G ö t z e u s a n herders lost their grazing land. Officially, the Forest Reserve is state land and Global Woods has a 50-year lease to more than 12,000 hectares.
In September 2012, Göran Eklöf, from the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, visited Kikonda2 and discovered ‘a high level of conflict’ between local communities and Global Woods. Sore points included ‘arbitrary arrests of people, impoundments of cattle entering the reserve, and widespread corruption among forest rangers’.
Last December, German journalist Susanne Götze followed up and found that the conflicts are far from resolved.3 Herders complain that the herbicide regularly sprayed between the rows of trees is killing their cattle. But Global Woods manager Matthias Baldus dismisses the claims. He told Götze there is no scientific connection between the chemicals and the sick cattle.
In their assessment of Global Woods’ plantations, the certifying company, SGS Qualifor, clearly sides with the company. SGS explains that the Kikonda Central Forest was formally declared a ‘forest reserve’ in 1968 and that under Ugandan law no-one can live or farm in a forest reserve.
When dictator Idi Amin seized power in 1971, he encouraged forest clearing so his opponents could not retreat to the bush. In 1975, he issued a decree allowing Ugandans to buy land anywhere (including forest land) for ‘development’. Those changes and general chaos inside the country fuelled internal migration.
But to SGS, the local farmers and herders are ‘migrants’ who carried out ‘illegal activity including agricultural encroachment, charcoal burning and grazing’. Their analysis is categorical: ‘There are no customary use-rights of the land, since the area is a Forest Reserve.’
Cattle herder Lawrence Kamonyo describes Global Woods’ activities as ‘rich white people doing business’. But Kamonyo had the misfortune to be living where Global Woods decided to plant its pine trees. He was evicted and arrested. His house was torched, his children beaten. Brazil: laundering dirty wood In December 2015, FSC suspended Brazil’s largest certified forestry operation, Jari Florestal. Since 2004 the company’s 715,000 hectares had been certified by the Californiabased SCS Global Services.
The suspension followed an investigation by Brazil’s Federal Public Ministry, the Federal Police, the Brazilian Institute of Environment (IBAMA) and the Federal Justice department. Jari Florestal and its subsidiaries are suspected of large-scale fraud and laundering of illegal timber. Brazilian authorities say it involves
9,000 cubic metres of timber: about 220 truckloads.4 Between December 2014 and February 2015, more than $7-million worth of timber was transported from just one of the fraudulent forest management areas.
A company with a forest concession is allowed to log an agreed amount of timber. Once the trees are cut, the timber is given a tracking number. Laundering illegal timber involves using the tracking number from a legal operation.
The tracking numbers on Jari Florestal’s timber suggested that the logs came from a legal forest management area 500 kilometres away. Despite the fact that no road connection exists between that forest area and Jari Florestal’s timber yard, the logs arrived in less than two days – an impossible feat, and part of the evidence that the timber was illegal.4
SCS conducted its annual assessment of Jari Florestal in November 2013 and this was the basis for the company’s re-certification in July 2014. Several ‘corrective action requests’ were issued – pre-conditions that Jari Florestal had to meet to remain certified. One notes that ‘the information entered in the traceability control system does not match the real situation found in field operations’. Another confirms that: ‘The company did not abide by the forest management legislation regarding product list on the transport document for logs found at the log yard.’
Unfortunately, SCS didn’t dig any deeper. That was left to the Brazilian authorities.
In both these cases, FSC’s certifying companies were generous in giving the lumber companies the benefit of the doubt. In Brazil, SCS failed to uncover what appears to be large-scale fraud and illegal timber laundering. In Uganda, SGS Qualifor sided with Global Woods against local communities.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised. With certifying companies paid directly by logging companies, there are strong incentives to issue the certificate and hope for the best. n
Chris Lang is a long-time forest activist and blogger. He runs the websites FSC-watch (fsc-watch.org) and REDD-monitor (redd-monitor.org).
1 Fern, fern.org/node/4297 2 REDD Monitor, nin.tl/redd-light 3 Der Spiegel, nin.tl/spiegel-uganda 4 MPF, nin.tl/mpf-investigation
Playing by the rules: access to the FSC-certified pine plantation in Uganda is heavily restricted.
New I nter nat io nalist ● April 2016 ● 21