Course:FRST370/2022/Communities’ resistance of monoculture oil palm in Uganda: impact on livelihoods, territory and governance

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In this Wiki Page readers would expect to see Lin, Ren and Su’s research on a community forestry case study. Which focus on the plantation of oil palm in Uganda to be more specific the Bugala Island, Kalangala district. The following section first introduces the concepts “oil palm” and “Uganda” and the case we focus on is the Vegetable Oil Development Project (VODP). With the discussion of the case, we identify the local tenure system and government arrangements. Besides that we classify the social actors to see local communities rights and other organizations power when they are dealing with territory and plantations plans. After we assess the power of government and organization and the participation of citizens. We evaluate the case study if it’s a success or failed community forestry management. Recognized the challenges and opportunities the local community forestry faced then gave us recommendations. And we always understand there is a lack of knowledge, areas that need future research that highlight at the end of this Wiki Page.


Uganda, oil palm, oil palm in Uganda, livelihood, governance



Description of the case study – Where located; history; national or regional context (as appropriate)

Tenure arrangements

Compared to other oil seeds, oil palm is the world's leading source of vegetable oil1. In Uganda, one of the countries without traditional oil palm forests, commercial oil palm cultivation was introduced in 1998 through the Vegetable Oil Development Project (VODP), a government-led, innovative public-private producer partnership. Currently, more than 11,000 hectares of oil palm are under cultivation in Kalangala and have been expanded into the Buvuma and Mayuge regions. Over 6,500 hectares belong to the private sector partner Oil Palm Uganda Limited (OPUL), while over 5,000 hectares belong to small and medium-scale farmers1. With the support of the Vegetable Oil Development Project, more and more farmers have begun to plant oil palm, and the expansion of the scale has driven the surrounding economy. The popularity of oil palm planting in Uganda has reduced reliance on imported oil while improving job opportunities for small farmers working on plantations. This provides a good start for promoting the sustainable development of oil palm potential Uganda's potential economy.

History of Tenure Arrangement

Ensuring a secure land and property rights system is critical to actions to reduce household poverty and protect farmers' rights, which has led the Ugandan government to make a number of adjustments to its land tenure and management system2. Such as, The Public Land Act of 1969. It defines "public land" as any land vested in a land commission or public body, and land to which customary tenure is granted is public land and remains transferable by freehold or leasehold, but only with the consent of the customary tenure holder2.

Unfortunately, the good times didn't last long, The Land Reform Decree of 1975 overturned any security that farmers had received through the 1969 Public Land Act by declaring all land in Uganda public2. All land in Uganda was declared public land and vested in the Uganda Land Commission (ULC). And no one other than the Uganda Land Commission (ULC) is allowed to hold an interest in land beyond the leasehold2. Therefore, effective June 1, 1975, when this Act came into effect, freehold interests were converted into 99-year leases3.For a long time, the rights and interests of farmers could not be guaranteed, and the negative attitude caused Uganda's agricultural economy to plummet. It was not until the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda of 1995, the Land Act of 1998, and its amendments of 2010 that land reforms were restored to an extent. According to the 1995 constitution, Uganda's residents owned the land in the country. And also declared four systems of land use3.

1.      Customary: Land in Uganda is partially held by the customs and traditions of a specific group or civilization. Under customary tenure, a person may even be the sole landowner provided that the property is passed down from generation to generation in accordance with the practices of that culture3.

2.      Freehold: By "holding the land permanently," as defined by the Land Act of 1998, a person has the freedom to use registered land for any lawful purpose, sell it, rent it at will, lease it, or otherwise dispose of it. Only Ugandan citizens are entitled to freehold land, and non-citizens can only choose to leasehold3.

3.      Mailo: It is a unique form of land tenure similar to freehold in Uganda. Less than 10 percent of land managed under this system exists in western and central Uganda. Unlike a freehold, it cannot be sold outright as all titles were issued before 19283.

4.      Leasehold: It is a tenure left over from the land reform in 1975. Refers to a property owner who periodically grants to another party the exclusive right to own land for a specified period of time in exchange for rent. Any landowner in Uganda can grant a lease to another person for up to 99 years with the opportunity for renewal. It is the most popular and frequently used type of lease for overseas investors3.

By now, Uganda's farmers have regained and gained more security of rights and standardized Uganda's land management system. Even though the rural income of small farmers is still low and many families still exist at the poverty level. But it will guarantee the livelihood of oil palm growers when the oil palm project starts to appear in the near future and sweep the whole nation.

Institutional/Administrative arrangements

The government arrangements

Agriculture in Uganda is the backbone of the country's economy, contributing more than 20% of GDP and more than 50% of export earnings5. The oil palm industry directly dominates Uganda's agricultural economy due to its successful cultivation and access to the international market4. The contribution of oil palm to the agricultural sector is close to 50% of the national economy4. Therefore, the Ugandan government regards the cultivation of oil palm as a national strategic goal, and all projects will be led by the Ugandan government. The outstanding economic contribution was so impressive that the government took over the Vegetable Oil Development Project (VODP) and established the National Oil Palm Project (NOPP) in 20183. It is managed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) and is responsible for its development. Vincent Bamulangaki Ssempiija and Pius Wakabi Kasajja serve as Minister and Permanent Secretary of MAAIF respectively as the main leader4.

