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Bidco Wins An Environment Breach Case Against A Ugandan Farmers Lobby Group.

Uganda’s High Court has dropped the case against Bidco Africa who had been accused of environmental breach.

Three environmental groups had filed a case claiming that Bidco, the largest manufacturer of vegetable oil in Uganda, had influenced Uganda National Forestry Authority to de-gazette forest reserves on Bugala Island for the firm to grow palm oil.

The case drop bodes well for the firm’s operations in Uganda. Last year, Uganda’s Ministry of Agriculture also dismissed claims that Bidco had grabbed land. Bidco had come under heavy criticism over the land grab allegations, environmental degradation and displacement of thousands of people in Kalangala District of Uganda.

The High Court said that there was no evidence showing that Bidco’s activities breached the people’s right to a clean environment.

“The plaintiff should have produced evidence to establish that growing of palm trees would be harmful to clean and healthy environment rather than being accredit to a clean and healthy environment by growth of palm trees. The defendants have never asked the government of Uganda to de-gazette any forest reserve as claimed in the plaint, no forest reserve has been de-gazetted as a result. The land provided on lease to Bidco by the government for the project was not a de-gazetted forest, therefore, the issue of de-gazzetation should not have arisen,” the court said in its verdict.

This February, the firm dismissed compensation claims raised by Kalangala farmers’ lobby arguing that its involvement in Uganda’s palm oil development project did not include land transaction. Bidco’s chief executive Vimal Shah said that the land on which its plantation stands was properly acquired by the Ugandan government, acknowledging that the dispute with “a small group of residents that had been exaggerated and misrepresented.

Bidco maintained that all the 13 forest reserves that Bugala Island had at the beginning of the project were still intact, adding that being a tree crop, the palm plantation has added the area’s forest cover by 60%.
The Kalangala Oil Palm initiative is largely regarded as one of President Museveni’s pet projects. It is being rolled out in a public private partnership model as Uganda government’s vegetable oil development project (VODP).

Its aim is to raise the country’s vegetable oil production to export levels. The firm uses the harvest as raw materials for the production of edible oils that are sold in the East African market.

The Kalangala Island-based Oil Palm Uganda Limited, a subsidiary of Bidco Africa, signed an agreement with president Museveni’s administration in 2002 to take part as a private investor.

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) has also been probing the firm over the alleged malpractices on request by civil rights groups, activists and NGOs.

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