Ethiopia’s food security plan on leased lands proves illusory; only entailing deforestation, mass dislocation with no compensations

26 Nov

Editor’s Note:


    When it all started, many experts and Ethiopians in the diaspora knew it. Land grab and destruction of the natural vegetation was hardly in Ethiopia’s interests. After long patience and warnings, Gambelans set on fire an Indian-owned tea plantation and destroyed machinery, when the onwer started cutting trees and destroying the forests, in collusion with the officials, according to The Reporter.

    Ethiopians in diaspora and their allies in various international civil society organizations persisted in their protests about the mass dislocation of local farmers, who ended up being forcibly pushed off their lands and the consequent violations of human rights. Since 2008, land grab became official policy in Ethiopia, with the TPLF’s heavy-handed regime sending troops and taking local lands in Gambela, Benishangul-Gumuz, Oromia, Amhara and Afar and handing them over to foreign investors – without any compensations.

    In spite of this, Meles defended land grab and the dislocation of farmers with white lies. It is no different from his denial of Ethiopia of the port of Asab, falsely claiming it was Eritrean territory and giving it to them reducing the country to becoming landlocked, as former Prime Minister Tamrat Layne confirmed days ago on SBS Radio interview.

    Here are Meles’s words about his defense of land grab, in which he deceptively promised his action to lead Ethiopia to a rosy future of food security and ample foreign exchange. Where the country is at this stage needs no further explanation.

    The following statement by Meles Zenawi is taken from his interview with Vickram Bahl of India’s ITMN television in June 2011:

    • “First, these agreements that we are signing with Indians as well as other foreign companies are precisely designed to make sure that everybody benefits. Once people begin to see the results of the investments in terms of job creation, availability of foreign exchange, availability of various agricultural products in our markets and so on, they will see the benefits for themselves and it will be completely irrational for them [his critics] to try to shoot themselves on the foot. And so the benefit of the investment, in my view, will be its ultimate protection.

    • “And secondly, we have a constitutional order here. The constitution clearly states you do not disempower you do not grab property from anybody. There is a rule of law here and it is firmly entrenched in our system. That provides additional and, in my view, adequate protection to all investments, including agricultural investments …”

    Such is the betrayal of our country, The Guardian informed us in October that Ethiopians have turned “to the humble potato for food security.” Elisa Jobson, the article’s author, quotes Endalamaw Belay, north area co-ordinator for Concern in Ethiopia, “If you knock on the door of one of the poorest households you can find … food insecurity, water, sanitation and hygiene problems, health problems, inequality and other things. To address these issues, a multi-sectoral approach is very important.”



by William Davison, Bloomberg
Posted byThe Ethiopia Observatory

Addis Ababa – Gleaming tractors and harvesters are sitting idle five years after Karuturi Global opened a farm in Ethiopia that was hailed as the poster child of the country’s plan to triple food exports by 2015.

A team of tractors ploughs land owned by Karuturi Global in Ethiopia. It produced its first maize crop in the last quarter of last year from 4 percent of its concession ( Photo: Bloomberg)

About 80 percent of the Indian-based company’s land in the southwestern Gambella region is in a flood plain, meaning its 100 000 hectare concession is flooded for up to seven months of the year, according to managing director Ramakrishna Karuturi.

The company was unaware of the extent of the flooding when it leased the land, he said.

“Karuturi, like many other large-scale investors, underestimated the complexity of opening land for large-scale commercial agriculture,” Philipp Baumgartner, a researcher at the Centre for Development Research, said.

“The land leased out wasn’t properly assessed by either of the contracting parties,” said Baumgartner, who has written a doctoral thesis on agriculture in Gambella.

Karuturi, the biggest rose grower in the world, was one of the first to take advantage of a government plan to lease 3.3 million hectares of farmland to private investors.

The Ethiopian programme got off to a poor start because of transport and electricity problems, a lack of security, and a shortage of funds and farming expertise, said James Keeley, a consultant for the International Institute for Environment and Development.

The plots are located mainly in sparsely populated, heavily forested areas such as the states of Benishangul-Gumuz and Gambella, which border South Sudan and Sudan.

Leases in some regions were given out without checks on investors, environmental impact assessments or performance-monitoring plans, Keeley said.

In 2008 the government began leasing land for as little as $1 (R10) per hectare per year. At the time, it projected that within five years, commercial farmers would be producing food on about 900 000ha.

As of last month, only about 10 000ha had been developed out of 400 000ha allocated, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said on October 20.

Karuturi is not the only company struggling. Saudi Star Agricultural Development, owned by Ethiopian-born Saudi billionaire Mohamed al-Amoudi, grows rice on 350ha of a 10 000ha lease as it completes an irrigation canal that will allow it to ramp up cultivation.

Ruchi Agri, based in Mumbai, obtained 25 000ha in Gambella. After three years, it was growing soya beans on 1 000ha and had cleared another 2 000ha of scrub at a cost of $1 500 a hectare, technical manager Rameshsingh Pardesi said. If all went to plan, the operation might become profitable by 2020, he said.

Other major investors had had their leases cancelled, Keeley said. One was Hunan Dafengyuan from China, which took a lease to grow sugarcane on 25 000ha in Gambella.

In November 2010, Karuturi said it would have “developed” its 100 000ha by June this year. In the final quarter of last year, Karuturi harvested its maiden maize crop from about 4 percent of the concession.

Karuturi’s stock has slumped from a peak of 36.30 rupees (R5.80) on November 9, 2010, to 1.60 rupees on the stock exchange in Mumbai.

Most of Karuturi’s farm is still covered in a thick scrubland of bushes and trees. A plaque to commemorate its opening now lies in land taken back by the government after confusion over exactly where the company’s lease was.

The company was given 300 000ha by the regional government before officials in Addis Ababa reduced the plot size by two-thirds in 2010.

Karuturi said there was now a plan to rent out the idle tractors, harvesters and crop-spraying machines to other farmers.

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