Purchasing land in Niger for carbon credits: the new form of greenwashing sweeping Africa

by GRAIN | 16 Nov 2022
In October 2022, Mauritania Investment Promotion Agency organised a prospecting mission to develop agricultural potential with African Agriculture Inc. (Photo credit: APIM)

Purchasing land in Niger for carbon credits: the new form of greenwashing sweeping Africa

With COP 27 in full swing in Egypt, and all eyes once again on this climate conference – rapidly becoming the great carnival of promises that will never be kept - one question is surely haunting many Nigeriens: will the sale of carbon credits provide any benefit for communities and the climate?

The question arises as a new US-based company, going by the name of African Agriculture Inc., has just signed a series of agreements granting it access to over two million hectares of land in Niger for the production and sale of carbon credits. The idea is to plant trees to sequester atmospheric carbon in the soil, and subsequently sell positive credits to polluting companies so that their track records will appear to be less catastrophic. In theory, that is! It is called ‘carbon farming’, and it joins a long list of false solutions such as 'climate-smart agriculture' and 'nature-based solutions', which are all good names for misleading the public. The truth is that many companies are trying to create new sources of profit, using the climate crisis as a springboard.

New carbon colonialism

At the end of 2021, African Agriculture Inc. signed agreements with two municipalities in Niger, Ingall and Aderbinssinat, in the Agadez region. These grant the company a 50-year lease with access rights to groundwater and exclusive rights to a total of 2,000,000 hectares for the production of carbon credits (by planting Aleppo pine trees). Furthermore, at the COP 15 to combat desertification in May 2022, the General Directorate of Water and Forests of the Ministry of the Environment of Niger signed an agreement to make 624,568 hectares of land available to the same company for the same purpose: reforestation for the production and sale of carbon credits.

The vision of these projects is very far removed from the vision of those who live in these territories. Instead of tackling the sources of greenhouse gas emissions, this company is adopting a strategy of financialising and offsetting these emissions - emissions which continue to increase. To make matters worse, it is cutting communities off from their traditional lands and water sources, in exchange for what? A few social projects, such as health centres, schools, etc.?

A collective of civil society organisations in Agadez has expressed its firm opposition to this land grab and called for this project to be fully scrapped.

According to Issa Garba, National Coordinator of the Réseau de la Jeunesse Nigérienne sur les Changements climatiques, “this green colonialism that is being imposed on us is a threat to the future of the next generations. Compromising our children's future over greenwashing by African Agriculture Inc. would be tantamount to collective suicide.”

Carbon sequestration or community land sequestration?

In Uganda, the hunger to make big money in the carbon credit market has recently led to many problems and violence in many communities. Peasants have seen their land taken from them by the state, to benefit “local and foreign investors”, while other residents subjected to inhumane evictions have seen monocultures of trees - eucalyptus and pine - invade their former homes. There are many such examples. In South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania, the expansion of such projects, which are supposed to contribute to tackling climate change through carbon sequestration, masks the real intent to control land at the expense of farming and pastoral communities. At a time when all efforts should be focused on effectively reducing greenhouse gas emissions, these carbon credit projects only seek to line the pockets of investors and have no place in Africa!

Negative experiences in Senegal

At a time when we need to raise climate ambitions, it is not helpful that multinational companies are playing hide-and-seek with their responsibilities for tackling the climate crisis. When African Agriculture Inc. bought the Senhuile farm in Senegal and took control of 20,000 hectares of Senegalese land, nobody suspected that the sale of carbon credits, among other things, would be one of the company's objectives. Despite a protest by the 37 villages affected, whose food sovereignty has been undermined by this carbon business, the new owners are brandishing a highly contested decree granting a 50-year concession to the previous corporate owner. This land is vital to the pastoralist and agro-pastoralist communities in the area.

“Our vulnerability as pastoral farmers means we should be taken into account in seeking solutions to the climate crisis. Yet here our lands are being taken by foreign companies who turn a blind eye to historic responsibilities in the fight against climate change”, claims Gorgui Sow, a herder and member of Collectif pour la Défense des terres du Ndiaël.

Yet African Agriculture Inc. is still not satisfied and is now seeking more land to repeat this pattern in Mauritania. There is an urgent need for solidarity with local communities to take a stand against this company, and against all land grabbing projects for carbon credits. These communities are already victims of rampant, unprecedented climate change in Africa. It is unacceptable that this crisis is also being used to rob them of their land.
Author: GRAIN
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