“Colonizing” African Land For Food


March 7, 2010

CAIRO – Facing food shortages, rich countries are turning to poor
African countries to cultivate vast swatches of fertile land to
guarantee supplies for own peoples, a move seen as a new brand of

"The foreign companies are arriving in large numbers, depriving people
of land they have used for centuries," Nyikaw Ochalla, an Ethiopian
from the Gambella region, told the Guardian on Sunday, March 7.

"There is no consultation with the indigenous population."

Addis Ababa has granted at least three million hectares of its most
fertile land to foreign investors to export food for their own

"The deals are done secretly," said Ochalla, who is now living in Britain but in regular contact with farmers in his region.

"The only thing the local people see is people coming with lots of tractors to invade their lands."

Since 2007, Ethiopia, one of the hungriest countries in the world, has approved 815 agricultural projects for foreigners.

This is not only confined to Ethiopia, but also to many African countries, such as Sudan, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania and Malawi.

"All the land round my family village of Illia has been taken over and is being cleared," said Ochalla.

"People now have to work for an Indian company. Their land has been compulsorily taken and they have been given no compensation.

"People cannot believe what is happening. Thousands of people will be affected and people will go hungry."

New Colonization

The Ethiopian government defends the practice for luring investments and creating jobs.

"They bring badly needed technology, they offer jobs and training to
Ethiopians, they operate in areas where there is suitable land and
access to water," a government spokesman said.

"Ethiopia has 74m hectares of fertile land, of which only 15% is
currently in use – mainly by subsistence farmers. Of the remaining
land, only a small percentage – 3 to 4% – is offered to foreign

Addis Ababa denied that the land rent is causing hunger among its own population.

"Investors are never given land that belongs to Ethiopian farmers. The
government also encourages Ethiopians in the Diaspora to invest in
their homeland."

But many condemn the practice as a new brand of "colonization".

"This is the new, 21st-century colonization," Haile Hirpa, president of
the Oromia studies’ association in Ethiopia, said in a letter of
protest to UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon.

"The Saudis are enjoying the rice harvest, while the Oromos are dying from man-made famine as we speak."

Indian ecologist Vandana Shiva also blasted the practice for throwing people off their land.

"We are seeing dispossession on a massive scale. It means less food is available and local people will have less," she said.

"There will be more conflict and political instability and cultures will be uprooted.

"The small farmers of Africa are the basis of food security. The food availability of the planet will decline."

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