News / Africa

Foreign Agro Firms Scoop Up Ethiopian Farmland

Multimedia

The Green Revolution that ended food shortages in parts of the world decades ago may be coming to East Africa, bringing the promise of bountiful harvests in a region more often associated with drought and famine.  But from the Oromia region of Ethiopia, critics see the project as a neo-colonial land grab.

Farming in Ethiopia is a battle for survival. Peasants using ancient methods are totally dependent on the weather, and on the government, which owns the land and provides fertilizer subsidies. When the rains fail, as they often do, their very survival depends on food aid from abroad.

It has proven to be a recipe for perpetual poverty. In a country where 80 percent of the population works in the farm sector, one in six needs food assistance.

To breathe new life into Ethiopia's stagnant agriculture sector, Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is wooing foreign firms with offers to lease huge tracts of land at rock bottom prices.

"The policy of the government of Ethiopia regarding agricultural land development has always been based on the small-scale farmer," said Meles Zenawi. "But the strategy also included the possibility of the private sector playing a supplementary but vital role."

The offer of cheap land has attracted wide interest, from governments like Saudi Arabia that import most of their food, to multi-nationals like the Indian giant Karuturi Global. At two sprawling farms totaling more than 300,000 hectares, Karuturi earth movers, tractors, and water well drilling rigs are transforming the pastoral landscape.

Critics describe Karuturi as a neo-colonialist or agro-imperialist, grabbing Ethiopia's land at bargain prices and exporting profits and food while Ethiopians go hungry. But owner Ram Karuturi says food grown here will be consumed here.

"What Karuturi is doing is what Africa needs, wants and deserves," said  Ram Karuturi. "What we put in is our money into Africa, which nobody else is doing."

Karuturi says his big machinery more than doubles the output of traditional farms, and creates jobs where there were none. Speaking through a translator, 30-year-old Ababu Nagari says the roughly 80 cents a day she earns harvesting maize is changing her life.

"I don't have my own land, so I have no way of feeding my family," said Ababu Nagari. "Now I have work and a little money. I am happy these investors come."

But not everyone is happy. Four hundred people have signed a petition saying they received no compensation after being evicted from land taken over by Karuturi. They say their families have farmed and grazed their animals here for generations. One farmer spoke to VOA on condition of anonymity.

"We are for development of our country, but we cannot develop our country when land is in the hands of the government," he said. "You can work on your land, and all of a sudden, they push you out of your land."

Environmentalists say land already degraded by farming will suffer, and loss of trees will cause an imbalance in the eco-system.

Opposition politicians say the government is giving away land to buy diplomatic support, and that wages paid to farm workers are below the World Bank's poverty threshold.

But Ram Karuturi argues investments like his, totaling hundreds of millions of dollars, are revolutionizing African agriculture.

"The Green Revolution missed this continent 20 years ago," he said. "There are not more than 1,000 tractors in private hands in this country. And for a country of 80 million people and 120 million hectares, that's a tragic situation."

So is Africa witnessing its Green Revolution, or simply a neo-imperialist land grab? Ethiopia is betting that the World Bank is right when it says investing in agriculture is one of the most effective ways to speed economic development in Africa.

You May Like

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video Survivor Video Testimonies Recount Horrors of Guatemalan Genocide

During a conflict that spanned more than three decades, tens of thousands of indigenous Mayans were killed More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs