Ethiopia asks for emergency aid while planning to lease areas larger than The Netherlands to foreign investors

President criticizes Minister of Agriculture

The selling off of land in Ethiopia is taking on more dramatic dimensions all the time. The Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) in Göttingen warned on Wednesday that the planned leasing of huge tracts of land will exacerbate the poverty of small-scale farmers and threaten the existence of many smaller ethnic groups. The Ethiopian Minister of Agriculture, Tefera Derbew, reported on his return from a trip to India at the beginning of February that foreign investors would additionally be offered almost 8.9 million more acres of land for lease. This came after he had already given the go-ahead for over 4.4 million acres to be leased. The new total is over 20,800 square miles, an area much larger than The Netherlands.

"The large-scale plantations are generally planted by foreign investors in export crops and hardly benefit the small Ethiopia farmers at all – nor the rural population, who suffer from frequent famines," criticized the head of the Africa section at the STP, Ulrich Delius. Particularly among the Oromo, Afar, Anuak and Somali peoples, as well as smaller ethnic groups in southern Ethiopia, this land robbery has led to massive problems in feeding their own populations, explained Delius. "It is scandalous that Ethiopia has requested international food aid for the Oromiya and Ogaden regions while at the same time stealing more and more land from the farmers in these regions to make room for export production by foreign investors." Due to very low rainfall, the Ethiopian government appealed to the international community yesterday for 226 million US dollars' worth of aid to help three million drought victims in the eastern and southern parts of the country.

Some 750,000 acres of land have already been put in the hands of foreign leaseholders. The main investors are Indian companies, which have secured rights to 79 percent of the leased land for the coming 70 years. According to the Minister of Agriculture, they have already invested 4.7 billion US dollars in Ethiopian agriculture. These Indian companies are primarily overseeing the cultivation of cotton, oil palms, rubber, oilseeds and sugar cane.

The sellout of the land has not only been criticized by the farmers affected; now, Ethiopian president Girma Wolde-Giorgis has joined in the outcry. As has recently been made public, he wrote a letter to the Minister of Agriculture on 10 December 2010 speaking out against the felling of forests in the Gambella region for construction of large-scale farms for foreign investors.