Ethiopia at centre of global farmland rush The Guardian

March 21st, 2011 Print Print Email Email

t’s the deal of the century: £150 a week to lease more than 2,500 sq km (1,000 sq miles) of virgin, fertile land – an area the size of Dorset – for 50 years. Bangalore-based food company Karuturi Global says it had not even seen the land when it was offered by the Ethiopian government with tax breaks thrown in.

Karuturi snapped it up, and next year the company, one of the world’s top 25 agri-businesses, will export palm oil, sugar, rice and other foods from Gambella province – a remote region near the Sudan border – to world markets.

Ethiopia is one of the world’s largest recipients of humanitarian food and development assistance, last year receiving more than 700,000 tonnes of food and £1.8bn in aid, but it has offered three million hectares (7.4 million acres) of virgin land to foreign corporations such as Karuturi.

“It’s very good land. It’s quite cheap. In fact it is very cheap. We have no land like this in India,” says Karmjeet Sekhon, project manager for what is expected to be one of Africa’s largest farms. “There you are lucky to get 1% of organic matter in the soil. Here it is more than 5%. We don’t need fertiliser or herbicides. There is absolutely nothing that will not grow on it.

“To start with there will be 20,000 hectares of oil palm, 15,000 hectares of sugar cane and 40,000 hectares of rice, edible oils and maize and cotton. We are building reservoirs, dykes, roads, towns of 15,000 people. “This is phase one. In three years time we will have 300,000 hectares cultivated and maybe 60,000 workers. We could feed a nation here.”

Sparsely-populated Gambella is at the centre of the global rush for cheap land, precipitated by the oil price rise in 2007/2008, when many countries racked by food riots encouraged their farmers to invest abroad to grow food.

The lowest prices are in Africa, where, says the World Bank, at least 35 million hectares of land has been bought or leased. Other groups, including Friends of the Earth International, say the figure is higher. The Ethiopian government says 36 countries including India, China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have leased farm land there.

Gambella has offered investors 1.1 million hectares, nearly a quarter of its best farmland, and 896 companies have come to the region in the last three years. They range from Saudi billionaire Al Amoudi, who is constructing a 20-mile canal to irrigate 10,000 hectares to grow rice, to Ethiopian businessmen who have plots of less than 200 hectares.

This month the concessions are being worked at a breakneck pace, with giant tractors and heavy machinery clearing trees, draining swamps and ploughing the land in time to catch the next growing season.

Forests across hundreds of square km are being clear-felled and burned to the dismay of locals and environmentalists concerned about the fate of the region’s rich wildlife.

Local government officers have denied claims that people are being forcibly moved to make way for foreign companies.

“This year we will relocate 15,000 people to give them better access to water, schools and transport. [But] it is a coincidence that the investors are coming at the same time as the villages are being relocated,” said Kassahun Zerrfu from Gambella’s department for investment.

“We are not relocating people to give land to the investors. The problem is there is no infrastructure where they have lived. It’s all voluntary.”

Under the government’s “villagisation” programme, three or four villages at a time are being moved closer to roads and services, but many people say they are not being compensated and are having to wait. “We were promised a school, a health clinic and fresh water eight months ago. We only have one water pump so far,” said Udul Ujulu, chief of Karmi village, a new village of 250 people nine miles outside Gambella town.

Others displaced by new farms said they were scared for their lives if they complained. “What power do we have to stop them? We just stay silent,” said one farmer told to move off his land.

“There is no movement of population. It’s their choice to have these basic services. But they have to abandon their previous way of life,” said farm minister Wondirad Mandefro.

