7.5 million acres of fertile Ethiopian land to be leased away

EthiopianReview.com | September 19th, 2010

The Oakland Institute has released a report titled (Mis)Investment in Agriculture: The Role of the International Finance Corporation in the Global Land Grab, which points out that more than 13 million Ethiopians are in need of food aid, “but paradoxically the government is offering at least 7.5 million acres of its most fertile land to rich countries and some of the world’s most wealthy individuals to export food back to their own countries.”

The 59-page report explains:

…the leasing of farmland has increased dramatically in Ethiopia the past three years. In what has been called Ethiopia’s great “land lease project”—in an effort to introduce large-scale commercial farming to the country—the government is offering up vast chunks of fertile farmland to local and foreign investors at almost giveaway rates. By 2013, three million hectares of idle land is expected to have been allotted, equivalent to more than one fifth of the current land under cultivation in the country.

The report quotes a journalist describing his experience in Awassa, southern Ethiopia:

The farm manager shows us millions of tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables being grown in 1,500 foot rows in computer controlled conditions. Spanish engineers are building the steel structure, Dutch technology minimizes water use from two bore-holes and 1,000 women pick and pack 50 tons of food a day. Within 24 hours, it has been driven 200 miles to Addis Ababa and flown 1,000 miles to the shops and restaurants of Dubai, Jeddah and elsewhere in the Middle East.

The 2,500 acres of land, which contains the Awassa greenhouses, are leased for 99 years to a Saudi billionaire businessman, Ethiopian-born Sheikh Mohammed al-Amoudi, one of the 50 richest men in the world. His Saudi Star company plans to spend up to $2-billion acquiring and developing 1.25 million acres of land in Ethiopia in the next few years. So far, it has bought four farms and is already growing wheat, rice, vegetables and flowers for the Saudi market. It expects eventually to employ more than 10,000 people.”

In a press release recently, the Oakland Institute stated:

leaked draft report from the World Bank, The Global Land Rush: Can it Yield Sustainable and Equitable Benefits, challenges the publicly held position of the World Bank on investments in agricultural lands in poor nations – a trend that has come to be popularly known as land grabbing. Although such investments have been hailed by the World Bank as a way to generate jobs and infrastructure, the report states, “investors are targeting countries with weak laws, buying arable land on the cheap, and failing to deliver on promises of jobs and investments,” and in some cases inflict serious damage on the local resource base.

Read the whole report here.