The reasons why we oppose land investment in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is the second-most populous nation on the African continent and 14th in the World, with over 84 million inhabitants and tenth African and 27th World largest by area, occupying 1,100,000 km2. Its capital, Addis Ababa, is known as “the political capital of Africa.”
Ethiopia has been known to the outside world as a country of famine, food shortages, endemic hunger, and chronic dependency on foreign aid. On an average more than five million Ethiopians need emergency relief every year during normal weather condition.
What is more worrying is that, drought-induced famines are being experienced within short time intervals. Moreover, the areas affected by famine are also rapidly increasing and is the number of people affected. Since 1974, Ethiopia has experienced major humanitarian crises. In 1974, the number of affected compatriots was 300,000, of which 80, 000 people died. By 1984 the figure escalated to three million of which at least 400,000 people died. The total number of people needing emergency relief rocketed to 12.6 million in 2003, with unspecified number of deaths. Famine has been identified as the gravest human problem facing this country since forty years and demanded the highest intellectual honesty, the highest moral integrity and the most determined human commitment and social responsibility.

On the other Ethiopia is endowed with extensive land area, varied topography and soil, climatic and water resources, plant and animal bio-diversity. If managed properly, it is capable of feeding its people as well as exporting food items. Nevertheless, Ethiopia has been food insecure for the past forty years. Despite having received food aid for decades, the country had not made serious efforts to improve the food security; on the contrary, it continued to get worse. The recurrent famine was officially blamed on drought. However, research has clearly demonstrated that deeply seated structural factors were responsible for recurring famine, rather than droughts. Despite receiving billions of dollars and millions tons of food in aid and donation, Ethiopians remain among the poorest in the world.

Since early 2008, the Ethiopian government has embarked on a process to award millions of hectares of land to foreign and national agricultural investors. Research shows that at least 3,619,509 ha of lands have been transferred to investors, although the actual number may be higher. Out of the total land leased in the last couple of years, more than 1.6million ha of lands allocated to foreign investors in three regional states- Gambella, SNNPRS, and Beni-shangul and within the next three years the amount will increase to 3million ha in the above regional states. More than 300,000 ha of lands are allocated to an Indian company called Karature in Gambella. The Ethiopian government claims that these investments will allow for much needed foreign currency to enter into the economy and will contribute to long-term food security through the transfer of technology to small-scale farmers. So far the experiences have never proofed this.
The amount of land allocated for foreign investors is huge in such a short period of time. The most worrying is not the amount of land leased out to the investors, but also lack of systems that protect the rights of indigenous people and mechanisms that ensures sustainable development. The investment policies and programs does not seem based on research and at the same times does not seem to take into consideration the rights and interests of indigenous people.

Millions of Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopians are enthusiastic to see that Ethiopia is dragged out of this tragic vicious cycle of drought and recurrent famine. At the same time, the donor communities are sick and tired of Ethiopia’s unending relief requirements. The only way to get out of the embarrassment we have been for many decades depends on the hard work of Ethiopians. The government has huge responsibility in creating wider political environment by availing research based policies and program that involved all stakeholders. We believe there should be research based policies and program that encourage national and foreign investments upon which sustainable development could be possible. Ethiopia can never attain food self-sufficiency without revisiting its land use policies.
As long as the Ethiopian peasants are not liberated and empowered, famine would remain with us. The problem of tenure security/powerlessness of peasants on one hand, and the ruthless oppression and exploitation on the other, make that famine is going to remain with millions of Ethiopia for decades. The EPRDF short envisioned and doubtful political and economic benefits of investment on land, sacrifices an enormous price in social, economic and political development in the country.
Sustained and informed debate on land tenure system and other issues should be based on research and views of the stakeholders must be incorporated into policies and programs of the national development. Tenure security remained the overriding problem of the land; therefore; assurance for the rights of indigenous people in the investment area should be a pre-condition if sustainable investment is expected to exist in Ethiopia.

