in Ghana, Nicaragua

How EcoPlanet Bamboo duped World Resources Institute and The Nature Conservancy

A recent article by Angeli Mehta on the website Ethical Corporation reports on a “young company” called EcoPlanet Bamboo. Mehta writes that “EcoPlanet Bamboo is creating permanent jobs for communities.”

Camille Rebelo, co-founder of EcoPlanet Bamboo, told Mehta that,

“These are multi-generational projects … In Nicaragua that [means it is creating jobs for] 90-120 years if managed correctly.

Bamboo needs a lot of management in the first five to six years so employment is high on the field level … then onto manufacturing.”

Mehta’s reporting was based on a January 2018 report published by the World Resources Institute and The Nature Conservancy.

The report is titled, “The Business of Planting Trees: A Growing Investment Opportunity”, and was written by Sofia Faruqi (WRI), Andrew Wu (WRI), Eriks Brolis (TNC), Andrés Anchondo Ortega (ex-WRI), and Alan Batista (TNC).

In the report, WRI and TNC’s authors state that,

The company emphasizes community impact, seeking to provide job opportunities for local communities and employing and training several hundred workers.

Workers protest in El Rama, Nicaragua

All this must come as a surprise to EcoPlanet Bamboo workers in Nicaragua.

Three days after Mehta’s article, the Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa put out a report about 86 workers marching in the streets of El Rama in Nicaragua, demanding that EcoPlanet Bamboo pay their salaries.

Adrián Meza, a lawyer from the Centre for Labour Studies at Paulo Freire University, is representing the workers. He says that EcoPlanet Bamboo owes the workers a total of about US$400,000.

One of the workers, Elvin García told La Prensa that the problems started in April 2017. The company said they had a budget cut “because of an embargo”. As a result payments were delayed.

La Prensa reports that the workers will file a legal case against the company in the week after Easter.

Earlier this week, an investor in EcoPlanet Bamboo told REDD-Monitor that,

The Nicaraguan plantations have now been abandoned and several thousand acres of bamboo are fast returning to jungle. The workers have been laid off without pay and the local economy is in tatters.

Last year, REDD-Monitor was informed that EcoPlanet Bamboo’s operations in Ghana had been closed down because EcoPlanet Bamboo “owed too many people money”. REDD-Monitor has heard from another ex-employee of EcoPlanet Bamboo who is also owed money.

Sustainable on paper?

On paper at least, EcoPlanet Bamboo’s plantations in Nicaragua may (at first glance) have appeared sustainable:

  • In 2012, Rainforest Alliance certified that the plantations were well managed under the Forest Stewardship Council system.
  • In 2012, Rainforest Alliance also validated the plantations under the Verified Carbon Standard and under the Climate, Community, and Biodiversity Standard.
  • In 2013, EcoPlanet Bamboo received a guarantee from the World Bank’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency on US$27 million of equity investment for 15 years against political risk, including expropriation and war and civil disturbance. In 2015, MIGA increased its guarantee to US$48.8 million.
  • In 2014, Rainforest Alliance verified the company’s Nicaragua plantations under the Verified Carbon Standard.
  • In 2014, the U.S. Department of State awarded EcoPlanet Bamboo its Award for Corporate Excellence in the small and medium enterprises category for its work in Nicaragua.

EcoPlanet Bamboo’s investment scam

From 2011, EcoPlanet Bamboo was busy raising money by selling “bamboo bonds” to retail investors in the UK and elsewhere. The companies marketing the bonds, including Property Frontiers, EcoInvestments, and Emerald Knight, promised returns of 500% (and more) over a 15 year investment period.

In a series of posts, REDD-Monitor has documented how the investments in EcoPlanet Bamboo went pear shaped.

The company set up a complex web of companies registered in tax havens such as Delaware and the Isle of Man. Two of the Isle of Man registered companies subsequently went into liquidation: Premier Group and Eco Resources Fund.

In March 2017, the Isle of Man Financial Services Authority put out a document of “Frequently Asked Questions” about the Eco Resources Fund. One of the questions was for investors: “Will I get any of my money back?”

The answer was as follows:

The financial distress of the underlying companies and the apparent foreclosure by SAL [Sustainable Asset Lending], does however mean that substantial recovery of value from the plantations may be unlikely.

EcoPlanet Bamboo’s virtual reality

None of the company’s financial difficulties are even hinted at on EcoPlanet Bamboo’s website.

Of course, there’s no mention that the plantations in Nicaragua are no longer FSC certified. In fact, the certificate lapsed in November 2017 and was not renewed.

Neither is there any mention of unpaid workers in Nicaragua.

Instead there is a stream of good news stories giving the impression of a successful and expanding company.

Meanwhile, Troy Wiseman remains on the board of directors of the Earth Day Network.

In February 2018, Camille Rebelo was at the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation taking part in a meeting of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests. Needless to say, her presentation makes no mention of the company’s financial woes.

Rebelo is a member of WRI’s Global Restoration Council. This prestigious group also includes Mark Tercek and Andrew Steer, CEOs of The Nature Conservancy and World Resources Institute respectively.

Perhaps this helps explain why report by WRI and TNC is so uncritical of EcoPlanet Bamboo’s operations. But it does not excuse WRI and TNC’s failure to uncover the reality of EcoPlanet Bamboo’s shuttered operations, unpaid workers, and an unravelling investment scam.
 

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  1. You are reporting on a complex and sophisticated scam engineered by Wiseman, Rebello and others and involving Premier Group in IOM. The first act opens with Bondholders in bamboo acreage in Nicaragua having their holdings illegally converted to shares in Premier who then pay Wiseman $55M for part ownership in the same acreage. This purchase price alone defies any sensible valuation by an order of magnitude. Premier then operates a Ponzi scheme paying unsustainable dividends of 17% against a non- existent product. Premier’s iliquidity is inevitable and white knight Wiseman steps forward with a short term bridging loan, taking Premier’s acreage as collateral. Of course Premier defaults on the loan and the land returns to Wiseman so he has now gained twice over. Premier goes into liquidation but the provisional liquidator gets uncomfortably close to the truth so he is dismissed and replaced by a more compliant individual, remember this is IOM. And the final act in this sordid affair will be Ecoplanet’s disappearance from Nicaragua having conned their Leaseholders, Bondholders and worst of all the local community. Yet again naive trusting investors have shown to be no match for clever corrupt businessmen who hide behind incomprehensible financial structures and polished media campaigns. Wiseman signs off all his mail with ‘God’s Blessings’. We can only hope that justice will eventually be served in the next world if not in this one.

  2. I am one of over 200 leaseholders who invested more than $12M in Ecoplanet Bamboo in Nicaragua in 2011. Initially the plantations had over 300 employees. Growth was slower than we anticipated but at least the plants were healthy. Then in 2014 there was an abrupt change in husbandry management, Glyphosate was introduced for weed control instead of weeding by hand and the labour force was slashed to less than 100 persons. The decision by Ms. Rebelo to use a poisonous herbicide around Bamboo went against all normal practice and has had disastrous results. Ecoplanet are now on the point of abandoning Nicaragua and have sought to hide the truth from investors with increasingly fictitous reports and a breathtaking dishonesty about the current situation.

  3. Ecoplanet Nicaragua no longer exists, at least as an operating entity because all my calls and mails to them over the last three months have gone unanswered. Your report demonstrates how shallow and irrelevant supposedly august bodies such as WRI and TNC really are.

  4. Ecoplanet Bamboo (aka Wiseman and Rebelo) are bailing out of Nicaragua because their business plan did not hold up, namely having commercially harvestable bamboo within six years of planting. Its a pity about the private investors/ leaseholders, unredeemed Bondholders and local community. However this ‘smoke and mirrors’ outfit (registered in Delaware of course) which has made an art form out of fake news will have done very nicely thank you.

  5. I am a founder investor/ leaseholder in Ecoplanet in Nicaragua.The company’s business plan was predicated on being able to harvest 4 inch dia culms by 2017 and to sell these for construction or manufactured product. Instead the plantations are yielding 2 inch dia culms which are suitable only for processing into activated carbon. This needs a further investment of $8M for industrial plant. Ecoplanet has failed to attract any further funding (no surprises there) so has closed down its operations. Mr Wiseman is looking for pastures new and another flock of sheep.

    .

  6. Check this out- a Wiseman super Bull-shit performance delivered in 2015 lauding his achievements in Nicaragua.Then fast forward to March 2018- plantations derelict and laid- off unpaid workers protesting on the streets.

    https://youtu.be/HteWJKhHzBk

  7. If you purchased an Ecoplanet Bamboo Bond and never received redemption/ repayment please contact the FCA. Help us expose this scam and get Wiseman barred from holding any further Directorships in UK companies.
    Financial Conduct Authority – http://www.fca.org.uk

  8. And yet EcoPlanet Bamboo pledged $355 million to the Bonn Challenge ($180 million in Nicaragua and $175 million in Ghana, South Africa and Rwanda). Where are they going to get the money? Most likely, they will not and the pledge, like probably all other in the Bonn Challenge, is just a hoax.