Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Socialist Banner has reported previously on the great African land grab and once again the development has come to the news.

Ethiopia might seem an unlikely hotbed of agricultural investment. To most of the world, the country is defined by images of famine: about a million people died there during the drought of the mid-1980s, and today about four times that many depend on emergency food aid. But according to the World Bank, as much as three-quarters of Ethiopia’s arable land is not under cultivation. Since the world food crisis, Zenawi, a former Marxist[sic] rebel who has turned into a champion of private capital, has publicly said he is “very eager” to attract foreign farm investors by offering them what the government describes as “virgin land.” An Ethiopian agriculture ministry official recently told Reuters that he has identified more than seven million acres.

Ethiopia’s government denies that anyone is being displaced, saying that the land is unused — an assertion many experts doubt. “One thing that is very clear, that seems to have escaped the attention of most investors, is that this is not simply empty land,” says Michael Taylor, a policy specialist at the International Land Coalition. If land in Africa hasn’t been planted, he says, it’s probably for a reason. Maybe it’s used to graze livestock, or deliberately left fallow to prevent nutrient depletion and erosion.

The International Institute for Environment and Development suggests that as of earlier this year, the Ethiopian government had approved deals totaling around 1.5 million acres, while the country’s investment agency reports that it has approved 815 foreign-financed agricultural projects since 2007, nearly doubling the number registered in the entire previous decade. But that’s far from a complete picture. While the details of a few arrangements have leaked out, like one Saudi consortium’s plans to spend $100 million to grow wheat, barley and rice, many others remain undisclosed, and Addis Ababa has been awash in rumors of Arab moneymen who supposedly rent planes, pick out fertile tracts and cut deals.

The nations of the Persian Gulf are likely to see their populations increase by half by 2030, and already import 60 percent of their food. Self-sufficiency isn’t a viable option.

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