  1. DRAMA
    | #1

    FLAT OUT ON OUR FACE. ACCORDING TO THIS ARTILCE,

    THE BENEFICIERIES IN ORDER OF FINANCIAL ADVANTAGE:

    1. KARUTURI= THE SLAVE EXPLOITING FOREIGN INTEREST
    2. SAUDI BILLIONERE AL-ALAH(IMAGINE NOT ETHIOPIAN)= ANOTHER SLAVE EXPLOITING FOREIGN INTEREST
    3. THE MAFIA WANNA BE’S (EPRDF)= BUTT LICKING GOVERNMENT
    4. PEOPLE LIKE KASSAHUN ZERRFU= HODAM LOCAL, MOST PROBABLY A LOSER THAT RETURNED FROM THE DIASPORA TO TAKE ADVANTAGE IN THE NAME OF DEVELOPMENT.

    THE LOSERS

    60 THOUSAND ETHIOPIAN SLAVES.

    THE AUTHOR

    AN AMAZED FOREIGNER THAT SEES HOW FOOLISH THE “MEKEGNA” GOVERNMENTS ARE.

  2. ewntu
    | #2

    If you look the histrey of Melese he start selling aid food wich was donated by the International comunty to the people of Tegri during the famine.After he control the hole Ethiopia what he is doing is selling all the land in addis ababa and now is the time to sell the fertil land of the cantrey to forain investers.

  3. Birtu/can
    | #3

    You can’t imagine my bewilderment with what Woyane was thinking. OK, i lied. I know what the mother suckers are thinking. They are out on a mission to destroy anything and everything Ethiopian. Displacing natives, burning the forest, selling huge chunk of land practically for nothing…etc. When you become an investor, the first question you should ask is “what’s in it for me?”. This is not even close to an investment by any measure. This is murder suicide.The murder victim is Ethiopia and the suicide victims are our children.Pure vendetta of some kind aimed at god knows who!

    Well, i hate to say it, but in the land of Ethiopia at this moment, the “only good Indian is a dead Indian”. If the Indians are bold enough to collaborate with an illegitimate fascistic regime and participate in the raping of Ethiopia, then they should be ready for the consequences of what’s coming. The people have every right to combat this modern day colonialism by any means necessary. Even to the extent of what the Ogadeni’s did to Chinese in the middle of the night. Lives will be lost. The new song in Ethiopia will be titled ” burn baby burn”.We the diaspora, don’t even have to be present in the war front( i can see Woyane’s and their dogs grinning).We can contribute better by buying the rifles and bullets and arming the natives.If we are not mad enough after watching this video, then we are better off dead.Let’s organize a huge fund raising.Let the Kalashnikov do the talking!!

  4. DRAMA
    | #4

    WHAT ARE YOU AFRAID OF ABUGIDA? CAN’T YOU POST THIS?
    ACCORDING TO THIS ARTICLE:

    THE BENEFICIERIES IN ORDER OF FINANCIAL ADVANTAGE:

    1. KARATURI: A FOREIGN INTEREST
    2. ALAH MUDI: A SAUDI MILLIONERE (NOT ETHIOPIAN),ANOTHER FOREIGN INTEREST
    3. WOYANE: A BUTLER GOVERNMENT
    4. PEOPLE LIKE KASSAHUN ZERFU: WOYANE AGENTS, PROBABLY A HODAM THAT RETURNED FROM THE DIASPORA.

    THE LOOSERS:
    60,000 ETHIOPIAN SLAVES AND THE ETHIOPIAN PEOPLE IN GENERAL.

    THE AUTHOR:
    AN AMAZED FOREIGN JOURNALIST THAT IS SEEING HOW FOOLISH EPRDF IS.

  5. DRAMA
    | #5

    MY APOLOGIES ABU.

  6. aha!
    | #6

    That is what is called investigative reporting by the Guardian not the like the essays we read from the Diaspora elites about the same topic. In addition to exappropriation and dislocation of the resident farmers from their established sites, the lease of land to foreign governments and busisnesses only adds to the ongoing exploitation of the country’s resources by TPLF and TPLF affiliated enterprises, when the commodities produced do not not serve to alleviate the shortages of food supply in the country and reduduce the humanitarian aid of food supply at exorbitant cost if produced by local enterprenuers on limited scale without devastating the forest ecosystem. It looks like a method of raising foreign currency to buy grains? or what?

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