture firm accused of land-grabbing and deforestation in the country.

 

The Bugala Farmers’ Association (BFA) has urged the UN Development Programme to investigate a partnership between its offshoot, Business Call to Action (BCtA), and Bidco Africa, a Kenyan-based edible oil and consumer goods firm which is alleged to have evicted over 100 Ugandan subsistence farmers from their land with inadequate or no compensation.

The BFA announced earlier this week that it had delivered a petition to the UNDP’s offices in Kampala in January. The petition described the partnership as a “tragedy for smallholder farmers and a major stain on the reputation of the UNDP”.

BCtA is funded by an alliance of donors including the UK’s Department for International Development, USAID, and the UNDP, which also hosts the secretariat. It works with private sector members to encourage business models that support the UN’s sustainable development goals.

In January this year, it was announced that Bidco, which has a large presence in East Africa, had joined the programme.

But Anne Van Schaik, accountable finance campaigner at Friends of the Earth, who has followed Bidco’s activities in Uganda, said they “haven’t benefited anyone at all”.

The BFA and Van Schaik accused Bidco’s Ugandan arm of unlawfully displacing farmers from their land and failing to comply with compensation obligations, in violation of Ugandan law. They have also accused the firms of substandard working conditions and deforestation in Uganda, where the company is implementing a public-private partnership with the Ugandan government and the International Fund of Agricultural Development.

The project, which aims to tackle poverty and increase domestic oil palm production, was funded with a $20m loan from IFAD and $12m in co-financing from the Ugandan government.

Van Schaik highlighted that the scheme had been framed as a development project, but claimed none of the promised benefits have materialised.

The BFA said over 100 people have lost their land with little or no compensation as a result of the deforestation of more than 7,500 hectares of rainforest and smallholder farms on Bugala Island as part of the project and there are now fears of food shortages.

Van Schaik added the project has been plagued by setbacks, had turned subsistence farmers who did choose to participate in the project into “poorly paid day labourers” and that Oil Palm Uganda Limited, the Bidco subsidiary undertaking the work, offered poor employment conditions.

The BFA’s petition said, as a result of such “well-documented” allegations, the UNDP’s relationship with Bidco was “morally questionable”, and called on the programme to investigate.

The UNDP told Public Finance international it had received the petition and a complaint to its accountability mechanism, where stakeholders can lodge concerns that the programme is not in compliance with its environmental and social standards. It said both are “currently under review for eligibility”.

Bidco has not responded to requests for comment from Public Finance international.

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