What follows is a brief description of the oil palm issue in Uganda. After reading it, we invite you to send us comments .
Oil palm in Uganda
In the Ugandan case, the United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development has been –and still is- at the forefront in facilitating and supporting foreign investment in the palm oil industry.
Investment in oil palm started in 2003, when the Government of Uganda, the United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and private foreign investors teamed up to establish an oil palm project based on Buggala Island in Kalangala (a district composed of a number of islands in Lake Victoria). The project is intended to grow 10,000 ha of palm on the Island. Of the total project area, 6500 ha will be under the nucleus estate and 3500 ha will be by out growers/small holders.
The project is a component of the Vegetable Oil Development Project which was started by the Government to increase the production of vegetable oil. It is a joint effort between the Government, IFAD, the World Bank and Oil Palm Uganda Limited. The latter consists of Wilmar, a Singapore-based conglomerate specialised in palm oil and BIDCO, an oil processing company. The project received a loan of $19.9m. from IFAD, while the government contributed with $12m for land purchases, electricity and roads. In July 2010, the Government was seeking Parliament approval for a $52m loan from the International Fund for Agricultural Development to expand oil palm production in the country.
So far 10,000 hectares of land have been sourced for oil palm in Buggala Island. While the researches are still under way to expand oil palm to the mainland, some 2,000 hectares have been surveyed for oil palm in Buvuma Island. The government has agreed to source 30,000 more hectares of oil palm on the mainland with 20,000ha of nucleus estate and 10,000ha for the outgrowers and smallholder farmers.
Agriculture state minister Aggrey Bagire has said that trials had started in Buvuma, Kibaale, Kabarole, Hoima, Masindi, Bundibugyo, Bugiri, Jinja, Iganga and Masaka, as possible areas where palm trees can grow. Additionally, a recent study has indicated that oil palm can grow in Mukono, Mayuge, Oyam, Amolatar, Dokolo and Bundibugyo districts.
The Buggala Island plantations have already resulted in a large number of social and environmental impacts -documented in a study commissioned by the Kalangala District NGO Forum-  which have been summarized as follows:
– Violation of Land Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities
– Loss of Land as a Safety net
– Human Rights Violations
– Denied access to resources and the resultant conflicts
– The Project employment opportunities are not attractive to the local communities
– Sudden rise in the price of land
– Destruction of community-based economy
– Exposure to Health Risks
– Food [in]security
– Loss of Cultural heritage and Values
– Impact on biodiversity
– Increased pressure on Central Forest Reserves
– Depletion of forest products
– Soil erosion
– Draining of wetlands
– Impact on micro-climate
– Use of agrochemicals
– Reduced wind breaks
Regarding forests, it is important to note that the oil processing plant uses fuelwood as its energy source in spite of the fact that over 40% of the forests were destroyed to make way for the plantations. What this means is that the remaining forest reserves are the next target for the supply of biomass, given that the company doesn’t have any woodlot to provide firewood for their factory. 
However, the government has chosen to ignore those claims and the country’s President Yoweri Museveni has criticised environmentalists saying that “… some people wanted to block it because they wanted to protect butterflies instead of development. But butterflies can go and live elsewhere.”
While the President evades the issue talking about butterflies, IFAD’s country programme manager Marian Bradley brings in an equally irrelevant argument: orangutans. She said that “There’s been an inability of the NGO community to acknowledge the efforts the industry has made in terms of cleaning up what it’s been doing. By innuendo this has been applied to Uganda. If a company in Malaysia is damaging a habitat of orangutans, the oil palm industry must be damaging a habitat in Uganda.”
The fact is that oil palm plantations are damaging habitats in Uganda and it would have been more relevant for her to talk about monkeys instead of orangutans. Harriet Saawo, the Kalangala district natural resources officer, has said that BIDCO destroyed 40 percent of the natural forest cover on Buggala. Paul Drichi, the director of plantations at Uganda’s National Forestry Authority stated that the destruction of natural forests in Buggala has threatened forest-dependent wild animals like monkeys.” According to what IPS journalist Wambi Michael saw in November 2009, “the monkeys were seen roaming about. Residents in the area complained that the monkeys were now destroying the crops more frequently than in the past, presumably searching for new food sources now that the original forest is gone.” In April 2010, the Kalangala District authorities took the drastic measure of ordered the killing of all monkeys to protect the palm oil trees, because monkeys eat ripe palm fruits, posing a big threat to the oil palm project.
As a result, not only monkeys, but also the tourism sector will pay the cost of habitat destruction. An estimated 30 tourists go to Kalangala every day where monkeys remain one of the attractions. At his Hornbill Tourist Camping Site Dicker Whitmann says: “They want to keep us out of business, because a majority of tourists that come here want to see monkeys. The other day, I had a group of students from a British university who had come to see nothing else but monkeys. So, if they kill all the monkeys here, would there be a reason for tourists to continue coming?” he asked.
However, the main issue related to the expansion of oil palm plantations -and other agrofuel crops such as sugarcane being promoted in Uganda- is the impact they may have on peoples’ food security. Morrison Rwakakamba, the Secretary General of the Uganda National Chamber of Commerce and Industry has recently declared that “we consider food as basic and first line of security for our members and the Country and our primary demand in regard to biofuels is that Government hastens the policy and regulation of biofuels.” In relation to oil palm, he added that “we consider as unsustainable actions that mean degazzatement and destruction of forests for planting palm oil or sugar cane.”
As the Kalangala District NGO Forum’s report concludes from its analysis of the social and environmental impacts of the BIDCO plantations and the threat of destruction of 30,000 more hectares of tropical rainforest “This calls for the need for action against the spread of oil palm plantations in Uganda.”
 “A study to identify key issues for engagement about the oil palm project in Ssese Islands Kalangala district: a case study of Buggala and Bunyama Island in Kalangala District”, March 2009
 Kureeba David, NAPE – Uganda, personal communication 2010
 Whoever produces a tail of a monkey is rewarded with 2000 Uganda shillings. The Kalangala admistration first ordered for the killing of dogs on the island as they also attempted to taste the sweetness of the fruits (Kureeba David, NAPE – Uganda, personal communication 2010)