Jordanian Bank Sanabel Buys One Quarter of a Congo Forest

congo-forest-jordan-sanabelAn Islamic bank in Jordan, Sanabel, has bought up over a quarter of a Congo forest for ‘sustainable projects’

When I first read about the acquisition of 500,000 hectares of high value forest in the Democratic Republic of Congo by an Islamic investment bank in Jordan, I thought one thing: land grab.

Over the last couple of years, countries across the MENA region have been buying tracts of land all over Africa. Worried about the rising cost of food as well as declining natural resources locally, they have been trying to make sure that their eggs (so to speak) aren’t all in one basket. Egypt has bought up land in Sudan, Saudi Arabia has staked a claim on land in Ethiopia and the United Arab Emirates has farms in Sudan, Morocco and Algeria.

However, this latest land acquisition by Sanabel is a little more interesting as it claims to come with some green credentials. According to news reports, Sanabel which is Jordan’s first Islamic investment bank is considering a number of “Sharia’ compliant forestry activities” for the land it has purchased. These range from afforestation and reforestation projects, and protecting the land from deforestation and sustainable agro-forestry projects.

I have written about the ethical aspects of Islamic banking in the past and also the important role they could be playing in protecting the planet, so it’s great to see some action being taken. Indeed Al-Sanabel Chairman and CEO Khaldoun Malkawi explained that these activities are entirely compatible with Islamic banking principles since they simultaneously help to fight climate change by protecting biodiversity, reducing poverty and promoting corporate social responsibility.

Sanabel did however also add that this purchase is part of their plans to capitalise on the rapidly growing carbon trading market. This means that the company “will develop forest carbon credits projects that will protect the role of forests in mitigating climate change.”

As such Sanabel will be hoping to get companies to pay them to preserve the forestland in Congo and protect it from deforestation in return for carbon credits which help them meet their carbon reduction targets.

This is, however, where it gets a little messy.

congo forestFirstly, the carbon credit market has been widely criticised for allowing business to continue spewing lots of emissions. It turns out that buying carbon credits from schemes such as the one that Sanabel will be running is a lot cheaper and easier for businesses than actually cutting their own emissions.

So instead of protecting the environment and helping tackle global warming, these scheme just help companies continue their destructive practices.

The second issue that needs to be considered is the displacement of poor people living in these forests. For example, 70,000 indigenous people living in the western region of Gambella in Ethiopia were forced to relocate as the land had been living on was bought up by foreign investors. Saudi Star Agriculture Development was one of the companies implicated in this forced displacement.

Land ownership is a hugely contested issue and passing on ownership to a foreign government can only make the situation more complicated.

So while I’m happy to see Islamic banks consider green projects, I think they need to do better next time. They need to show that they aren’t out just to make a quick buck and also that they take their environmental responsibilities seriously.

Update March 2020: the website/Facebook page for Sanabel is down.

Images of Congo forest via bobulix/flickr.

For more on African land grab see:
Egypt to Grab Sudanese Land To Meet Its Wheat Needs
Africa Up For Sale, Is The Middle East Buying?
Arab States Buy Up Vast Tracts Of African Farmland

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3 thoughts on “Jordanian Bank Sanabel Buys One Quarter of a Congo Forest”

  1. Moutaz shami says:

    Dear Arwa,my name is moutaz al-shami im a financial broker in Amman Stock Exchange, in the next couple of weeks alsanabel holding will have its board of directors and shareholders meeting, can you please tell me what happened with the 25% of the forest that belongs to Alsanabel?? If you are in Jordan and have more information about this can you call me on 00962799232696 will appreciate your help dear
    Many thanks for the great article

  2. Birgit Henß says:

    Thanks for the article but if this islamic company had a little bit of conscience, they would not have bought 25% of a countrys forest from a corrupt government which puts the money in their own pockets using fake companies. This is a huge area and there may be more then a million of people living there, and even the ownership of the area was not clear before the sale. Not all of this was the DR Congos state property. This deal will create huge problems after a government change in Congo.

  3. Linda Pappagallo says:

    Excellent article-can land grabbing be stopped?

Comments are closed.