June 26, 2012

Ethiopia: Monetizing of food aid? One more disastrous development strategy

EPRDF always brags about its commitment to the wellbeing of small holder farmers. It frequently claims its stride for increased product and productivity of this group, which is making 80 percent of the total population. Despite all these fanfare, the actual policies and strategies being implemented to date are argued to aggravate than alleviate the misery of its “constituency”. Two of the major disastrous development policies and strategies mostly challenged at present are the following:

Land Tenure System

Under this regime, farmers have only the right to use the land owned by the government. They do not have a right to sell or mortgage their land holdings. The regime’s argument for this strict and narrow measure is protecting the rural peasants from selling off their land to wealthy individuals leaving them landless and without source of livelihoods. But the outcome of this socialist rule is devastating. State ownership has prevented the development of land markets, discourages farmers to invest on it, and thereby keeps down productivity as well as encourages unsustainable land use practices. Subsistent farming system with high dependence on rain fed agriculture and traditional practices is the result of this policy. A chronic food insecurity of about 12 million and acute food shortage of about 3-5 people every year is largely attributed to this failed land tenure system.

Land Sell or Lease for Commercial Agriculture

Since recent years, the problem to the land tenure has become even worse. Ethiopian farmers now are facing not only food security but also food sovereignty problems. Under the present situation where the regime is selling large tract of arable land to the Indians, Saudis, Pakistanis and Chinese transnational corporations, small holder farmers are denied and disenfranchised with their land using right. Woyane is now retailing fertile lands (at cheaper price of less than $1 per ha) for exportable food crops, while millions of local people are suffering from severe food shortage. According to the Economist (2009)1, Saudi Arabia has invested $100-million to grow and export rice, wheat and barley on a 99-year land-lease in Ethiopia, while the United Nations World Food Program has planned to spend $116-million, for five-year food emergency aid to 4.6 million hungry Ethiopians. Hundreds of thousands of small holder farmers in Gambella, Southern Ethiopia, Afar and Amhara regions are forcefully displaced from their ancestral land and in exchange they are thrown out into marginalized land where there is no clinic, school, water, basic infrastructure and other social services. People in these regions are already started to claim their food sovereignty. But government responses to such legitimate claims are political and military force. Those people who claimed their rights are either being imprisoned or killed or migrated from their villages.

The third catastrophic development strategy in the pipeline is the program to monetize food aids.

Monetization of Food Aid

As it has been reported from different sources, the ruling regime is in a process of monetizing imported food aids and diverts them to solve the country’s “electric supply problem”. As quoted in an article2 posted in Ethiomedia, Dr. Eleni Gabre-Medhin of the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX), has reported the following:

“We are currently in discussions with the government about how to take on a much bigger way maize and wheat trading in the country, including monetization of imported food aid into the country through the exchange.”

Let us not argue about the plausibility of this program for a while. But simply considering its effect on small holders’ livelihood, we could identify two disastrous threats. I do not know how those TPLF policy makers are justifying the possibility of getting surplus aid food while 12 million people are already in chronic and 3 million people are in acute food scarcity. Is this not because of food shortage that we are getting international food aid in the first place? Is it not against the objective and ethics of the aid program to divert the food assistance to other purposes? I think our poor farmers have already lost their food security and food sovereignty rights from being denied of owning and accessing land. But, worse of all, if this policy is materialized, they are going to lose their God-given survival right too.

Another tremendous threat of this strategy is its potential harm to small holder farmers’ food production and marketing capacities. When monetized foods are brought to the local markets, prices3 will fall down to attract more consumers for imported food but discourage poor farmers’ competitive capacity. As more and more aids are monetized into the local markets, they may have created dependency on imported foods. But since aids are short term activities, phasing-out of monetization would finally shock the marketing chain and potentially harm the country’s consumers, millers, traders and other operators both in the demand and supply chains. Vegetable oil monetized in the past is a very good example for the present severe shortage of cooking oils and dependency on imported supplies.

Is this part of the conspiracy theory?

Monetization of food aid is already criticized by the United Nation Food and Agriculture Organization, the European Union, the United States and many NGOs. It is condemned as an inefficient strategy which could disrupt local prices and markets. In spite of all these red flags, however, our ethno-centric rulers are working day and night to introduce it as an “innovative” way of securing addition resource for the so-called “electric supply projects”. I do not believe that they are doing it because they are ignorant about its drawbacks and subsequent damage on millions of small holder farmers. Rather they are using it because it is part of the conspiracy theory towards long term plan of empire building at the expense of the demise of Ethiopia.

This is one more of colossal threats to the destruction of our beloved country. Let us expose it!!!! Let us repeal it!!!!!
June 26, 2012


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