August 20, 2014

Land Grab and the False Promise of Food Security

Filed under: Land grab — ethiopiantimes @ 11:26 am
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By Destaw Andargie (PhD)
August 19, 2014


One can only speculate why the secretive government of Ethiopia is giving away the country’s fertile land to foreign agribusinesses. But we know the official explanation; that is, such ‘long-sought’ agricultural investments enhance the country’s food security. For a country that is intuitively associated with hunger and starvation, there should indeed be no higher priority than food security. Yet, how agricultural production by profit-driven foreign businesses improves the food security of poor Ethiopians is not terribly clear. Indeed, compelling empirical and theoretical evidences show that increased food production per se doesn’t necessarily correlate to any improvement in the food security of people in any country. That is what I wish to discuss here. Before turning to this issue, however, a word or two on the equivocal concept of food security is in order.

A. Food Security: What is It?

The notion of food security, like GDP, conceals more than it reveals about how the actual lives of people go. It may mean different things, depending on whose security is at stake. Generally, food security is raised at three different levels:

i. Global food security: concerns with the aggregate global food supply sufficient to feed the world population. It is invariably about the supply side of the equation. Potentially, food insecurity might be an existential threat to humanity. Presently, however, the world is awash with surplus food. Indeed, overproduction has been a major concern in some regions of the world for decades that discouraging agricultural production now figures even as a goal under the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Agriculture (AoA). Overproduction slumps food prices, and agribusinesses that dominate all chains of the world food trade don’t like that. Accordingly, the so-called blue box subsidies under the AoA are tied with a condition that receiving farmers limit their productions. It does not matter that around a billion people worldwide suffer from chronic hunger on a constant basis. As a matter of fact, as famine raged in Ethiopia in the mid-1980s, farm policy debates in surplus producing nations were centered on whether disposing the surplus food grain in the sea or dumping it to the third world in the form or aid or cheap sale is cost effective. Thus, for the hungry, global food security is largely inconsequential.

ii. National food security: refers to the availability at a national level of adequate amount of food for the entire population. Again, it is about the supply side of the equation, and thus it may not signify anything for the poor and the hungry. For example, India produces about 50 million tons of surplus food grain per year; yet, a third of its population suffers from chronic hunger. Similarly, although surplus food disposal has been a major concern in the United States since the mid-1980s, the US Department of Agriculture reports that millions of Americans suffer from food insecurity year after year. There are similar stories elsewhere. The crux of the matter is this: the abundance of aggregate food supply at the national level is often irrelevant for the insolvent poor.

iii. Individual/household food security: here is where food in/security figures in its most concrete manner. Food insecurity can be decisively tackled only at the individual/household level. Distribution rather than availability of food is at the heart of the problem of hunger. Indeed, the greatest misconception regarding hunger is probably the assumption that people go hungry because there is no food or there is less food than is needed to feed all people in the country. People starve either because they produce insufficient food or are simply too poor to command enough food in the market, not necessarily because there is a decline in the per capita food supply. It is often about the demand side of the equation. Even during times of famine, there is always food in the local market for those who can afford to buy. As the 18th century French princess Marie Antoinette’s legendary ‘then, let them eat cake’ might exemplify, it is often the case that some starve even when others live in blinding abundance.

B. Why Large-Scale Land Transfer is NOT the Answer to Food Insecurity

Agribusinesses produce food exclusively for the market. And obviously the market is need-blind; not only does it operate to the complete exclusion of the insolvent, but also may undermine how much food those who can pay are entitled in exchange for the price they pay. One’s ability to command enough food depends not only on how much one can spend on food, but also on how much others are willing to pay. One’s exchange entitlement may worsen, for instance, because others have grown richer and are buying more food, triggering a rise in food prices. Thus, while agribusiness acquiring land in Ethiopia may sell their produce anywhere in the world market, an average Ethiopian with an annual consumption expenditure of just $670 will have to compete with, say, a Swiss who can afford to spend $26,470 per annum on consumption. And, of course, the poor Ethiopian stands no chance under this scenario (even if we accept the seemingly inflated figure of $670). It would be foolish, therefore, to expect Karuturi to cater to poor consumers in Ethiopia.

Market forces, by their very nature, facilitate the movements of goods, including food, to places where they can fetch the most competitive price rather than to places where they have greater utility. During the Great Irish Famine, for example, food was actually exported from impoverished Ireland to opulent England. In Ethiopia too, during the 1973 Wollo famine, food was bought from markets in the province of Wollo and sold in Addis Ababa and Asmara. That is what the market naturally does-responding to demand, not to need. Not only food products directly but also productive resources, such as land are increasingly being diverted away from growing staple foods for the poor and the hungry towards cultivating livestock feed that would go to satisfy the dietary taste of the rich (i.e. expensive protein-rich animal products) and biofuel production. Such diversion of farm land was among the major drivers of the recent global food crisis, which is estimated to have plunged around a 100 million people into extreme poverty and hunger globally. At the same time, however, a rapid growth of per capita food consumption has been recorded among the growing middle class in many regions of the world. Indeed, we do not need to look elsewhere; many of the investors that have acquired land in Ethiopia seek to produce crop for biofuel production, and, of course, they do not have any responsibility towards the food security of Ethiopians. How this boosts the country’s food security is not obvious.

