The Bugala Farmers Association has called on the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to sever its ties with Bidco Africa, accusing it of land-grabbing, human rights violations and environmental disasters in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.
They claim that over 100 farmers lost their land to Bidco when, in partnership with the local government, the company deforested more than 7,500 hectares (18,500 acres) of rain forest and smallholder farms on Bugala Island on Lake Victoria to make way for one of the largest palm oil plantations in Africa.
In a petition delivered to the UNDP Kampala office on 28 January, the Bugala Farmers Association called on the UNDP to investigate the organisation’s recent announcement that Business Call to Action (BCtA), a UNDP offshoot, concluded an agreement with Bidco Africa.
Bidco is the largest manufacturer of vegetable oils, fats, soaps, margarine and protein concentrates in East and Central Africa.
A study on land grabbing cases in Uganda published in April 2012 by the National Association of Professional Environmentalists (FoE –Uganda) and which was supported by Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) adversely mention Bidco in human rights violations, land grabbing and health risks.
For instance on violation of land rights, the report says
Under the terms of the agreement, the 6,500 ha of land for the oil palm estate on Bugala was to be provided by the Government. While most of this land has been provided to BIDCO, this has been at the expense of members of the community who did not hold formal land rights to the land they occupied – often Mailo land, which is now officially recognised as public land; and at the expense of forests and the lakeshore buffer zone.
In Uganda, land conflicts have arisen between members of the local community and Bidco, following the allocation of land for the oil palm development, with reports of people being evicted from their homes in the forest to make way for oil palm.
On human rights violations, the report says that in Kulugulu village on the island the path to the communal well, which was the source of clean water for the community, was blocked by Bidco. Fertilizers and pesticides used in the oil palm plantation were also reported to have affected the community’s water point
It further says that the living conditions for the casual laborers in the Bidco workers’ quarters are overcrowded, with nine workers allocated to two rooms.
“For those who know the real business practices of Bidco Africa and its CEO Vimal Shah, the embrace by BCtA of Bidco Africa is a tragedy for smallholder farmers and a major stain on the reputation of UNDP,” the petition says.
The petition cites Bidco Africa’s failure to comply with court orders to compensate the farmers for their land; the company’s labour practices in Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya; alleged tax evasion in Kenya; and the deforestation of land for its palm oil production in Uganda. The deforestation became so bad that the World Bank, originally a sponsor of the project, had to withdraw its support.
But in a story published in the Guardian, Bidco Uganda General Manager Suvrajit Ghosh denied knowledge of the case.
The petition continues
“Bidco Africa, which claims to adhere to the U.N. Global Compact, is in fact in violation of all U.N. Global Compact principals, from human rights to protection of the environment. Against the backdrop of such repeated violations, the UNDP/BCtA’s partnership with Bidco Africa is a violation of UNDP’s core mission and principals.”
Bidco did not respond to calls or text to provide information on these developments.