Land-grab noise is aimed at scaring off investment from emerging economies

The article in The Hindu, by Ashish Kothari, “How Ethiopians are being pushed off their land” (Op-Ed, February 19, 2013) is far from the truth and makes charges that are unfounded.

Had the organisers of the so-called “India-Ethiopia Seminar on Land Investment” been interested in presenting a legitimate report to the Indian public, they would have invited the Embassy of Ethiopia in New Delhi or Indian investors who can give first hand information on Ethiopia’s land policy.

The prime focus of the policy of the government of Ethiopia is ensuring food security of its citizens. To this end, the priority area is the enhancement of agricultural productivity at household levels. This implies that the bulk of the government’s positive intervention in the area of ensuring food security involves helping the millions of smallholder farmers in the country. The government believes that such a focus can best address the bulk of the population.

Not only is the government focused on providing the necessary support and leadership to small holders, but it has a clear policy that no small holding farmer will be dispossessed of his/her land for the purpose of foreign investors intending to engage in commercial farming. There is absolutely no farmer displaced from his or her land for any such purpose.

In this regard it is worth noting that most criticism against the government had in the past largely been about the government’s “over-protection” of smallholders and its reluctance to fully embrace massive commercial farming.

Now that the government has launched an ambitious Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) to double the nation’s GDP in five years, the role of agro-investment becomes all the more decisive. Most of the companies will be involved in the production of highly needed cereals, which will not only earn the nation highly needed foreign currency but also contribute to the ensuring of food security and food self-sufficiency in the country.

It is also the policy of the government that large swathes of hitherto uncultivable land in very remote and inaccessible parts of the country should be made available to foreign investors interested to invest in commercial farming. The government wants to put to use hitherto-unused and mostly inaccessible-swathes of land for the purpose of augmenting its campaign to ensure food security.

Negligible displacement

Here again, the focus of the GTP is that beyond scaling up the productivity of small holders, more attention must be paid to raise the level of contribution of extensive and mechanised farming in the nation’s endeavour to extricate itself out of poverty.

The majority of these lands are to be found in sparsely populated regions of the country, where the risk of displacing local populations for this purpose is far too negligible, at worst. The areas being allocated for this purpose are totally inaccessible in terms not only of infrastructure development, but also those which have hardly been inhabited by people. So in all fairness, the talk about people being displaced for the purpose of land lease is unfounded at best and even deliberately contrived at worst.

The Government of Ethiopia takes the issue of climate change and social impact seriously. The lands that are made available for investors are thoroughly studied in order to ensure that the investment projects’ impact on the livelihood of the local communities as well as their impact on climate is kept to the most minimum possible.

Any reader of the article can say with certainty that we don’t hear much fuss over similar projects in other parts of the world such as Latin America. It can be surmised that the noise about “land grab” in Africa has everything to do with the paternalism of some of the “activists” as well as with the identity of the investors who are currently benefiting from the deals.

Quite obviously, the investors are mainly from India, China and Middle East countries — unlike in the case of, say Latin America, where such projects are mainly owned by western investors.

It would, therefore, be important, particularly for a newspaper like The Hindu, which mainly targets Indian readers, to keep this fact in mind.

The noise about land grab also has another face. It is a clear reminder of the condescending outlook reflected by many western institutions doubting the capability of African states to sincerely advocate the interest of their citizens.

Hence the whole report of the so-called seminar was a reflection of the usual effort to daunt investment activities from emerging economies like that of India.

(Metasebia Tadesse is Minister Counsellor at the Embassy of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, New Delhi.)

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