C. The Way to Tackle Food Insecurity

Hunger has both technical as well as political dimensions. A credible effort to stamp out hunger must thus address both dimensions of the problem. First, there should be sufficient food. The fact that hunger is more of a problem of distribution than of availability of food should not imply that there are no issues with respect to food supply. Indeed, and this is ironic, most victims of hunger are food producers. For poor countries, such as Ethiopia, low productivity associated with lack of technology and agricultural inputs, remains a veritable problem. That agricultural labor productivity in least developed countries, such as ours, is less than 1 percent that of the level in developed nations explains it all. As regards small holding farmers, therefore, any food security program must necessarily involve improving their food productivity. That is largely technical. For the urban poor, the availability of sufficient food stock in the country or at the local granary is not sufficient. Although food is physically available, it may still be economically inaccessible for the very poor. Therefore, any food security program in this context must ultimately aim at enhancing the capability of individual’s to compete and purchase enough food. That in effect means fighting urban poverty.

Poverty is both the root and consequence of hunger. People go hungry because they are poor (conversely, those crippled by hungry have a diminished chance of defying poverty). Yet, poverty does not offer foundational explanation to hunger. It begs the question of why people are so poor in the first place. We know that poverty is not inevitable. We also know that no society’s resources are too insufficient to extricate people from abject poverty and starvation. Indeed, too often, resource constraint is not even among the primary causes of poverty and hunger in the world today, including in Ethiopia. Endemic hunger rages unabated, not because the problem is invincible, but because its victims find themselves in socioeconomic and political circumstances that rob them of the ability to defy the tragedy. The fact that hunger is predominantly a rural phenomenon means that its victims are not only socially and economically marginalized, but also are often geographically removed from the scene of political decision making. Powerlessness, be it in the control over productive resources such as land, or in decision making processes at local and national levels explains much of the problem. While the starved are powerless and their voices too muted to be heard, they are often ignored, by those holding political and economic power. We heard several times our leaders denying the existence of famine, even as they plead for food handouts. A credible food security program must thus exhibit the political will to comprehensively address every handicap that undermines a person’s entitlement to food, whether it is illiteracy or bad land policy, genocidal corruption or misdistribution, political repression or overpopulation, discrimination or ecological degradation, institutional ineptitude or unemployment, lack of accountability or political instability.


July 7, 2014

Britain is supporting a dictatorship in Ethiopia

Filed under: UK — ethiopiantimes @ 3:38 pm
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It’s 30 years since Ethiopia’s famine came to attention in the UK. Now, a farmer plans to sue Britain for human rights abuses, claiming its aid has funded a government programme of torture and beatings as villagers have been removed from their homes

Family in Gambella

One of hundreds of families in the Gambella region who have been forcibly removed from their homes. Photograph: Jenny Vaughan/AFP/Getty Images

“Life was good because the land was the land of our ancestors. The village was along the riverside, where you could get drinking water, go fishing and plant mango, banana and papaya. The temperature there was good and we could feed ourselves.”

This is how Mr O – his name is protected for his safety – remembers the home he shared with his family in the Gambella region of Ethiopia. The fertile land had been farmed for generations, relatively safe from wars, revolutions and famines. Then, one day, near the end of 2011, everything changed. Ethiopian troops arrived at the village and ordered everyone to leave. The harvest was ripe, but there was no time to gather it. When Mr O showed defiance, he says, he was jailed, beaten and tortured. Women were raped and some of his neighbours murdered during the forced relocation.

Using strongarm tactics reminiscent of apartheid South Africa, tens of thousands of people in Ethiopia have been moved against their will to purpose-built communes that have inadequate food and lack health and education facilities, according to human rights watchdogs, to make way for commercial agriculture. With Orwellian clinicalness, the Ethiopian government calls this programme “villagisation”. The citizens describe it as victimisation.

And this mass purge was part bankrolled, it is claimed, by the UK. Ethiopia is one of the biggest recipients of UK development aid, receiving around £300m a year. Some of the money, Mr O argues, was used to systematically destroy his community and its way of life. Now this lone subsistence farmer is taking on the might of Whitehall in a legal action; a hearing took place in the high court in London last Thursday, but judgment on whether the case can go ahead has been reserved. Mr O and his legal team now await a decision on permission from the judge, who will declare whether there is an arguable case that can go forward to a full hearing.

“The British government is supporting a dictatorship in Ethiopia,” says Mr O, speaking through an interpreter from a safe location that cannot be disclosed for legal reasons. “It should stop funding Ethiopia because people in the remote areas are suffering. I’m ready to fight a case against the British government.” The dispute comes ahead of the 30th anniversary of famine in Ethiopia capturing the world’s gaze, most famously in Michael Buerk’s reports for the BBC that sparked the phenomena of Band Aid and Live Aid. Now, in an era when difficult questions are being asked about the principle and practice of western aid, it is again Ethiopia – widely criticised as authoritarian and repressive – that highlights the law of unintended consequences.

Mr O is now 34. He completed a secondary-school education, cultivated a modest patch of land and studied part-time at agricultural college. He married and had six children. That old life in the Gambella region now seems like a distant mirage. “I was very happy and successful in my farming,” he recalls. “I enjoyed being able to take the surplus crops to market and buy other commodities. Life was good in the village. It was a very green and fertile land, a beautiful place.” So it had always been as the seasons rolled by. But in November 2011 came a man-made Pompeii, not with molten lava but soldiers with guns. A meeting was called by local officials and the people were told that they had been selected for villagisation, a development programme the government claims is designed to bring “socioeconomic and cultural transformation of the people”.

Mr O says: “In the meeting the government informed the community, ‘You will go to a new village.’ The community reacted and said, ‘How can you take us from our ancestral land? This is the land we are meant for. When a father or grandfather dies, this is where we bury them.'”

