Uganda: The negative impacts of oil palm to communities

Winfred Nyirahabineza

Winfred monitors projects negatively impacting communities in Uganda. Photo by Conor Ashleigh (

Winfred Nyirahabineza, a young and soft spoken yet fierce community activist, is from Buggala Island (Kalangala District), central region, Uganda. She is popularly called “voice of the voiceless” by the community. Winfred is currently working with the Kalanga District NGO Forum. Winfred has been advocating for and lobbying for community rights and the right to participation in decision-making and policy-making at all levels. Due to the marginalization their community has experienced, Winfred together with the Kalanga District NGO Forum have been engaging and monitoring projects and initiatives that are implemented in their areas. They work with marginalised groups and assist in community mobilisation

Winfred shared community experiences and the Impact of Oil Palm Project in the Kalangala (Ssese Islands). She calls this project “economic development evil versus the rights of peoples”. She focused on the effects of oil palm plantations in their land and how it affected the lives and livelihoods in the whole of the Buggala Island which later on was also threatening the natural habitat in the areas around the Buvuma island and the Ssese island.

The oil palm project is a component of the Vegetable Oil Development Project which was initiated by the Government to increase the production of vegetable oil in Uganda. It is a joint initiative between IFAD, the World Bank, Oil Palm Uganda Limited and the Ugandan Government. Oil Palm Uganda consists of Wilmar, a Singapore-based conglomerate specialised in palm oil and BIDCO, an oil processing company. Communities in the Buggala and Buvuma islands, and soon in the Ssese island, are fighting against the oil palm project due to the social and environmental destruction this project poses.

The project already resulted to a large number of social and environmental impacts documented in a study commissioned by the Kalangala District NGO Forum such as (to name a few):  land loss, human rights violations, violation of land rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, denied access to resources, resource conflict, destruction of local and community-based economies, exposure to health risks, food [in]security, loss of cultural heritage, insecurity and resource conflict, biodiversity loss, increased pressure on Central Forest Reserves, forest and biodiversity loss, deforestation.

The affected communities were not consulted and many empty promises were made by the government and the corporation. There is also a large quantity of chemicals used and not disposed of properly. Women and children suffered without food and shelter. Communities have fought against this project and protested together with other community dwellers in other islands. They were beaten during the protests and have suffered serious fatalities, even death amongst their people.

Winfred raised the issue that not everyone knows what is happening in Uganda, in her island, in her community and hopes that through this community sharing and the press-conference, the plight of their people will be spread. In closing Winfred pleaded for more voices to go against this project. What can we do, what actions can we take in order to support indigenous peoples/community struggles?

  1. Send letters to the project implementors of the oil palm project in Uganda to seek further information on investors and financing;
  2. Further investigation should also be conducted in relation to whether there were laws and policy guidelines violated specifically if an Environmental/Social Impact Assessment was conducted by the World Bank and by the government;
  3. It was also suggested that we increase South-South and North-South alliance building in order to have joint campaigns (ex. A Wilmar campaign or
    calling for the World Bank to cease operations in destructive production of oil palm);
  4. Increase or organise more global community sharing and exchanges so that communities will feel that they are not alone and other communities are experiencing the same; and
  5. Facilitate linkages to support the building of a global alliance of affected communities