“A funny place to store carbon” Chapter 7

30 Dec

WE JUST WANT OUR LAND BACK

By Chris Lang and Timothy Byakola, published by WRM, December 2006

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There is an increasing body of research on resettlement and conservation which shows that management strategies (such as UWA’s) which rely on evicting people from parks not only cause huge problems for local people but are also ineffective as a conservation tool.

Three years ago, resettlement experts Michael Cernea and Kai Schmidt-Soltau[290] presented a paper at the World Parks Congress in Durban, South Africa:

    “Summing up decades of experiences with the population displacement approach we argue that this strategy has exhausted its potential and its credibility, produced much damage, did not fulfil the expectations placed on it, and compromised the very cause of biodiversity and park/forest conservation by inflicting aggravated poverty on countless people.”[291]

Cernea has identified eight “major impoverishment risks” related to resettlement: landlessness; joblessness; homelessness; marginalization; food insecurity; increased morbidity and mortality; loss of access to common property and social disarticulation.[292] “Over the past three decades,” notes Himmelfarb, the Benet “have experienced similar livelihood transformations.”[293]

The evictions at Mount Elgon are in breach of the World Bank’s policy on involuntary resettlement. According to this policy, the borrower has to draw up a resettlement plan which ensures that “the displaced persons” are:

    (i) informed about their options and rights pertaining to resettlement;
    (ii) consulted on, offered choices among, and provided with technically and economically feasible resettlement alternatives; and
    (iii) provided prompt and effective compensation at full replacement cost for losses of assets attributable directly to the project.[294]

Project planning is supposed to avoid and minimise involuntary resettlement. If people lose their homes or livelihoods as a result of Bank-funded projects, they should see their standard of living improved or at least restored.

Although the World Bank provides UWA with much of its funding, the World Bank has taken no action to apply its policy on involuntary resettlement to the evictions at Mount Elgon. Villagers evicted from the national park have lost their land and seen their livelihoods destroyed.

IUCN has progressive policies on paper about evictions and local people’s rights relating to national parks. Yet IUCN (and its funders, NORAD) remain silent on the human rights abuses and evictions at Mount Elgon. A fair and participatory application of the Forest Stewardship Council’s principles and criteria to the whole national park could potentially help address some of the problems, but so far SGS has sided with the park management against the rights of local communities.

A research team from the Universities of Aberdeen and Dundee commented that “It is essential for local people to be involved in management decisions regarding the National Park. The majority of people acknowledge the value of the forest, but when the forest is perceived to be owned externally by the National Park, there is no incentive for people living adjacent to the forest to monitor or intervene in illegal or destructive activities being carried out in the park.”[295]

The key issue is land rights and land tenure. “The key to developing sustainable practices amongst communities within the park lies in settling long-standing land tenure problems,” write the researchers from Aberdeen and Dundee Universities.[296]

Anthropologist David Himmelfarb notes that soil erosion is a more serious problem for farmers without secure land tenure in the Benet Resettlement Area:

    “In my research, farmers above (where tenure is insecure) and below (where it is secure) the contested park boundary both reported dramatic decreases in yields over the past two decades, most attributing these losses to soil runoff. The numerous formerly clear streams and rivers that cut through the landscape now run red and turbid with sediments year round. Though erosion, water siltation, decreasing yields and food shortages are found throughout the resettlement area, these challenges seem to be most intense in the areas where land tenure is most insecure.”[297]

Based on his research findings in the Benet resettlement area, Himmelfarb suggests that

    “tenure insecurity, continually reinforced by UWA policies and employees over the years, has created and deepened social and economic rifts between certain communities by marginalizing roughly 6,000 residents of the resettlement area as ‘encroachers.’ With the possibility of eviction ever-looming, the 6,000 people residing in the upper area of the resettlement area have not made the costly investments in land and water conservation that many of their neighbors have and continue to rely on illegal in-park resources to supplement their meager incomes.”[298]

To date, the management of the park has completely failed to address issues of land rights and land tenure in and around the park.

The FACE Foundation is only one of a range of international actors that is complicit in UWA’s brutal management of Mount Elgon National Park. But of all the international projects at Mount Elgon, the FACE Foundation’s project is the most difficult to justify. Although there would be conflicts between the management of the national park and local communities with or without the UWA-FACE tree planting project, the UWA-FACE project is making matters worse. If the UWA-FACE project were to be implemented in full, it would create a two to three kilometre zone around the entire national park in which villagers’ rights are either eliminated or severely restricted. UWA’s rangers need to guard the trees to ensure that the trees remain in place for 99 years, in accordance with the UWA-FACE contract. Meanwhile, the benefits from the trees belong to the FACE Foundation, an organisation thousands of miles away from Mount Elgon. Whether the trees are actually storing more carbon than would be the case in the absence of the project is impossible to determine. As it is, the project is contributing to villagers’ problems and making a solution to those problems more difficult.

When I sent a draft copy of an article for New Internationalist to Denis Slieker at the FACE Foundation, he commented, “Unfortunately the article does not show that we do whatever is in our power to improve the project, as we do with all our projects.” Slieker suggested that the article should end with a solution or advice. Slieker wrote: “In general we support critical views, since it demands that we try to improve the projects constantly. We would prefer a more constructive, solution driven article, where you can be critical, but also give suggestions for solving the big issues regarding climate, deforestation and social aspects.”