The community also objected to the move because they feared ethnic persecution in their proposed home and because the land would not be fertile enough to farm. “Villagisation is bad because people were taken to an area which will not help them. It’s a well-designed plan by the government to weaken indigenous people.”

Land grab in GambellaLand grab in the Gambella region in March 2011. Photograph: John Vidal for the GuardianThe army used brutal means to force the villagers to resettle. Mr O says he witnessed several beatings and one rape, and he knows of several women who contracted HIV as a result. Some people simply disappeared. He claims to have witnessed soldiers, police and local officials perpetrating the abuses. The  villagers, including Mr O and his family, found themselves in a new location in Gambella. He says there was no food and water, no farmland, no schools and no healthcare facility. Jobs, and hope, were scarce.

So in 2012 he dared to return to his old village and tried to farm his land. It was a doomed enterprise. In around April, he claims, he was caught and punished for encouraging disobedience among the villagers. Soldiers dragged him to military barracks where he was gagged, kicked and beaten with rifle-butts, causing serious injuries. He was repeatedly interrogated as to why he had come back. “I went to the farm and was taken by soldiers to military barracks and locked in a room,” Mr O recalls. “I was alone and beaten and tortured using a gun. They put a rolled sock in my mouth. The soldiers were saying: ‘You are the one who mobilised the families not to go to the new village. You are also inciting the people to revolution.’ Other people were in different rooms being tortured, some even killed. Some women were raped. By now they have delivered children: even now if you go to Gambella, you will meet them.” He reflects: “I felt very sad. I had become like a refugee in my homeland. They did not consider us like a citizen of the country. They were beating us, torturing us, doing whatever they want.”

In fear for his life, Mr O fled the country. The separation from his wife and children is painful. He communicated indirectly with them last year through a messenger. “I am sad. The family has no one supporting them. I am also sad because I don’t have my family.”

But such is the terror that awaits that, asked if if he wants to return home, he replies bluntly: “There’s nothing good in the country so there is nothing that will take me back.”

Modern Ethiopia is a paradox. A generation after the famine, it is hailed by pundits as an “African lion” because of stellar economic growth and a burgeoning middle class. One study found it is creating millionaires at a faster rate than any other country on the continent. Construction is booming in the capital, Addis Ababa, home of the Chinese-built African Union headquarters. Yet the national parliament has only one opposition MP. Last month the government was criticised for violently crushing student demonstrations. Ethiopia is also regarded as one of the most repressive media environments in the world. Numerous journalists are in prison or have gone into exile, while independent media outlets are regularly closed down.

Gambella, which is the size of Belgium, has a population of more than 300,000, mainly indigenous Anuak and Nuer. Its fertile soil has attracted foreign and domestic investors who have leased large tracts of land at favourable prices. The three-year villagisation programme in Gambella is now complete. A 2012 investigation by Human Rights Watch, entitledWaiting Here for Death, highlighted the plight of thousands like Mr O robbed of their ancestral lands, wiping out their livelihoods. London law firm Leigh Day took up the case and secured legal aid to represent Mr O in litigation against Britain’s international development secretary, whom it accuses of part-funding the human rights abuses.

Mr O explains: “The Ethiopian government is immoral: it is collecting money on behalf of poor people from foreign donors, but then directing it to programmes that kill people. At the meeting, the officials said: ‘The British government is helping us.’ Of all the donors to Ethiopia, the British government has been sending the most funds to the villagisation programme. “I’m not happy with that because we are expecting them to give donations to support indigenous people and poor people in their lands, not to create difficult conditions for them. They should stop funding Ethiopia because most of the remote areas are suffering. The funds given to villagisation should be stopped.” Mr O did not attend last week’s court hearing at which Leigh Day argued that British aid is provided on condition that the recipient government is not “in significant violation of human rights”. It asserted that the UK has failed to put in place any sufficient process to assess Ethiopia’s compliance with the conditions and has refused to make its assessment public, in breach of its stated policy.

Red Cross feeding centreStarving families lift sacks of food at a Red Cross feeding centre in Ethiopia. Photograph: Steven L Raymer/National Geographic/Getty Images“There are credible allegations of UK aid money contributing to serious human rights violations,” states Leigh Day’s summary argument. “In particular, there is evidence that the ‘villagisation’ programme is partly funded by the defendant’s payments into the promotion of basic services programme.” The concerns have led to a full investigation by the World Bank, it adds.

Rosa Curling, a solicitor in the human rights department at Leigh Day, says: “It’s about making sure the money is traced. When you’re handing over millions of pounds you have a legal responsibility to make sure the money is being used appropriately. The experience of the village is absolutely appalling. We’re saying to the Department for International Development (DfID), please look at this issue properly, please follow the procedure you said you would follow, please talk to the people who’ve been affected. Look at what happened to Mr O and his village. They haven’t done that.”

Mr O offered to meet British officials, she adds, but they decided his refugee camp was too dangerous. He offered to meet them in a major city, but still they refused. “They haven’t met anybody directly affected by villagisation.” Curling urges: “If you’ve got money, trace it and put conditions on it so it’s not being used like this. It completely defeats the point of aid if it’s being used in this way. We’re talking about millions of British pounds.”

