There is a gold rush happening in Ethiopia, but it’s not a hunt for the yellow metal. It’s a quest for the green gold of fertile farmland. A nation more associated with periodic famine and acute childhood malnutrition than with agricultural bounty is leasing millions of hectares — an area the size of Belgium — to foreign companies, who want to grow and export food to places like Saudi Arabia, China, India, and Europe.
One-third of the fertile Gambella area in western Ethiopia, for example, is being leased for the next 50 years by the Bangalore-based food company Karuturi Global. Forests are being clear-cut, swamps drained, rivers diverted, and whole villages moved to make way for flower farms and palm-oil and rice plantations. “It is very good land. It is quite cheap…. We have no land like this in India,” effused Karuturi’s project manager Karmjeet Shekhon to the Guardiansoon after the lease was settled in 2011.
The government in Addis Ababa says it needs foreign companies like Karuturi Global to help create jobs, raise Ethiopia’s income from food exports, and develop the agricultural technology and infrastructure that can bring the impoverished country into the mainstream of the global market economy. It has enticed investors with tax breaks alongside rock-bottom lease rates (as little as $1 per hectare per year).
But at what cost — to land rights, to human health, to the environment, to national stability?
Liberia has reportedly signed concessions for nearly one-third of its national territory in recent years. (Liberia, like many other African nations, claims government ownership of all the country’s arable land.) Half of the Democratic Republic of the Congo‘s agricultural lands are being leased to grow crops, including palm oil for the production of biofuels. Perhaps the largest single venture to date is the ProSavana Project in northern Mozambique, where an area roughly the size of Switzerland and Austria combined has been leased by Brazilian and Japanese companies to produce soybeans and maize for export.
Full article: How big agriculture is carving up Africa for industrial farmland