For the last 10 years , Ashenafi Chote's plot in southern Ethiopia had kept his family of four alive by supplying enough food to eat and even surplus to sell, in a region often ravaged by drought and food shortages.But since swapping from a subsistence to a biofuel crop several months ago, his once treasured source of income has dried up and, worse still, he and his family are now dependent on relief from aid agencies.
His eyes full of regret: "I made a mistake.I used to get four quintals (100 kilograms, 220 pounds) of maize from my land from every harvest and earn more than 2,400 birr (240 dollars). But now, I have lost my precious source .I shouldn't have accepted their offer"
In the sprawling farmlands surrounding Wolaytta district, 350 kilometres (215 miles) south of the capital Addis Ababa, the thorny foliage of castor bean stalks is slowly replacing the swaying maize fields most locals depended on. As impoverished and landlocked Ethiopia was choked by high oil prices, the government allocated more than 400,000 hectares (988,000 acres) for biofuel crops development as part of a national strategy enacted last year.Its development was, and still is, highly encouraged, with foreign companies given incentives and a relatively easy process to start up production ventures.
But in Wolaytta, where nearly half of the two-million population do not have enough to eat, several thousand farmers like Ashenafi are complaining that they have been duped into growing biofuel crops on fertile land at the expense of maize, cassava and sweet potato, the region's staples.Global Energy Ethiopia, an American-Israeli subsidiary which initially acquired 2,700 hectares to grow castor beans -- a toxic plant whose seed provides castor oil, lured them with false claims of continuous harvests and financial incentives. Over 9,500 farmers are now growing the crop in Wolaytta, of which a significant amount are using very arable plots.
"Experts who told us we could have up to three harvests a year and they would pay 500 birr (50 dollars) in labour costs," Borja Abusha, said."But it has now been six months without a harvest and they haven't respected their promise to cover costs. We are left with nothing."