The view is echoed by Human Rights Watch. Felix Horne, its Ethiopia and Eritrea researcher, says: “Given that aid is fungible, DfID does not have any mechanism to determine how their well-meaning support to local government officials is being used in Ethiopia. They have no idea how their money is being spent. And when they are provided [with] evidence of how that money is in fact being used, they conduct seriously flawed assessments to dismiss the allegations, and it’s business as usual.

“While they have conducted several ‘on the ground’ assessments in Gambella to ascertain the extent of the abuses, they have refused to visit the refugee camps where many of the victims are housed. The camps are safe, easy to access, and the victims of this abusive programme are eager to speak with DfID, and yet DfID and other donors have refused to speak with them, raising the suspicion that they aren’t interested in hearing about abuses that have been facilitated with their funding.”

DfID is set to contest the court action, denying that any of its aid was directly used to uproot Mr O or others affected by villagisation. A spokesman says: “We will not comment on ongoing legal action. The UK has never funded Ethiopia’s resettlement programmes. Our support to the Protection of Basic Services Programme is only used to provide essential services like healthcare, schooling and clean water.” Shimeles Kemal, the Ethiopian government’s state minister of communications, was unavailable for comment.

April 16, 2014

Minister of Federal Affairs and Benishangul Gumuz Region Charged

Blue party has filed a charge on the minister of federal affairs and Benishangul Gumuz region on the case of the 1, 346 families displaced from their homes and properties in the Benishangul Gumuz region’s Masha zone and Yaso woreda without any warning on February, 2013.

Blue party has been asking for the displaced citizens to return back to their places, to be compensated for their losses and those responsible be put to justice. Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn has said that the citizens are displaced due to a mistake done by rent seekers and the offenders would be put to justice.

But the Federal Affairs Minister neither returned the displaced citizens back to their places nor compensated them. The responsible offenders also haven’t been charged. Therefore, Blue party’s charge document that was prepared by Dr. Yakob Hailemariam is accepted by the court and tomorrow on April 17, 2014 the charge document will be read to the Federal Affairs minister, the Benishangul Gumuz region and the responsible offenders at the Federal High Court’s eighth criminal bench.

It is noted that the Benishangul Gumuz region’s president Ahmed Nasir has admitted the accusation and promising to return the displaced citizens back to their places.

March 20, 2014

Land grabbing in Ethiopia – foreign investors and famine

Filed under: Famin,Land grab — ethiopiantimes @ 11:21 pm
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Although one in 10 Ethiopians is going hungry, the government is leasing fertile land to foreign investors. Deutsche Welle spoke with Essayas Kebede from the Ethiopian government about so-called land grabbing.

farmers working land in Ethiopia Farmers cannot own land in Ethiopia, they must least it

Countries in Asia and the Gulf – such as China, India and Saudi Arabia – have rushed to foreign countries to buy farmland to grow crops for their own people. Food price inflation in recent years has highlighted the need for greater food security.

Africa has become a prime target, despite concerns about the impact on the world’s poorest people. Locals have nicknamed the practice “land grabbing.”

Essayas Kebede is the director of the Ethiopian government’s Agricultural Investment Agency and is responsible for the contractual agreements with foreign investors regarding Ethiopian farmland.

Deutsche Welle: Mr. Essayas, Ethiopia is experiencing a severe famine right now. Despite this, you have been tasked by the government to lease huge swaths of land to foreign companies. Critics have called this irresponsible. Are you acting in bad faith?

Essayas Kebede: Agriculture is the backbone of the Ethiopian economy. Fifteen million hectares of land are being worked by farmers and another 15 million are lying fallow. The Ethiopian government’s five-year development plan aims to increase the productivity of subsistence farmers, which is why we’ve turned our attention to commercial agriculture operations that can help our farmers increase their revenues.


The Gambella farm in Ethiopia The Gambella farm is the size of Luxemburg


Of the 15 million hectares of fallow land that I mentioned, we identified 3.6 million that are suitable for commercial farming. But for that we need investors. They can come from Ethiopia or from abroad, it doesn’t matter to us, but we urgently need capital and modern technology to increase our agricultural sector output. That way we can boost our foreign currency stocks and create jobs.

Are you saying that this policy can help solve Ethiopia’s hunger problems?

We have to increase productivity, but we also have to increase the buying power of our people. It’s the only way they are going to be able to afford food. The sale of goods produced on large farms will bring in desperately needed foreign currency, with which we can introduce modern production methods.

Ethiopian farmers are not allowed to own land, rather they lease it. Wouldn’t it be better to make life easier for them with microcredits, improved market access and roads than accommodating investors from India and China?

We are in the process now of regulating land ownership questions and have already granted the first land titles. Regarding infrastructure, the government has paved many kilometers of roads and built new ones. We have established government offices that support local farmers.

A full 85 percent of our population work as small farmers in rural areas and if we really want to stimulate the economy of our country, we have to improve the conditions our farmers live and work under. The foreign companies bring technology that helps our own farmers. Investors build bridges, schools and hospitals, and people here benefit from those.


Indian investors clearing Ethiopian land The Indian investors clear Ethiopian land, but who profits?


There are rumors that the Indian Karuturi Global company has leased the Gambella farm in the west of the country, which has 300,000 hectares of land, in order to push up its stock price on the Mumbai stock exchange. However, most of the farm is still lying fallow. Where is the technology you were talking about, as well as the schools, hospitals and all the jobs?

We signed an agreement with Karuturi and they are working on it. Developing farmland doesn’t happen overnight. We want to help investors have successful relationships with us.

But the success doesn’t seem to be happening. You have already threatened to take back 200,000 hectares if there is no significant progress within two years. Something has obviously gone wrong. How much time does Karuturi have?