The ineffective legal and institutional framework, human resources misuse and ineffective bureaucracy has aggravated the problem of food security in the country. Poor governance, lack of continuity of long-term programs, inappropriate policies, limited influence of professionals on government policies, frequently changes in the policies and programs.
In many cases EPRDF policies and programs end up with failure mainly because policies and programs are not based on research. Once resettlement program was a top agenda to EPRDF leadership and then followed by pond construction. Both were short lived. The side effect of pond construction became clear immediately following its implementation. Many Ethiopians died due to Malaria which was aggravated by the ponds construction. The resettlement program which was organized without the consensus of settlers and the recipient zones ended up with negative result-destruction of the natural environment, and material human resource wastage.
Recent researches (October 2010-January 2011) on land investment deals in Ethiopia have revealed that:
The government strategy of investing on agri-business for foreign currency, food self-sufficiency and more income by creating job opportunity to indigenous people is not something attainable in the Ethiopian context. The job opportunity that is widely propagated by government cadres and supports does not seem yielding positive outcomes. The indigenous labor costs less than 1USD per day which is not enough to cover the cost of basic needs, let alone lead them for food self-sufficiency. The land cost of ETB111 ($6.50) per ha/year is a cost for not more than the cost for a packet of cigarette. The agreement which is entered for 50years has not participated and has not had the consensus of indigenous people. It is now clear more than ever that rhetoric of the government to bring self-sufficiency by leasing out a hector of land for ETB111or 6.50 USD is a dream which can never be achieved. The research further pointed out the failures of the government land lease/investment policy in the following way:
• Commercial investment will increase rates of food insecurity in the vicinity of land investments. Despite Ethiopia’s endemic poverty and food insecurity, there are no mechanisms in place to ensure that these investments contribute to improved food security.
• There are numerous incentives to ensure that food production is exported out of the country, providing foreign exchange for the country at the expense of local food supplies.
• Ethiopian government lists transfer of technology as a major outcome of land investment, it has established no mechanism for such transfers to take place
• There are large discrepancies between publicly stated positions, laws, policies and procedures and what is actually happening on the ground.
• The Ethiopian government insists that for all land deals consultation is being carried out, no farmers are displaced and the land being granted is “unused.” However, the Oakland Institution team did not find a single incidence of community consultation
• Every investment site visited involved the loss of some local farmland, and every investment area exhibited a variety of land uses and socio-cultural/ecological values associated with it prior to land investment technical ability and knowledge.
• It was evident from Oakland Institution fieldwork that many investors lack the knowledge to be farming at this scale.
• Oakland Institution found a great lack of local knowledge about these land investments, with local communities often becoming aware once bulldozers arrive to clear the land. As investors increasingly clear land, levels of frustration will grow, and environmental and food security concerns will steadily worsen. The negative impacts that the Oakland Institution research team witnessed firsthand will likely be magnified many times over into the future unless the Ethiopian government takes urgent steps to address these negative impacts, and ensures that any land investments that are granted are for the benefit of local communities and for the country as a whole.
• No limits on water use, no Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA), and no environmental controls. With water being of critical importance in the country and, considering Ethiopia’s critical location at the headwaters of the Nile, it is alarming that investors are free to use water with no restrictions. Investors informed the Oakland Institution team of the ease with which they planned to dam a local river and of the virtual lack of control and regulations over environmental issues. Despite assurances that EIAs are performed, no government official could produce a completed EIA, no investor had evidence of a completed one, and no community had ever seen one. Displacement from farmland is widespread, and the vast majority of locals receive no compensation. The majority of these investments are in the lowland areas where, with the exception of one region, there are no land certification processes under way. Local people are being displaced from their farmlands and communal areas in almost every lease area visited by the Oakland Institution team. Government pays little attention to patterns of shifting cultivation, pastoralism, or communally used areas, and therefore claims all these lands to be “unused.” Displaced farmers are forced to find farmland elsewhere, increasing competition and tension with other farmers over access to land and resources. There is no meaningful pre-project assessment, and little in the way of local benefits associated with these land investments.
• Forests are cleared, critical wildlife habitat lost, and livelihoods destroyed. There is no process to ensure that land investment is happening in appropriate areas to find a balance of land uses across the landscape. Instead, it is largely at the investor’s discretion to determine if agriculture is the best use of the land. There is nothing in place to ensure that local people benefit from the business opportunities that these investments could present. Local people bear the brunt of the adverse impacts of these investments, while realizing none of the benefits. In many cases, local indigenous people already live on the margins and face chronic food insecurity. They view land investment as the latest in a long process of discrimination. While large foreign investments grab headlines, many Ethiopian land deals involve small-scale investors (local and diaspora), many of whom have limited agricultural experience. While potential investors must provide some evidence that they have the financial ability to carry out the operation, no such evidence is required of an investor to kick off its project.
Major land investment decisions are made at Federal level with no or little involvement of lower level states-regions, zones and weredas.
Land investment is imperative to get out of the vicious cycle of famine. Land investment could be effective if only if it is based on participatory research where by all stakeholders get involved. Land investment without the involvement and consensus of indigenous population is not only undemocratic, but it is also futile. It is no less than crime on humanity.

It is because that land investment in Ethiopia does not fulfill the most conspicuous requirements that it has been questioned, resented, resisted condemned by scholars, researchers and think tank groups.
As a part of environmental advocate groups, we are committed to support and stand by the side of those who work towards pressurizing the Ethiopian government for better policies and programs that respect the rights of indigenous people on their own land resources. We believe that investment on land should create an environment of peace and stability not misery and chaos. We believe that sustainable investment is only possible when all stakeholders get involved and land investment is based on participatory research, especially Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is crucial for the fate of the future generation. We exceedingly believe that land investment without the involvement and the consensus of stakeholders- especially indigenous people is not only discriminatory, undemocratic, but it is also futile, misery and chaos to Ethiopia’s development.

Cab be contacted at: angelo_ayele@yahoo.com

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