The Republic of the Congo’s farmers claim that they are being prevented from accessing their land by Total Energies, the French oil giant, and the Congolese government. This is to allow them to participate in a high-profile carbon offset project that will plant 40 million trees over the next decade.
An exclusive investigation by Greenpeace UK Unearthed, and SourceMaterial has revealed that the Lefini land reserve in Bateke Plateau was a major project that cost approximately 400 farmers and their families.
Interviews with SourceMaterial journalists revealed that several farmers claimed that their land has been blocked since November last year. They have not received any payment or consultation.
Natacha Enta stated, “We used go to collect Koko leaves [a Congolese vegetable], mushrooms.”
“Now that they have prohibited us from entering, how can we deal?
“In the fields the white man bought the lands and we are no longer able to work our fields. The people who sold our land forebid us from going there.”
Clarisse Louba Parfaite stated: “Now, if your tractors are seen, you will be chased away.”
“The crops we had planted in the middle of fields are not yet harvested. They refuse to let our tractors come in and do the work.
“It’s to kill and to make us slaves again, just like in the past.”
Some parents are worried about what to feed their children.
“They have taken all”
Pulcherie Amboula stated: “We weren’t able to get far with our studies so we gave up on them and turned to agriculture.”
“I was also working in the fields to provide food for my grandchildren and children. To my surprise, I was informed one day that we would no longer be working our fields. We will return the tractor if we see one over there.”
“I feel like these people came and killed us on our land.”
Maixent Jourdain Adzabi stated: “Today, people are crying, and very bitterly. Our children, and us? They are raised according to their fields. We work and we raise money to send them to school.
“Today, there is no space for work. They have taken everything.”
A few families with a good reputation were paid the equivalent of 80p per hectare.
Some people who were given money claim that they didn’t have a lot of choices.
Residents had very little control
Olivier Calver Ngouba stated: “In the village I am accused having sold the ancestral land, when it isn’t the case. Rosalie Matondo, the Forest Economy Minister, was new to the area and had never been in consultation before. Her delegation arrived and she said that she was coming to pay us a symbolic franc.
“We told her we have never sold our land since the beginning of time. Even our ancestors didn’t do it.” “It is the state that has reclaimed these lands,” she replied.
Documents reveal that the affected residents had no control over what was happening.
The government had already amended the law to make the Lefini reserve private property, more than a decade before the people had agreed to pay the money.
The land was quickly subleased to Total Energies by Foret Resources Management (FRM), a French forestry consulting firm. There were assurances from the government that no one else would use it.
SourceMaterial also found other documents that show that, after Total’s planting program began in November 2021 the forest economy ministry recognized a number of problems with it, including complaints from families not paid, confusion over land rights, limitations, and a lack leadership.
The Congolese government declined comment.
FRM and Total Energies defended their partnership as “ambitious” & “pioneering”.
Sky News was informed by the company that they have acknowledged problems with the scheme and that they had “launched a assessment to identify potential impacts of the project and to mitigate any negative impacts that couldn’t be reduced”.
They stated that this would provide a complete picture about the people who have been affected by the project within the area… and identify a remediation plan including livelihood restoration measures that conform to international standards. The results will be published in 2023.
An example of a much larger problem
This is just one of many problems facing those who are trying to reform the highly regulated and rapidly growing voluntary carbon market.
William McDonnell is the chief operational officer of the Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market. This organization aims to establish and maintain a set global standards for carbon credits.
Sky News interviewed him: “Social effects have become increasingly important over the years to high integrity carbon credit.
“You don’t want to do one good thing and then be doing another.
“Partly, it’s about justice. It’s also about human rights.
“But in reality, part of it’s also a virtuous circle.
“It is much more likely that climate benefits will last if the local community is involved,”