When the time comes, we will sit down together. The clearing of vegetation takes time and right now, we can’t really judge Karuturi’s performance. He has two years to cultivate the first 100,000 hectares and then one year for an additional 50,000.


Karuturi spokesman Birinder Singh Karuturi spokesman Birinder Singh call the land deal a “win-win” situation


To increase the food supply in the country, at least part of the harvest has to be sold on the local market. Was that a stipulation in the contracts with the big multinationals?

It’s not our task to take revenue away from investors. As I said, we want to increase the purchasing power of our people so that they can afford to buy corn from Karuturi. If the investors can get a good price here in this country, they will sell here.

Four decades after Ethiopia’s first famine, your country is suffering again. Has the government done enough to try to break this vicious circle of hunger and poverty?

There are 1.2 billion people suffering from hunger around the world. It’s a growing, global problem and we are part of a globalized world. If it rains less in Europe, we feel it here. You see, in the 70s we had a population of 25 million, today it’s 80 million. So hunger is not as widespread as it was then and today our food reserves are higher. In the 70s, the government didn’t have the situation under control. The current administration, however, knows what it’s doing. In fact, the chances are good that Ethiopia will be able to contribute to the global food supply in the future. We have enough land.

Interviewer: Ludger Schadomsky (jam)
Editor: Rob Mudge

March 2, 2014

Nigerian popular commentator Adeola on ethnic cleansing campaign against Amharas

Filed under: Amharas — ethiopiantimes @ 8:39 pm
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February 19, 2014

1 000s forced off land in Ethiopia – HRW

Filed under: Land grab — ethiopiantimes @ 8:47 pm
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Addis Ababa – Ethiopia is clearing large swathes of land and forcibly displacing populations to make room for state-run sugar plantations in the Omo Valley, according to Human Rights Watch.

The rights watchdog said 500 000 people are affected by the land clearance, which covers “virtually” the whole valley in southern Ethiopia. The reports are based on recently released satellite imagery.

“Ethiopia can develop its land and resources but it shouldn’t run roughshod over the rights of its indigenous communities,” said HRW’s Africa director Leslie Lefkow.

There are several large state-run sugar plantations in the Omo Valley and several new projects under way. Sugar production, mainly for export, is a key source of revenue for Ethiopia.

HRW said communities – mainly pastoralists – are being forcibly moved under the government’s “villagisation” program, which Addis Ababa says will help rural citizens access key services such as education and health care.

“As has been seen in other parts of Ethiopia, these movements are not all voluntary,” said HRW.

The lush Omo Valley, a Unesco World Heritage site, is home to several indigenous tribes, including the 7 000-member Bodi group, often photographed in traditional beaded dress and with lip plates.

Several rivers run through the valley, including the Gibe River, which the government is using to build a number of large hydroelectric dams.

The main tributary for Kenya’s Lake Turkana is the Gibe River, and environmental groups have said the dam constructions will dramatically decrease water levels.

With an average income of less than $2 per day, Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world, but also has one of the globe’s fastest growing economies.

The Horn of Africa nation is seeking to industrialise its economy, notably in the agricultural sector, in order to boost exports and reach middle income status by 2025.

January 28, 2014

US Congress takes a historic stance against land grabs-related forced evictions in Ethiopia

Filed under: Land grab — ethiopiantimes @ 5:38 pm
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Oakland Institue | 27 January 2014

The 2014 Omnibus Appropriations Bill contains provisions that ensure that US development funds are not used to support forced evictions in Ethiopia.

US Congress takes a historic stance against land grabs-related forced evictions in Ethiopia


Anuradha Mittal, 510-469-5228;

Frederic Mousseau, 510-512-5458;

Oakland, CA – In a historic move, the US Congress has taken a stance on land grabs-related human rights abuses in Ethiopia. The 2014 Omnibus Appropriations Bill contains provisions that ensure that US development funds are not used to support forced evictions in Ethiopia.

The bill prevents US assistance from being used to support activities that directly or indirectly involve forced displacement in the Lower Omo and Gambella regions. It further requires US assistance in these areas be used to support local community initiatives aimed at improving livelihoods and be subject to prior consultation with affected populations. The bill goes further and even instructs the directors of international financial institutions to oppose financing for any activities that directly or indirectly involve forced evictions in Ethiopia.

According to Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute, “We welcome this move as it aims to address one major flaw of US assistance to Ethiopia. The step taken by the US Congress is very significant, as it signals to both the Ethiopian government and the US administration that turning a blind eye to human rights abuses in the name of development is no longer an option.”

Several reports from the Oakland Institute have raised alarm about the scale, rate, and negative impacts of large-scale land acquisitions in Ethiopia that would result in the forced displacement of over 1.5 million people. This relocation process through the government’s villagization scheme is destroying the livelihoods of small-scale farmers and pastoralist communities. Ethiopian security forces have beaten, arrested, and intimidated individuals who have refused to relocate and free the lands for large-scale agricultural plantations.

Ethiopia’s so-called development programs cannot be carried out without the support of international donors, primarily the US, one of its main donors. Oakland Institute’s on-the-ground research has documented the high toll paid by local people as well as the role of donor countries such as the US in supporting the Ethiopian policy.

