January 29, 2012

Ethiopians displaced in flower firm land grab

A worker at a flower farm in Kenya packs roses for export to Europe. A worker packing flowers in Kenya. Karuturi Global Ltd, said to be behind the evictions, grows flowers around  East Africa. Picture: File

The Ethiopian government is forcibly displacing tens of thousands of indigenous people, with the apparent aim of leasing some of the vacated land to an India-based flower exporter, Human Rights Watch charges.

These population transfers are being carried out with no meaningful consultation and no compensation, says the New York-based NGO in a report entitled “Waiting Here for Death.”

“Relocations have been marked by threats and assaults, and arbitrary arrest for those who resist the move.”

State security forces enforcing the displacements have been implicated in at least 20 rapes in the past year, the report adds.

“Some of the relocated populations have faced hunger and even starvation,” due to the poor quality of the land to which they have been moved and due also to the government’s failure to provide agricultural support, Human Rights Watch says.

About 70,000 members of the Anuak, Nuer and other ethnic groups have so far been forced from their homes in Ethiopia’s western Gambella region under what the government calls a villagisation programme, the report finds.

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Karuturi Global Ltd, an Indian conglomerate that grows roses in Kenya as well as in Ethiopia, ranks as one of the largest investors in the Gambella region. The villagisation initiative there appears aimed at making more land available to Karuturi, says Rona Peligal, deputy director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch.

Karuturi has leased more than 300,000 hectares in Ethiopia — about one-tenth of the total amount of land that the government has made available to domestic and foreign investors.

The 3.6 million hectares leased so far in Ethiopia is equivalent in size to the Netherlands, Human Rights Watch points out.

In a letter appended to the report, Karuturi’s founder and managing director Sai Ramakrishna Karuturi denies that the company is engaged in a land grab in the Gambella region.

“Karuturi has neither been involved in any way with the Ethiopian government’s policy on villagisation or resettlement of people, nor is aware of any such programme of the Ethiopian government in any greater detail,” the letter states.

The Ethiopian government also says the villagisation initiative in Gambella is not connected to commercial land-leasing. But Human Rights Watch cites affected villagers and former local government officials as indicating the opposite.

A rush to buy or lease vast stretches of African land has been underway for at least the past few years as companies in more developed parts of the world move to meet soaring demand for food at steadily increasing prices.

A pending transaction involving 325,000 hectares in Tanzania has been denounced by a US-based research institute as a land grab by an American agribusiness company.

The same think tank also recently highlighted a deal whereby a Texas-based company is seeking to lease 600,000 hectares in South Sudan.


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