Ugandan farmers want the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to cut ties with Kenya’s Bidco and investigate it for alleged malpractices against Ugandan, Kenyan and Tanzanian growers.
Bugala Farmers’ Association opposes Bidco Africa’s membership of the Business Call to Action (BCtA) hosted by UNDP. The firm joined the call committing to create 60,000 jobs across the region by 2019.
The Business Call to Action — an alliance of six donors including UNDP) — challenges companies to develop innovative business models that achieve commercial success and development outcomes.
“For those who know the real business practices of Bidco Africa and its CEO Vimal Shah, the embrace by BCtA of Bidco Africa is a tragedy for smallholder farmers and a major stain on the reputation of UNDP,” says the petition delivered to UNDP Kampala on January 28.
Calls and text messages to Mr Shah on Monday went unanswered. Bidco is alleged to have partnered with the local government to cut trees on more than 7,500 hectares of rain forest and smallholder farms on Bugala Island on Lake Victoria. The move, which was to make way for one of the largest palm oil plantations in Africa, saw over 100 farmers lose their land.
The petition cites Bidco Africa’s failure to comply with court orders to compensate farmers for their land; and the company’s labour practices in East Africa. It also points out the firm’s alleged tax evasion in Kenya; and the deforestation of land for its palm oil production in Uganda.
The World Bank, which was a sponsor of the project, withdrew its support owing to weighty allegations against Bidco.
“The Bugala Farmers Association calls on UNDP and its senior leadership to examine the morally questionable association of such a distinguished UN organisation with such a blatant violator of human rights that is Bidco Africa,” says the petition.
“The evidence of Bidco Africa’s poor business practices is well documented, and UNDP must immediately disassociate itself with such a company.”
Farmers who presented their petition at the UNDP office in Kampala were blocked by security officers, while videos by accompanying media were also confiscated.
The African Press Organisation reported that the UNDP officials refused to meet the farmers, and suggested that the petition, which is addressed to UNDP Administrator Helen Clark — could only be delivered to the organisation’s headquarters in New York.
“Only after a four-hour wait was the petition officially received by a UNDP receptionist in Kampala,” says a statement by APO. The UNDP has not responded to the farmers’ petition.
“Bidco Africa, which claims to adhere to the UN Global Compact, is, in fact, in violation of all UN Global Compact principals, from human rights to protection of the environment.
“Against the backdrop of such repeated violations, the UNDP/BCtA’s partnership with Bidco Africa is a violation of UNDP’s core mission and principals,” states the petition.