With this bill, USAID, the State Department, as well as the World Bank, will have to reconsider the terms and modalities of the support they provide to the Ethiopian government. According to Frederic Mousseau, Oakland Institute’s Policy Director, “This is a light of hope for the millions of indigenous people in Ethiopia who have sought international support from the international community to recognize their very destruction as communities and people.” – See more at:

November 12, 2013

Karuturi accused of Land grab in Ethiopia has not paid salary to 4000 Kenyan workers

Filed under: karaturi — ethiopiantimes @ 10:29 pm
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Karuturi Global, the Bangalore-based publicly-held rose exporter, has recently seen the troubles with its employees in Kenya escalating over a wage settlement. This has snowballed into a winding-up petition filed by a packaging company which is part of the Aga Khan Development Network. Karuturi Global, which rose dramatically onto the global stage as among the leading rose exporters to Europe from Africa, is already in various stages of untangling issues over its ambitious agriculture foray in Ethiopia, which is facing backlash and is midst of various problems.

According to Karuturi Global, it is facing a winding-up petition from Allpack Industries and discussions are in the preliminary stages. According to recent reports, as a result of the financial troubles which Karuturi Global is under, it has not been able to pay salaries to employees at its expansive rose farms.

However, Karuturi has refuted the charges stating that Kenya Planters and Agricultural Workers Union officials have advised their members to reject the salaries for August and September 2013, and instead engage in various violent demonstrations pending the hearing and determination of various suits filed in the industrial court in Nakuru.

“The matter between Karuturi Limited and Allpack is only its preliminary stage and we are unable to comment on the full implication, except to say that the claim in no way represents an ability to close down operations of the company which at present is valued at $93 million. We intend to defend against the petition in a court of law,” Karuturi Global said in a statement. The company’s management further noted that they are working with relevant employee unions to ensure that all employment issues are managed and employees have a good working environment, and receive a fair renumeration and most of the salaries have been paid. There have been reports that as many as 4,000 employees have not received their salaries.

Karuturi Global expanded its base in Africa by acquiring Kenya-based Sher Agencies (now Sher Karuturi) in September 2007 from Dutch horticulturists Gerrit & Peter Barnhoorn. The acquisition brought into Karuturi’s fold a 188-hectare farmland in the rich Naivasha region of Kenya. Of this, about 135 hectares are under greenhouse cultivation and 42 hectares in open cultivation and has an average daily output of about 1.5 million stems that are exported from Kenya to Europe.

This latest setback for Karuturi is compounding the problems for the company, which over the past four years, has been trying to establish an expansive agriculture exports business in Ethiopia. It has embarked on an ambitious $300 million agriculture foray in Ethiopia by growing a range of cereals and plantation crops in which it suffered a severe setback in late 2011 due to heavy floods in the region and had to take a hit of $15 million as its first maize crop was hit severely.

The company has acquired 311,000 hectares on a lease-hold basis from the Ethiopian government in the Baka and the Gambela region to cultivate short, medium and long-gestation crops. In the first phase, the company intends to cultivate cereal crops (rice and maize) on 70,000 hectares and oil palm on 20,000 hectares. Even as the company is going through the painful recovery from the devastating floods, it has been facing allegations of land grab. Human Rights Watch (HRW), a global independent organisation dedicated to defending and protecting human rights, had earlier raised a red flag on corporates from India expanding in Ethiopia. According to the HRW, the Ethiopian government under its “villagisation” programme is forcibly relocating approximately 70,000 indigenous people from the western Gambella region to new villages that lack adequate food, farmland, healthcare and educational facilities.

State security forces have repeatedly threatened, assaulted and arbitrarily arrested villagers who resisted the transfers, the report added. Karuturi, on its part said that the report is biased and does not reflect the truth on the ground. “We are empowering the locals with jobs and we are not into grabbing land. The report is totally baseless,” the company has maintained

Recently, globally-reputed Oakland Institute also came down heavily on Karuturi on various issues and also noted that the Kenyan government found Karuturi Global guilty of tax evasion to the tune of nearly $11 million, the first time an African government has taken a large global company to court for transfer mispricing through a fully public process.

Back home, on Tuesday Karuturi reported a 25 per cent drop in net profit to Rs 12 crore for the second quarter of FY14 compared to the corresponding previous year as its net sales dropped close to Rs 95 crore. As part of its financial restructuring, the company in September restructured FCCBs worth $55 million. The promoters hold a little over 8 per cent, and the stock is trading at a miniscule Rs 1.5 a share on NSE.

October 29, 2013

Land for Sale – Ethiopia’s disposessed farmers


October 17, 2013

Ethiopia’s Land Grabs: Stories from the Displaced

Filed under: Land grab — ethiopiantimes @ 5:48 pm
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Ethiopia’s remote Gambela region and Lower Omo valley are being rapidly converted to commercial agricultural investment centres. To encourage widespread industrialized agriculture in these areas, the Ethiopian government is depriving small-scale farmers, pastoralists and indigenous people of arable farmland, access to water points, grazing land, fishing and hunting grounds. It has also has been moving people off the land into government villages to allow investors to take over the land. Wealthy nations and multinational corporations are taking over lands that are home to hundreds of thousands of ethnically, linguistically, geographically and culturally distinct pastoralists and indigenous communities.


Anywaa Survival Organisation (ASO) recently had an opportunity to interview affected community representatives and leaders who fled these regions because of these government land grabs. A few of these “development refugees” gave in-depth accounts of violent tactics used against them (including rapes, intimidation, murder, harassment) as well as lack of consultation, compensation, legal redress and derogation of national and international laws intended to protect indigenous and pastoralists communities’ rights to own and use resources. These exclusive interviews, which took place in Nairobi, Kenya, offer insights into the human costs of Ethiopia’s development policies.

