The social cost of commodifying nature

The commodification of ecosystem services is a much contested and debated area within Geography. Commodification in its simplest form means to attach monetary value to something; this blog will examine the effects this can have. In eastern Africa value is attached to vast amounts of woodland as this woodland provides a means for carbon sequestration, a very valuable, regulating ecosystem service. Places of intense carbon sequestration also known as carbon sinks absorb carbon dioxide and have become a major component in the ever expanding emissions trading market. Emissions’ trading allows carbon credits to be bought and sold, it is a form of carbon offsetting which allows countries to offset their own emissions or sell the credits they create to other countries.

The New Forests Company (NFC) is currently planting and harvesting trees across Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique and Rwanda, and hopes to attract revenue from carbon credits created, but this scheme is having negative social and economic impacts on the local population. Since the NFC was founded in 2004 it has acquired 90,000 hectares of land but claims made in a recent Oxfam report carried out in 2011 state that much of this land belonged to the indigenous communities (Lang, 2011).

Locals living in a hut after being evicted from their homes and land

Oxfam made serious allegations that as many as 20,000 people in Uganda were dispossessed or lost entitlements to their land during the proceedings. Evictions were allegedly very violent and involved the destruction of houses and crops (Granger and Geary, 2011). On top of this locals claim that they were not given enough prior notice and that objections were not taken into consideration, those who did lose their land and or property were not fully compensated or offered substitute land holdings, many were forced to reside in temporary shacks.

Many disputes have erupted over entitlements to the land. Some indigenous folk argue that they were given deeds for their land by the Idi Amin government in return for their or their relatives’ service in the Second World War; other locals say that the land was rightfully theirs as they purchased it legally from the government (Vidal, 2011). The NFC excuses itself from the debate saying that it was the Ugandan government who were responsible for the evictions and it was their responsibility to resolve conflicts over land, both the NFC and Ugandan government say cases that did arise were disregarded on account of their illegitimacy, but lawyers say many cases are still active and will most likely never be resolved.

The injustice present here is undeniable. The commodification of carbon sinks present in Uganda and East Africa as a whole have jeopardised indigenous peoples way of life, and in too many cases taken away their way of life completely. As a geographer I appreciate the need to protect the environment and investing in carbon sinks and carbon sequestration projects is admirable and effective, however it should not come at such a high social cost.

References:

Grainger, M. and Geary, K. 2011. The New Forests Company and its Uganda plantations. Oxfam international.

Lang, C., 2011. Ugandan farmers kicked off their land for New Forests Company’s carbon project forest project. Available from: http://www.redd-monitor.org/2011/09/23/ugandan-farmers-kicked-off-their-land-for-new-forests-companys-carbon-project/ [Accessed 3 March 2012].

Vidal, J., 2011. Ugandan Farmer: ‘my land gave me everything. Now I’m one of the poorest’. Available from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/sep/22/uganda-farmer-land-gave-me-everything?INTCMP=SRCH [Accessed 3 March 2012].

 

Picture references:

Rawles, S., 2011. Ugandan Farmer: ‘my land gave me everything. Now I’m one of the poorest’ [photograph]. Oxfam. Available from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/sep/22/ uganda-farmer-land-gave-me-everything?INTCMP=SRCH [Accessed 2 March 2012]

 

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