Funnily enough, providing suggestions on climate – the biggest problem facing life on the planet – is easy: We need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. We need to leave fossil fuels in the ground. Part of this involves doing away with false solutions such as planting trees as carbon sinks which allow the rich North to continue polluting.

There is no such simple solution to the ongoing conflicts at Mount Elgon. Villagers have seen a series of actions from the government and from international agencies. Each one is another stage of a long running dispute. Villagers view each attempt to resolve the disputes in the historical perspective of past government actions, which include gazetting the national park and eliminating all their rights to their land.[299]

This is not to say that improvements are not possible, just that they are outside the framework imposed by the UWA-FACE project. A constructive solution from the point of view of many local people might be that the FACE Foundation should leave Mount Elgon altogether. Slieker is being illogical in excluding this as a possible solution.


Meeting in a village near the boundary of the national park, July 2006. “We don’t want the whole national park, we just want our land back.”

After the court decision in October 2005 which confirmed the Benet’s right to their land, the Kapchorwa District Landcare team summarised the improvements for local people:

    “Through advocacy, the land ownership rights of the marginalized Benet community have been realized. Assurance of ownership of land by Benets has led to confidence in using and caring for the land. Adoption of soil conservation technologies have increased and subsequently rise in crop yields. This reinforces the argument that a property right is a key factor in collective management of natural resources.”[300]

Himmelfarb concludes his research paper by stating that

    “The recognition of land tenure is a clear first step in addressing the current state of poverty, conflict and environmental degradation. However, to facilitate sustainable livelihoods within the Benet Resettlement Area and improved biodiversity protection within the national park, such tenure must come along with improved social services, including education, health care and access to markets for all households.”[301]

Land rights is the only reasonable place to start looking for solutions – not just for the Benet Resettlement Area, but for the whole of Mount Elgon. As one of the villagers told us during our visit to Mount Elgon, “We don’t want the whole national park. We just want our land back.”

REFERENCES AND FOOTNOTES

[290] Cernea works at the World Bank and is Research Professor of Anthropology and International Affairs at George Washington University, Washington DC. Schmidt-Soltau is a member on the Board of Directors of the International Network on Displacement and Resettlement and is a coordinator for the IUCN-CEESP global assessment of the social impact of protected areas.

[291] Michael M. Cernea and Kai Schmidt-Soltau (2003) “National Parks and Poverty Risks: Is Population Resettlement the Solution?“, paper presented at the World Parks Congress, Durban, South Africa, 8-17 September 2003.

[292] Michael M. Cernea and Kai Schmidt-Soltau (2003) “National Parks and Poverty Risks: Is Population Resettlement the Solution?“, paper presented at the World Parks Congress, Durban, South Africa, 8-17 September 2003.

[293] David Himmelfarb (2006) “Moving People, Moving Boundaries: The Socio-Economic Effects of Protectionist Conservation, Involuntary Resettlement and Tenure Insecurity on the Edge of Mt. Elgon National Park, Uganda“, Agroforestry in Landscape Mosaics Working Paper Series. World Agroforestry Centre, Tropical Resources Institute of Yale University, and The University of Georgia, page 12.

[294] World Bank (2001) “Operational Policy 4.12: Involuntary Resettlement“.

[295] Amanda Ingram and Mark Reed (no date) “Land use and population pressure within and adjacent to Mount Elgon National Park: Implications and potential management strategies“, Project Elgon, Leeds University.

[296] Amanda Ingram and Mark Reed (no date) “Land use and population pressure within and adjacent to Mount Elgon National Park: Implications and potential management strategies“, Project Elgon, Leeds University.

[297] David Himmelfarb (2006) “Moving People, Moving Boundaries: The Socio-Economic Effects of Protectionist Conservation, Involuntary Resettlement and Tenure Insecurity on the Edge of Mt. Elgon National Park, Uganda“, Agroforestry in Landscape Mosaics Working Paper Series. World Agroforestry Centre, Tropical Resources Institute of Yale University, and The University of Georgia, pages 16-17.

[298] David Himmelfarb (2006) “Moving People, Moving Boundaries: The Socio-Economic Effects of Protectionist Conservation, Involuntary Resettlement and Tenure Insecurity on the Edge of Mt. Elgon National Park, Uganda“, Agroforestry in Landscape Mosaics Working Paper Series. World Agroforestry Centre, Tropical Resources Institute of Yale University, and The University of Georgia, page 20.

[299] Alan Rew, Eleanor Fisher and Balaji Pandey (2000) “Addressing Policy Constraints and Improving Outcomes in Development-Induced Displacement and Resettlement Projects“, A review prepared for ESCOR and the Research Programme on Development-Induced Displacement and Resettlement organised by the Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford, January 2000.

[300] Kapchorwa District Landcare team (2006) “Kapchorwa Landcare Chapter, Kapchorwa District, Uganda“.

[301] David Himmelfarb (2006) “Moving People, Moving Boundaries: The Socio-Economic Effects of Protectionist Conservation, Involuntary Resettlement and Tenure Insecurity on the Edge of Mt. Elgon National Park, Uganda“, Agroforestry in Landscape Mosaics Working Paper Series. World Agroforestry Centre, Tropical Resources Institute of Yale University, and The University of Georgia, page 21.

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