There is a deep-rooted understanding among the lowland communities that land belongs to the community rather than to the government. During the interviews, the land-grab affected people dismissed the government justification that all land in Ethiopia belongs to the state, and strongly argued that the land grabbing policy was intended to deprive communities of their land-use rights, destroy traditional farming methods and knowledge, and displace them from their ancestral lands and natural environment.

Land grabs are happening in many parts of Africa, and the topic has received much attention and criticism worldwide. In Ethiopia, land grabbing undermines affected communities’ active participation in decisions about their lives, denies them access to key information about land deals, and abrogates their constitutional rights to free prior, informed consent, compensation, and legal redress. Land grab projects benefit newcomers migrating into the land grabs target areas. According to one refugee from the lower Omo valley; “Since land grabs started, no single local person has been employed even at security guard level. But thousands of migrants from other parts of the country have moved in and are benefiting from the project. The project forces local communities into exile where they will remain as refugees.”

Ethiopia, a country notorious for recurrent famine, drought, and high-level malnutrition, is coming under sharp criticism for its land grabs and treatment of people affected by these developments. The government’s widespread abuses of local people and its forceful eviction to implement its policies have gotten the attention of the world media, NGOs, researchers, and activists.  Yet, the authorities continue to ruthlessly implement the government’s controversial involuntary settlement programme as a formidable weapon to free more lands and destroy local community livelihoods and the natural environment.

For those with the first-hand practical experience, describing the land grabbing destruction has serious emotional impacts. Okok Ojulu, a community leader and representative said:

Land in Gambela belongs to the community and it is only the community that makes the decision rather than someone from far away as Tigary to give away the community lands. The action is an institutional plunder and amounts to stealing the land from the people. God hates stealing. The government policy is to annihilate the people from the land. Those people remaining back home are as good as dead as government plan day and night to implement destructive policies.

Another Gambela native, who wished to remain anonymous, summarized the land grabbing in his area:

Vast fertile land along the road toward Pinyudo, small Anywaa (or Anuak) town on the Gilo river bank was given to foreign investors and Ethiopian highlanders with close connection to the ruling political party, and cleared for commercial agricultural investment.

A similar concern was given by a lower Omo valley representative who also wished to remain anonymous:

We believe three-quarters of the people in the lower Omo valley will be displaced. Only a fraction of the local people will be employed in back-breaking daily labourer. Giving such large plots of land to private investors exposes traditional communities to serious food insecurity, conflict, and restricts their free movement with large cattle as they are used to in the past.

A Saudi Arabian tycoon Al-Moudi, with close links to the top-level Ethiopian leadership, has been allotted 10,000 hectares for a rice plantation. His massive project has done considerable damage to the local environment, which includes a national park and wildlife habitat, and local communities that have lived in their homelands for many generations. The investment barely provides economic benefits to local communities. Young schoolchildren do back-breaking labour on the plantation during school breaks. In most cases, the land grabbing project benefits Ethiopian highland communities employed at both skilled and non-skilled levels. It is not difficult to understand why the land grabbing  project in general has been branded as an “exclusive” one that is intended to displace local communities and force them to leave the area.

While the destruction caused by global land dealers differs by region, country and political system, in the Ethiopian context, the policy’s major impacts fall on pastoralists and indigenous communities. It is depriving local communities’ access to fertile arable farmlands along the Omo, Openo (Baro), Gilo, Akobo, and Alowero rivers, according to those who took part in the interview. “The policy is intended to create job opportunities for unemployed citizens from Amhara and Tigray,” asserted one community representative.

The government’s land grab efforts have had major impacts on various communities’ traditional way of life, culture, and natural environment. The continued human rights abuses employed to move people out of the land-grab areas, including arbitrary detention, arrests, forcible eviction, and even murder, have forced many in these communities to go into exile or resort to violence in self-defence.

These areas in the Ethiopian lowlands have a long history of marginalization and neglect, and have suffered various gross human rights abuses, including ethnic cleansing and murder campaigns. In 2003, about 500 indigenous Anywaa (Anuak) were murdered in just three days in Gambela region, an area that is now a hotbed of land grabbing and involuntary resettlement (“villagisation”). The government uses villagisation to reinforce the land grabbing policy implementation to forcefully evict indigenous communities from their ancestral land in order to give away their lands for commercial investment. For instance, 73% of the indigenous population in the Gambela region are destined to be resettled to unproductive lands without an adequate social infrastructure.

The communities in lower Omo valley are known for their traditional land allotments which are respected and known to every community in the area. The government villagisation programme destroys this traditional settlement pattern and inevitably invites unstoppable conflict among the communities, both among the various ethnic groups in the area and with the government forces and newcomers.

A main government claim, perhaps to silence critics internationally, is the ability of the policy to contribute towards solving the nation’s food security problem and spur economic growth. Ethiopia now requires annual international food aid and financial support. In a country of about 85 million, with 85% of the population dependant on the agricultural sector, these controversial developments are having catastrophic impacts on the food security and economic stability of many communities.

The targeted areas have been food self-sufficient in the past and have supplemented their diets with wild foods found in the local environment. As these areas are converted to export farms, the food produced is reducing lands for food crops for local consumption. A Lower Omo community representative explained the consequences:

When a community no longer cultivates on their land, they will leave the area. I think this is the primary motive of the land-grabbing policy.