Hub arrangement of the project

The National Oil Palm Project (NOPP) project will last for ten years and will be implemented in the following "hubs"4:

  • Buvuma hub, comprising of Buvuma district,
  • Mayuge hub, comprising of Mayuge, Namayingo and Bugiri districts
  • Masaka hub, comprising of Masaka, Kalungu, and Kyotera districts,
  • Mukono hub, comprises Mukono and Buikwe districts,
  • Kalangala hub, comprising of Kalangala district.

42,885 households and 214,425 beneficiaries will be covered4. The goal is to transform Uganda from a predominantly peasant low-income country to a competitive upper-middle-income country by 20404.

Affected Stakeholders

Affected stakeholders, their main relevant objectives, and their relative power

Interested Stakeholders

Interested stakeholders, their main relevant objectives, and their relative power


The role of African governments and international agencies

A number of national and regional institutions have played a crucial role in the promotion of investments in oil palm in Africa. However, this support has ignored all the the negative social and environmental impacts of large-scale plantations and has also ignored the social benefits of traditional sustainable practices to produce palm oil. As a result, most support from development agencies and governments has been aimed towards the industrial model (Carrere, 2010).

African governments are currently establishing environments for large-scale corporate investments in industrial palm oil production, in many cases, is the framework of export-oriented agrofuels and agricultural commodities. Corporations expect political support from governments for their investments and legal access to land under favorable concession conditions. This means  that large expanses of land will be taken away from local communities, and with little or no compensation, then handed over to plantation companies. The government will be responsible for handling through political, legal or repressive means, and any resistance that would arise from the affected communities (Carrere, 2010).

Gender dynamics in Oil Palm plantations

The work in the plantations is attracting mainly men from the poorest area of the country. It has reinforced gender divisions in the Kalangala economy, it failed to introduce a less gender biased employment for women. Engagement in the smallholder scheme is determined by several aspects that shape individual access to land (Piacenza, 2012).

Legal and illegal access to land and relational mechanisms are shaped around gender relations. It is influenced by people’s access to political and social networks. Even though women in Kalangala have formal land rights and play a crucial role in agriculture,  they still face several constraints in accessing arable land, because of limited control over family income, and their relative weakness in addressing authority and political aspects. In households where the relationship is characterized by strong inequality, such as land ownership and decision making processes, the introduction of oil palm is likely to reinforce these inequalities (Piacenza, 2012).


Climate change and its impacts on oil palm, and vice versa

It is critical to understand the effects of climate change on natural systems to predict or mitigate consequent changes in diversity and ecosystem function. Large-scale conversion of tropical forest to oil palm plantations has detrimental effects on biodiversity. The expansion of oil palm production in Uganda has brought economic benefits, but with the large-scale planting of oil palm, it has also brought different negative effects such as the lack of biodiversity and the simplification of the planting industry. (Paterson, 2021)

Oil palm plantations support fewer species than forests and some other tree crops, as well as habitat fragmentation and increased pollution occur, including greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, oil palm cultivation affects climate by increasing greenhouse gas emission and consequently climate change. Its expansion occurs at the expense of forests, which may contributed to biodiversity loss. And as a result,  ecosystem functions decreased in levels offunction with the introduction of oil palm plantations. (Paterson, 2021)

Places which experience change in climate, or an effect from climate change, cannot develop plantations at the expense of the environment. The contributions to climate change and its vulnerability would outweigh the positive outcomes of developing oil palm plantations.

Oil palm as biofuels

Another issue related to the expansion of oil palm plantations being promoted in Uganda is the impact they may have on peoples’ food security. It is unsustainable to destroy forests for planting palm oil or sugar cane. Countries have increased its imports of palm oil for fuel use while the amount used for food, feed and oleochemicals has declined. In 2018, the EU imported a total of 7.6 Mt palm oil oil but only 2.7 Mt (36%) of this was for food and personal care use, while the remaining 4.9 Mt (64%) was for use as transport biodiesel or fuel oil (Murphy et al., 2021). This suggests for the need for action against the spread of oil palm plantations in Uganda, and a reallocation of resources to improving food security.

Level of education and its influence

Level of education and farm size have significant influence on adoption of improved farming practices. Adoption of improved farm practices had influenced access to houses and household appliances, financial assets such credit, increased income and savings, and participation in group activities.

Oil palm production has contributed significantly to participation in group activities. When farmers work together in groups, they can overcome problems of institutional access to information, inputs and credit. This adoption also influenced human capital, the ability to pay for children’s education. Which means that adopting improved oil palm production practices can improve the livelihood of farmers. Education provides knowledge and skills and changes attitudes which help to improve the quality of life at all levels. The well-resourced farmers can diversify into other innovations to enable them to acquire more assets(Anaglo et al., 2014).


Oil palm crops face many challenges, including threats from climate change and new pests and diseases, which require more effective international collaboration. The influential parties in the industry need to interact with key organizations and countries to reduce the causes of climate change.

More research could contribute to understanding the potential of commercial agriculture in creating equitable development that does not marginalize rural men and women.  

Over the past decade a growing proportion of palm oil has been used as a biofuel. Concerns about the environmental impact of oil palm cultivation and the use of food crops for

biofuel mean that many countries are seeking to replace all carbon based fuels. Which would reduce the global market for palm biodiesel. It is recommended to reallocating the produced resources to enhance food security.

Finally, it is recommended that more efforts be made to improve extension services so that more farmers will have access and can also be encouraged to adopt improved farming practices and

therefore improve their livelihood assets.