Congolese farmers barred from their own land for a tree-planting project by French oil giant Total Energies | Climate News

Farmers living in the Republic of Congo say they have been barred from accessing their land so French oil giant Total Energies and the Congolese government can use it for a massive carbon offset project to plant 40 million trees. trees over the next decade. .

According to a survey shared exclusively with Sky News by Greenpeace UK Unearthed and survey group SourceMaterial, the project on the Lefini land bank in the Bateke plateau appears to have cost around 400 farmers and their families dearly.

In interviews with a SourceMaterial reporter, several farmers said that since planting began in November last year, they have been stuck on their land without consultation or payment.

“We were going to collect Koko leaves [a Congolese vegetable]mushrooms,” said Natacha Enta.

“Now that they have banned us from entering, what are we going to do?

“In the fields, the white man bought the land, and we can’t work our fields anymore. And the people who sold our land now forbid us to go there.”

Clarisse Louba Parfaite said: “Now, if we see you with your tractors, we hunt you.

“The crops we had planted inside, in the middle of the fields, unharvested to this day, they refuse to let our tractors come and do the work.

“It’s to kill us, to send us back again as slaves like in the past.”

Some worry about feeding their children.

Clarisse Louba Parfaite says she was driven from her land. Photo: SourceMaterial

“They took everything”

Pulcherie Amboula said: “We couldn’t go far with our studies, so we gave ourselves to agriculture.

“I used to work the fields to feed my children and my grandchildren too. And one day, to my great surprise, we were informed that we were no longer going to do our fields. If we saw a tractor there, we would send the tractor.”

“I feel like these people came to kill us on our own land.”

Maixent Jourdain Adzabi said: “Today, people are crying, and bitterly. And us, our children? We raise them according to our fields. We work, we find money to educate them.

“Today we have no space to work, they have taken everything.”

A few established families were paid, but not much – the equivalent of around 80p per hectare.

And some of those who received money say there wasn’t much choice anyway.

Mr. Oliver Calver Ngouba Pic: SOURCEMATERIAL
Olivier Calver Ngouba says he was “accused of having sold ancestral lands”. Photo: SourceMaterial

Residents had little control

Olivier Calver Ngouba said: “In the village, I am accused of having sold the ancestral lands, when this is not the case. [Forest Economy] Minister Rosalie Matondo came, she had never consulted before. She arrived with her delegation saying that she had come to pay us “a symbolic franc”.

“We told her that since the dawn of time, we have never sold our lands, even our ancestors did not do it. She replied that it was the State that recovered these lands.”

Documents show that the affected residents apparently had little control over what happened to them.

By the time some accepted money to give up their land, the government had already changed the law, more than a year earlier, to make the Lefini reserve privately owned.

This land was then quickly sublet through a French forestry consultancy firm called Forest Resources Management (FRM) to Total Energies, with government assurances that anyone else trying to use it would be evicted.

Planting plan of Total Photo: SOURCEMATERIAL
Total planting plan. Photo: SourceMaterial

Recognized complaints

Other documents seen by SourceMaterial show that after Total’s planting program began in November 2021, the Ministry of Forest Economy acknowledged a series of problems with the project, including complaints from unpaid families, confusion over land rights and limitations and a lack of leadership.

The Congolese government declined to comment.

Total Energies and FRM defended what they described as an “ambitious” and “pioneering” partnership.

But in a statement they acknowledged the problems with the scheme, telling Sky News that over the past few months they had “initiated an assessment to identify the potential impacts of the project and to mitigate any negative impacts which could not be reduced. “.

They said: “This will establish a comprehensive picture of those affected by the project across the project area…and identify a remediation action plan, including livelihood restoration measures consistent with the international standards. The results will be complete and made public in 2023.”

William McDonnell, COO, The Integrity Council for The Voluntary Carbon Market
William McDonnell says local communities must be protected

Example of a much bigger problem

For those trying to reform the rapidly growing and poorly regulated voluntary carbon market, this is an example of a much bigger problem.

William McDonnell is the COO of the Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market, which attempts to establish and govern a set of globally accepted standards for carbon credits.

He told Sky News: “Social impacts have increasingly been seen over the years as really at the heart of high integrity carbon credits.

“You don’t want to do one good thing and do another bad thing.

“Part of it is about justice and human rights and ensuring that the interests of local communities are safeguarded.

“But in fact, it’s also a virtuous circle.

“If the local community is involved, it makes it much more likely that these climate benefits will be there in the long term.”


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