Ethiopians starve as government sells land to rich Saudis

In famine-stricken Ethiopia, a Saudi company leases land to grow and export rice

By Public Radio International

Famine has swept through much of Ethiopia in the past year, but a new project will see a Saudi Arabian country convert one of the most fertile areas to produce rice for export. The idea is it’s better to have people employed and making money.

Gambella in western Ethiopia is one of the most fertile places in the mostly drought- and famine-stricken Eastern Africa country, with thick forests, scorching heat and abundant rains.

But now Gambella, home to five rivers and a National Park, is also home to large-scale agricultural investments. A Saudi billionaire has leased 25,000 acres from the Ethiopian government to grow rice and this summer planted its first commercial crop. The company, Saudi Star, plans to expand that to nearly 500,000 acres within 10 years.

Saudi Star plans to add hundreds of miles of irrigation canals and pipes to bring water from the Alwero Dam to its thirsty rice crop. Ethiopians don’t typically grow or eat rice, so most of the crop will be exported to the Middle East. But Muhammad Manzoor Khan, a Pakistani consultant for Saudi Star, said the rice will still help Ethiopia feed its people.

“This kind of project can really bring a revolution in food production as well as uplifting the social conditions of the people around,” Khan said, standing in front of rice paddies.

Ethiopia is a fast-developing nation, but it’s struggling with severe drought and skyrocketing food prices. The Ethiopian government estimates 4.5 million people in the country need emergency food aid.

In the past few years, Ethiopia has developed a comprehensive agricultural plan that relies on foreign investment, and much-needed foreign currency to move forward.

Saudi Star predicts its massive rice project will generate $1 billion in revenue for Ethiopia and create tens of thousands of jobs. The Ministry of Agriculture’s Esayas Kebede said that means increased food security for Ethiopians – if people have jobs they can buy food, even if there is a drought.

“If you increase the purchasing power of the people, the people can easily get their own food by their own cash,” Kebede said.

But many of the local Anuak tribe say the rice farm is not providing jobs for their people. They worry the rice will dry up the water they rely on for their own farming and fishing. And they say, after years of hostility from the government, they are now being forced off their land to make way for investors.

One local woman from the Anuak tribe said the government told them they’re moving them to a better place where they can get government assistance.

“There are no farms here and no food. Now we’re living like refugees in our own country,” she said.

The Ethiopian government admits it moved people from rural settlements to villages, but not because of the Saudi Star project, they say. Kebede said it was to provide them with better services and aid. According to Human Rights Watch, however, many of Anuak are being relocated to parts of Gambella that already have insufficient food for the local population.

“This large scale investment program has nothing to do with food security concerns in the country,” said Desalegn Rahmeto, a senior research fellow at the Forum for Social Studies in Addis Ababa. “If you export all the food items and earn foreign currency, but people in the communities don’t have access to food, that is counter productive. And this is happening, this is not hypothetical situation, this is actually happening.”


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6 thoughts on “Ethiopians starve as government sells land to rich Saudis

    • and it’s not a good one ! second class citizens owning the country ONE piece at a time, and THE FIRST CLASS WORKING FOR THEM or at best running into EXXILE just like the mighty kenyans.what an awfull and vicious cycle that needs to be broken at ones before TOOOOO LATE!!!

  1. It so sickening to always read about this wretched hopeless country starving, yet their leaders nd those in power hoard billions of dollars and Euros and deposit it in f origin countries rather than feeding their own people.

    I say, it is about time to stop giving them food from my tax money and let them stand by themselves. After all, they are selling their land and being colonized by foreigner to provide them food. Beside,there too many people and let nature take care of its selection of the fittest saviors.

    • Tizibt on

      What do you mean? I hope I misunderstood what you wrote. You are not saying that the poor people should starve to death as they too many and deserve to die? The “poor” people didn’t sell their land – it was taken from them by Meles & cohorts and sold to foreigners who are depositing the cash abroad for Meles & Co. After the “poor” peoples’ land is taken from them, they are sent to dry arid land where they cannot farm anything to feed themselves. This is the dilema of the people – by the way. Oh by the way they became “poor” because Meles & Co. took their fertile land and sold it to foreigners. You probably have not been following the news during the past year about the lucrative land business Meles & Co. have gone into! By the way, no land from Tigrai has been sold to foreigners – Meles & Co. are happily taking land belonging to other ethnicities.


    The Saudis are supposed to bring new technological farm machineries to Ethiopia. We need to chase them along with Woyane out of the country and confisicate all the machineries . We need to get more tractor for us . Ethiopia has a bright future but it is definately hard times for Ethiopians unless they rise up and claim Ethiopia for Ethiopians.

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