Other important elements in land grabbing that are buried and overlooked in a short-term financial gain, employment creation and economic growth, are what is lost. The area is being stripped of its rich community cultural customs associated with the natural environment, sustainable small-scale farming methods, environmental management knowledge and techniques. Pastoralist and indigenous communities in the Lower Omo and Gambela region have unique, knowledge-based abilities to protect and preserve soil quality, biodiversity, and their natural habitat. Land grabbing has undermined and destroyed these traditional systems and values. Commercial farming would restrict local communities’ free movement with large cattle herds and cease rotational agricultural farming methods practiced by local communities – the main reason for current high-quality of land and natural environment.

The community leader and representative from lower Omo valley said:

Holy sites, trees, traditional places preserved in the past by the community will be destroyed once commercial farming takes off. The ecological balance and natural environment will come under intense pressure exposing the community into serious natural catastrophic.

The Gambela and Lower Omo areas, which until recently had marginal economic value and were considered by the national government as uninhabitable, are infested by deadly malaria and have humid weather conditions. However, in a turn of fortune, high demand for agricultural goods worldwide and the government’s renewed efforts at land grabbing and villagisation have lured private investors and government-owned companies into these areas, resulting in the widespread eviction of communities from their ancestral homelands. A desire to open the door to foreign direct investment and seasonal job opportunities furthermore forces stable, food secure and subsistent small-scale farmers to abandon farming, fishing, hunting and cattle herding. The Lower Omo valley, a home for about 200,000 population, for instance, lost 640,000 hectares to land grabs. The community and its large cattle herds (which are a source of livelihood and pride for the people) was squeezed onto 100,000 hectares – the only remaining land for human settlement and local economic activities.

60% of Nyangatom people have crossed international borders to protect their livelihoods and are wondering with their cattle around Ethio-Kenya and Ethio-South Sudan borders to protect their livelihoods. The army in large numbers are dispatched into Mursi areas where the government have started digging a canal and they are terrorising the community.

The recent villagisation programme (involuntary resettlement), for example, reinforces the policy by eroding traditional boundaries, land demarcation, grazing, hunting and fishing grounds. Previously peaceful and harmonious societies with clear tribal land boundaries, land ownership, land allotment for different purposes, unique settlement patterns, traditional environment management practices – to all this the policy of land grabbing would cause tremendous suffering to cattle, diffuse traditional boundaries and cause tension and conflicts among the communities. A FARM AFRICA report, as quoted in the Human Rights Watch Report, identified access to water points and limited grazing space for large cattle herds in the area as sources of frequent violent conflicts

Government land deals produce almost no benefits to local communities, but exposes them to extreme poverty and food insecurity, restricts their free movement, access to grazing and water points, and confines them in settlement camps. As previously mentioned, the policy has a strong ability to depopulate the local communities from these areas and to settle them in government villages. The combined effect of all this social upheaval and loss of control over one’s life practically evicts them and sends them into exile in refugee camps.

Human rights abuses are a major source of concern associated with land grabbing and involuntary settlement. In particularly, government use of military force has been implicated in murder, rape and unlawful detentions. An interviewee has echoed this sentiment stating that:

The arrival of newcomers attracted by job opportunities has deprived local communities of equal access to fertile land, led to the destruction of holy sites, and caused tensions between local people and these migrants, who are so different from us in their ways. We fear it will ultimately create tension and, eventually, a conflict that the government will not be able to control.

With a staggering 5 million hectares of fertile arable land country-wide earmarked for commercial investment, government human rights records will continue to be a source of attention. If the methods, style and strategies used to silence indigenous and pastoralist communities remains the same, the programme will continue to undermine Ethiopia’s reputation, and create a growing conflict.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) calls for the Ethiopian authorities to put in place strict measures to protect the rights of the indigenous communities to use land in accordance with both national and internationally recognised legal norms. The villiagisation programme reomves small-scale farmers to unproductive settlement sites without adequate social and economic infrastructures: education and health facilities, roads, markets and milling facilities. In most instances, the government discourages communities from returning to their traditional homes and farmlands by destroying their crops and homes.

The arrival of commercial farming in areas such as the Lower Omo valley, where tribal communities have lived side by side respecting land usage and settlement patterns in the past, invites far-reaching conflicts in the area. As 86% of the land mass that communities used for farming, fishing, hunting and grazing are grabbed by investors in the region, and implementation of involuntary settlement of different communities is enforced by military personnel, tensions have mounted very high in the area.

The communities fear that the policy will erode rotational farming methods that take place three times in a year to secure grazing pasture for large cattle herds in the area. As the presence of private investors restricts various traditional communities’ free movement with their cattle herds, it creates tension and unstoppable conflict. A conflict over single cattle that might cross a private investor farm would engulf the entire region into turmoil.

Despite government pressure, some in the affected communities have rejected the government plan to move them away and preferred to die on their current land. They strongly believe that commercial agricultural farming will destroy the ecological system, natural environment, holy sites, wildlife, protected and preserved trees, and reduces the areas’ ability to attract tourists.

The intention of the government is to destroy the livelihoods of indigenous people along the international border and should be taken seriously. Successive Ethiopian governments have barely cared for dark skin Ethiopians but to discriminate against them on the ground of their skin colour.

Read the full interviews here: Ethiopia’s Land Grabs: Interviews with the displaced

Nykiaw Ochalla is a director and founder of Anywaa Survival Organisation-ASO, an organisation that believes in social justice and environment friendly sustainable development without prejudice; active participation of indigenous people in decision making processes that affected their livelihoods and their full enjoyment of development projects benefits implemented on their territories.  

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