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par Graham PEEBLES
Ancestral land which for generations has served as home and source of livelihood for hundreds of thousands of indigenous people in Ethiopia is being leased out to foreign corporations on 99-year renewable contracts at nominal sums.
The land giveaway, or agrarian reforms as the Ethiopian government prefers to say, began in 2008 when the government, under the brutal premiership of Meles Zenawi, invited foreign countries and corporation to take up highly attractive deals and turn large areas of land over to industrial farming for the export of crops. India, China and Saudi Arabia were all courted and, along with wealthy Ethiopians, they eagerly grabbed large pieces of land at basement prices, with rates varying from 1.10 to 6.05 US dollars per hectare (ha). Comparable land in India would set you back 600 dollars per hectare.
The Oakland Institute, a US-based think tank, estimates that a total of 3619509 ha, has been leased out. This is land that has been made available by the forced relocation of hundreds of thousands of indigenous people under the government’s universally condemned “Villagization” progamme, which aims to relocate over 1.5 million people from their homes. Indian corporations, split between 10 investing companies, have taken the lion’s share, acquiring around 600000 ha concentrated in Gambella and Afar. The term “investing” implies benefits for Ethiopia, which is misleading. “Profiteering”, or “exploiting” is closer to the truth. As the Oakland Institute says, “taking over land and natural resources from rural Ethiopians is resulting in a massive destruction of livelihoods and making millions of locals [farmers and pastoralist communities] dependent on food handouts”. With small-scale farmers being evicted from their land, prices of staples such as teff, used by millions throughout Ethiopia to make bread (injera), have rocketed, increasing fourfold since 2008.
In line with its ambitions to achieve diversity and world food dominance, Karuturi Global, the world’s largest grower of roses, leads the Indian charge, leasing 311700 ha in Gambella. According to the international non-governmental organization GRAIN, Karuturi also wants to set up farming operations throughout eastern and southern Africa on more than one million hectares. Almost a quarter of Gambella’s 25 million ha has been earmarked by the federal government for agricultural “development”. Karuturi, whose profits rose 55.13 % in the quarter ending June 2012, took its chunk without even seeing it, paying only 1.10 dollars per hectare. In addition, Indian farmers are being sub-contracted to grow maize, cereals, palm oil and sugarcane, among other things, all destined for export to India or Europe, where companies farming in Ethiopia (and other sub-Saharan African nations), benefit from lower import duties applied to developing countries.
Another major Indian company leasing land in Gambella is the green-sounding BHO Bioproducts. Its chief operating officer, Sunny Maker, told Bloomberg in 2010 that the company plans to invest more than 120 million dollars in rice and cotton production, which by 2017 should “generate about 135 million dollars a year from sales divided equally between domestic [Indian] and international markets”. He added that the “incredibly rich fertile land” will all be “cleared within the next three years”. Cleared, yes, violently, indiscriminately and totally –villages, people, forests, woodland, all destroyed, burned, relocated, displaced, desecrated. The government’s promise to such prized investors is that the land is handed over stripped of everything and everyone. Dissent is not allowed and, when it occurs, is dealt with brutally. As Anuradha Mittal, the executive director of the Oakland Institute, makes clear, “The repression of social resistance to land investments is even stipulated in land lease contracts ; [it is the] state’s obligation to "deliver and hand over the vacant possession of leased land free of impediments" and to provide free security against any riot, disturbance or any turbulent time”.