LAND TO INVESTORS: Large-Scale Land Transfers in Ethiopia
Under its program of land investments, the Ethiopian government has leased out huge tracts of land to domestic and foreign investors on terms that are highly favorable to both but particularly to foreign ones. Critical reports on the “bonanza” reaped by foreign capital have appeared in the world media and the websites of international activist organizations, and while some of these are based on questionable evidence, the global attention they have drawn may well be deserved given the image of the country as a land of poverty and hunger. The lands transferred are said to be “unused” public lands but include arable, pasture, woodland and forest, wetlands, water sources and wildlife habitats, and farmers, pastoralists and minority groups and their communities affected by the investment program have contested the investments. The government’s stated objectives are that large-scale investments will benefit the country from increased foreign earnings, will create employment opportunities, enable the transfer of technology to small-holders, and provide infrastructure and basic services to local communities but what is happening at the moment suggests that many of these objectives will not be met. This study, which is based on information gathered from field interviews as well as other sources, looks at the subject from a land rights perspective, with emphasis on the relations of power between small land-users and their communities on the one hand and the state on the other. At bottom what is at stake is the land and the resources on it, and what is being “grabbed” are rights that in most cases belong to peasant farmers, pastoralists and their communities. In the long run, the shift of agrarian system from small-scale to large-scale, foreign-dominated production -which is what the investment program is now doing- will marginalize small producers, and cause immense damage to local ecosystems, wildlife habitats and biodiversity.