Ethiopia Pushes Privatization to Give Its Economy a Sugar Rush

Ethiopia Pushes Privatization to Give Its Economy a Sugar Rush

The government aims to boost the economy to deal with dwindling exports and growing foreign debt.

A sugar cane plantation PHOTOGRAPHER: JOHN BOWKER

(bloomberg)–For decades, Irba Jana has scraped out a modest living from sugar cane, selling his harvest to mills run by Ethiopia’s state-owned sugar monopoly. But lately he’s been working as a security guard to supplement his income, as two of the three nearby processing facilities have closed because of a lack of upkeep and investment. “Sugar cane just isn’t profitable anymore,” says Irba, a grizzled, 50-year-old father of eight. “It may be time to start farming something else.”

Recently, though, he got news that could augur a return to better times: The government is planning to privatize Ethiopian Sugar Corp.’s assets, including a factory complex near Irba’s home on a high plateau a two-hour drive southeast of Addis Ababa. And a local investor aims to let farmers buy shares in the mills, with promises of investment in additional projects such as candy and ethanol factories. A voice at the factory would benefit farmers, says Beyene Bikila, a fellow grower and union member. “We know how to produce,” he says, “and we should get paid properly.”