Ethiopia, Land for Sale:  A Threat or an Opportunity for Food Security? – Land Grabbing

Ethiopia, Land for Sale (!!):  A Threat or an Opportunity for Food Security (??) – Land Grabbing

By: Dejene A. Janna

Land Grabbing

16 July, 2017

Bonn, Germany


Classically, land grabbing is known as the seizing of land by a nation, state or organization, especially illegally or unfairly. It is recently redefined as a large scale acquisition of land through purchases or leases for commercial investment by foreign organizations. Both micro and macro scales of land grabbing can result in displacement of indigenous communities and disappearance of their identities over time, because land is not only a fixed asset essential to produce sufficient amount of crop and animal to secure supply of food, but it is also the foundation of identities (language, culture & history) of communities living on the land (Genocide Watch, 2016).

The importance of agriculture to the Ethiopian economy cannot be underestimated: because over 80% of the workforces are directly employed in it and it accounts for a similar amount of the country’s exports. The desire to increase the latter at the expense of the former threatens to make matters much worse. The government would particularly like to increase sugar production, and has announced its desire to be one of the top-ten sugar producers in the world by 2023. Such plans could mean more mass displacement of indigenous peoples, further exacerbate interethnic tensions and cause further migration out of the country. As part of its so called development program, the government of Ethiopia has earmarked more than 11 million hectares of land for foreign investment, talking of it as “potential land” as if it were not being currently used by pastoralists (Hunde Dhugassa, 2014).

The government’s official line is that foreign investment will lift the population out of poverty, but the truth is that many will be denied access to their ancestral lands, and forced to work for the new owners in order to stay there. Moreover, Ethiopia has decades-long history of chronic hunger and famine, and remains one of the most food insecure countries in the world. In 2015-2016, the country had to call for international assistance to provide emergency food relief to some 10.2 million people, in addition to about 8 million people receiving food or cash assistance through the donor funded Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP), and other forms of relief aid in various sectors (FAO, 2016).

Based on FAO, 2016 report (working draft), drought and the effects of El Niño have been put forward as the main causes of the 2016 food crisis, which has been portrayed as an exceptional situation. However, the conditions were already primed for crisis before being exacerbated by extreme weather. The food crisis came as dissonant news in the often positive discourse surrounding Ethiopia – a country praised for its miraculous economic growth and its successful approach to agricultural productivity and investment.

Ethiopia is hailed as one of the top performing African economies – its economic growth averaged 10.8 percent per year between 2004 and 2014 against a regional average of 5 percent. Despite this outstanding performance, the country remains one of the world’s largest recipients of aid, receiving on average $3.5 billion of official development assistance every year between 2008 and 2014.

Very recently, the Ethiopian government has offered a vast land for a long term lease to private and government backed investors such as Karuturi Global Ltd of India which has acquired 1.8 million hectares, Saudi Star Agricultural Development Plc of Sheikh Mohammed Al-Amoudi, Saudi Arabia 100,000 hectares, Djibouti’s first lady and the President about 10,000 hectares and a group of Egyptian investors who have acquired 500 hectares. Ethiopia has already committed to hand over 1.7 million of the 2.7 million hectares of arable land to foreign investors. Ethiopian ex-Prime Minster has offered the land grabbers a “tax holiday” in which he exempted them from paying taxes and lease fees up to the first five years of production and allowed them to export all their production (Hunde Dhugassa, 2015).

The suffering of farmers in Ethiopia, especially in Oromia, Benishangul, Somali and Gambella regions is going from worse to the worst as a result of inequitable land acquisitions, better called by “neo-colonial land grabbing”, by foreign investors in the name of lease by the Ethiopian regime. This act is worsening the already broken food security situation in the country. The peasants are losing their farming and grazing land they owned for centuries in a matter of months. This new form of agrarian neo-colonialism is launched under the pretext of utilizing “Waste-lands” while the reality and reason behind is completely different. A key area of concern has been and remains that current development plans rely largely on largescale agricultural investments, in particular for export crops such as sugar or cotton, and large dams, for both electricity and irrigation. These schemes involve forced evictions of local Communities and the seizure of land and water resources on which millions of Ethiopians rely for their livelihoods (The Oakland Institute, 2016).

The government has justified its policy by citing the need to increase agricultural production and productivity to enable economic growth. However, it has failed to demonstrate how largescale industrial agriculture schemes will address chronic food insecurity and the vulnerability to climatic shocks – whether at the local level, where the investments are taking place, or nationally. The latest food crisis calls for an urgent and objective reassessment of the relevance of the strategy implemented.

According to Malkamuu Jaatee, (2016), changes to land use without consultation of traditional owners of the land – mainly by forceful displacement of indigenous peoples, can, in the long-term, result in the disappearance of human communities traditionally identified with that ancestral land. Both expansion of amorphous towns & cities, without meaningful integration of indigenous peoples and large-scale transfers of rural land to investors, are the major political strategies of the current government of Ethiopia under the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) or the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) to achieve the target of the systematic eradication of rural communities living around cities and at vicinity of agro-industries, mainly in Oromia and Southern (Benishangul-Gumuz, Gambella and Omo) regions.

Conflicts arising from land grabbing have become very complex wars disturbing the daily lives of the oppressed peoples of Ethiopia, because the peoples are undemocratically represented by the regime. Moreover, Conflicts arising from land grabbing have become very complex wars disturbing the daily lives of the oppressed peoples of Ethiopia, because the peoples are undemocratically represented by the regime.


  • Accordingly, the current land grabbing policy in Ethiopia will fuel conflict, create political instability, uproots the indigenous peoples and results in much more complicated food insecurity.
  • The impact of land grabbing in Ethiopia is manifested through interconnected factors that the regime has designed to sustain its military, political and economic powers in order to protect its brutal and savage governance system for the next quarter or half a century.
  • Analytical evaluation of effect of current land grabbing policy indicates destabilization of livelihood assets of rural communities in Oromia and Southern Ethiopia regions through these five factors: aggravation of poverty, increase of food insecurity, intensification of conflicts, degradation of ecosystem quality, and deterioration of human rights conditions.
  • It is high time for the international community to stand in unison against brutal regime of Ethiopia and uphold the right of the peoples to land ownership, which is exploited, left defenseless and currently running out of means to protect their rights. The land grabbers “investors” should understand the complicated reality they are involving in and need to calculate their risk on time before it is too late. Any land deal that has not been agreed to by the Ethiopian nations and nationalities will not be honored and will bring neither lasting peace, nor development in the country and for the investors as well.

“Better to die fighting for freedom then be a prisoner all the days of your life.”  ― Bob Marley