The benefits that (only) capital can see? Resource access and degradation in industrial carbon forestry, lessons from the CDM in Uganda

Edstedt, K. C. and Carton, W., 2018. Geoforum

Original research (primary data)
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Recent research has shed light on the various tradeoffs involved in carbon forestry, i.e. the pursuit of international forestry projects to help mitigate climate change. This article contributes to these debates by highlighting the importance of resource quality and degradation in evaluating project benefits and tradeoffs. Focusing on the case of an industrial tree plantation in Uganda, the Kachung Forest Project, we highlight how the livelihoods of communities surrounding the reserve have been affected by interlinked changes in local resource access and resource quality. We show that the project has brought about a significant degradation of fuelwood sources, grazing and cultivation lands, and potentially increased pressure on scarce water sources, which in turn contributed to increased poverty in the area. We also argue that the community development interventions that project actors have pursued have primarily delivered �benefits that capital can see� quick-fix solutions that fit within the profit-maximizing logic in which the forest company operates, while obscuring the underlying and resource-dependent drivers of poverty. Our study calls for closer attention to the interlinked socioecological changes underpinning the foundational tradeoffs � between cost-effective carbon sequestration and long-term environmental and developmental objectives � in the industry forestry model analysed here.

Case studies

Basic information

  • Case ID: INT-250-1
  • Intervention type: Created habitats
  • Intervention description:

    "KFP is an afforestation project of 2099ha in Dokolo district, Uganda. It is operated by the Norwegian forestry company Green Resources and is situated within one of Uganda’s Central Forest Reserves (CFR), government-owned land designated for forestry that has been leased to the company. Registered as a project under the CDM in 2011, KFP is meant to run for a total of 60 years (Green Resources, 2012, 2017). The project consists of an industrial tree plantation dominated by fast-growing pine (Pinus Caribaea) and a lesser (9%) component of eucalypt (mostly Eucalyptus grandis) (Green Resources, 2012; Hardy and Whittington-Jones, 2017), both of which are used for the production of sawlogs and utility poles (Green Resources, 2017). Carbon credits from the project are owned by Green Resources and sold to the Swedish Energy Agency (SEA) as part of a 30-year agreement that is meant to deliver a total emission reduction of 365,000 tCO2e (Green Resources, 2012; SEA, 2016). In addition, and in line with prevailing ‘win-win’ narratives, KFP is meant to facilitate socioeconomic devel- opment through the ‘promotion of tree planting/afforestation activities in the local communities,’ which involves handing out pine seedlings to individual households so that they can establish woodlots on their own land. Other listed benefits include the ‘provision of employment op- portunities’ in the forest plantation, and using 10% of carbon credit revenues for the development of ‘local infrastructure including roads, health centers, water supply and communication systems’ in sur- rounding villages (Green Resources, 2012, p. 3). Green Resources (2012) in this way claims to ‘contribut[e] to mitigating climate change while meeting the growing demand for quality wood products from well managed plantation forests and contributing to sustainable en- vironmental management, community development and poverty alleviation in Uganda’ (p. 2). KFP is in many ways a rather improbable candidate for a sustainable development project. Even among other CDM forestry projects it stands out for its industrial approach and its near-total exclusion of local communities in its project design, implementation and benefit-sharing "

  • Landscape/sea scape ecosystem management: Yes
  • Climate change impacts Effect of Nbs on CCI Effect measures
    Reduced water availability  Unclear results **No explicit outcome measure; based on interview statements Water availability: [unclear] depletion of water sources “the depletion of the spring has increased the pressure on remaining water sources, with some community members now needing to move longer distances to collect water.”
  • Approach implemented in the field: Yes
  • Specific location:

    KFP is an afforestation project of 2099ha in Dokolo district, Uganda...Fieldwork was focused on six villages (of 19 mentioned in the Project Design Document (PDD)1), chosen to reflect a geographical distribution among those closest to the plantation and therefore likely to have been most affected by the project.

  • Country: Uganda
  • Habitat/Biome type: Created forest |
  • Issue specific term: Not applicable


  • Notes on intervention effectivness: "Effectiveness assessed through interviews on perceptions of local villagers surrounding the intervention sites – before-after assessment (no control) ** coded as unclear for water availability because authors acknowledge its not possible to identify whether the plantations or other causes of water scarcity are responsible “it is impossible to evaluate the specific long-term effects of the Kachung plantation on water availability without a detailed hydrological survey, which was not part of our study, nor indeed was one carried out prior to the establishment of the plantation.”"
  • Is the assessment original?: Yes
  • Broadtype of intervention considered: Not applicable
  • Compare effectivness?: No
  • Compared to the non-NBS approach: Not applicable
  • Report greenhouse gas mitigation?: No
  • Impacts on GHG: Not applicable
  • Assess outcomes of the intervention on natural ecosystems: No
  • Impacts for the ecosystem: Not reported
  • Ecosystem measures: N/A
  • Assess outcomes of the intervention on people: Yes
  • Impacts for people: Negative
  • People measures: "Energy security: shortage of good firewood, especially during certain times of the year + increased time required to find firewood “While people are (officially) allowed to continue gathering firewood in the reserve as before, this concession obscures a significant degradationin the fuelwood that is available.” Food security/Local economies: less animals than before; land degradation “Interviewees noted that they are now mostly restricted to culti- vating around their homesteads and reflected on the implications this has had in terms of land degradation…People repeatedly remarked that the continuous use of a smaller piece of land had decreased soil fertility. They de- scribed their land as ‘exhausted’ and remarked that the crops had ‘no quality’ compared to where they used to farm, which further reduced opportunities to sell crops on the market.”… reduced livestock grazing opportunities therefore reducing number of livestock can keep (e.g. ‘grazing opportunities in the plantation are in practice limited because the company uses herbicides to kill unwanted vegetation and neither pine nor eucalyptus generally support a lot of undergrowth.’)…less opportunities to sell crops on the market Rights: people are evicted from the forest Basic needs: child access to education"
  • Considers economic costs: No
  • Economic appraisal conducted: No
  • Economic appraisal described:
  • Economic costs of alternative considered: No
  • Compared to an alternative: Not reported

Evaluation methodology

  • Type of data: Qualitative
  • Is it experimental: No
  • Experimental evalution done: Not applicable
  • Non-experimental evalution done: Empirical case study
  • Study is systematic: