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  06:29:11 pm, by admin   , 1722 words  
Categories: Ethiopia


This all started a few months ago. I was in the Gambella region of western Ethiopia bouncing down a road to visit a Nuer village, one of the indigenous tribes of the area. For miles, all along the newly graded road, the forest was being enthusiastically dragged down, piled up, and burnt. Clear cutting toward a better future. Rounding a bend, a enormous piece of John Deere industrial farm equipment sat on the edge of the field. Its just-off-the-factory-line new green and yellow paint gleamed in the harsh sun bleached washed out colors of the countryside. We stared at awe. Although in Midwest America, it would be barely worth mentioning, such a thing in rural Ethiopia was like seeing ET and Bigfoot sipping tea next to a flying saucer. Since then, something has been festering in my head. This is an attempt to get it out. 

World hunger is a bad thing, and the world has a moral and ethical obligation to do something about it. Prima facia, this isn’t a particularly controversial statement. That said, I have begun suspecting that it is an intentional gross oversimplification. It is a statement so obvious and so often accompanied by pictures of swollen bellies and sunken eyes that questioning it is taboo. But perhaps lurking behind the human suffering is a muddied twisted net of contingencies, self interest, manipulation, and deception. Or perhaps I am becoming much too cynical. I admit this is a possibility. 

I don’t work for the Wood Food Program, UNICEF, USAID, OXFAM, or the kaleidoscopic array of governmental and NGOs in the BIG business of food security, developmental aid, or famine relief. Though these are the professionals who presumably understand the dynamics of fighting hunger, their solutions usually include ever increasing budgets, vital strategic meetings in expensive western cities, lucrative contracts, and ever more recruits for the high-paid professional aid army. Since I am not biting the hand that feeds me, I am free to wonder if perhaps the emperor is wearing no clothes. 

Ethiopia is a good place to begin if you want to talk about starving people in Africa. For most, that is the only real conception they have of the country. The Ethiopia highlands drop precipitously toward Somalia to the east and the Sudan to the west. The highlands are economically, culturally, and politically dominant, while the west is largely forgotten, and the east appears with depressing frequency in world headlines proclaiming something along the lines of ‘Only YOU can Help Stop the Worst EVER Humanitarian Disaster of Biblical Proportions’. Every couple of years, an impassioned plea to save the children is urgently sent to governments, NGOs, the UN, and the guilt ridden well-off in the west to pony up. And pony up they do. 

This year, things were no different. In November of 2010, USAID’s Famine Early Warning System Network predicted the looming crisis. Then nothing happened until February 2011 when the Ethiopian Minister of Agriculture announced that the number of Ethiopians at risk had dropped to an estimated 2.8 million. There had been no rain, but there were new estimates! By July, the drought had comfortably settled into its second year, and the government announced that an estimated 4.5 million people needed emergency food assistance. 

The litany of causes for Ethiopia’s endemic food insecurity include primitive agricultural practices, dependence on rain, land degradation, erosion, faulty land use and management policies, corruption, conflict, land ownership laws, lack of infrastructure, market inaccessibility, and everyone’s current favorite, climate change. Buried beneath the avalanche of second-order causes is the fact that the population continues to grow exponentially. In 1974, the population of the Horn of Africa was 80 million. By 2000, it had doubled. It is projected to increase by a further 40% by 2015. Growing populations coupled with erratic weather patterns and increasing demand on already denuded and degraded land guarantees that the headlines won’t change much. It is Malthusian and politically incorrect to speak of, but it is also basic math. Keep your checkbooks handy, this will all be happening again soon . 

As absurd as this is, it isn’t what was bothering me in Gambella. Ethiopia is the world's largest recipient of humanitarian food and development assistance. Last year, It received more than 700,000 tons of food and hundreds of millions in food aid (and plenty more not tied to food). However, while eastern Ethiopia fills the Save the Children headlines, there is something happening in the west that seems to me to be a crucial factor in the equation. 

Out west, the Ethiopian government is long-term leasing at obscenely low prices some 7.4 million acres of virgin land to foreign FOOD corporations. Prior to 2009, a hectare cost as little as $1.25! Now, the price for foreigners is all the way up to $26-42. By comparison, in 2010, the average price per hectare for quality dryland in the US cornbelt states was $16,000. Not surprisingly, Indian and Gulf State (among many many others) companies are falling over each other to lease the land, which they plan to develop for large scale agricultural EXPORT. A representative from an Indian agri-business that got in on the land grab early was recently quoted in the Guardian as saying, "It's very good land. It's quite cheap. In fact, it is very cheap. We have no land like this in India. There you are lucky to get 1% of organic matter in the soil. Here it is more than 5%. We don't need fertilizer or herbicides. There is absolutely nothing that will not grow on it. . . We could feed a nation here.” Which is precisely what Ethiopia cannot do, but is leasing its land so that others can. 

Leaving aside the rampant destruction of this ecosystem and the forced ‘villagization’ of the local populations getting in the way of ‘progress’ (an allegation made in a recent Human Rights Watch report and not surprisingly, denied by the government), how can the Ethiopian government be leasing land to foreigners to grow food for export? The government line is that this will generate much needed foreign reserves and through the transfer of technological knowhow to small farmers lead to long-term food security. Undoubtedly this will provide foreign reserves for the government, but the technological transfer rationale seems a stretch. Barring divine intervention, no small Ethiopian farmer in the near or distant future is going to be in the market for heavy John Deere machinery. Nevertheless, implicit is the assumption that until then, the international community will keep sending/buying food for the increasing number of famine victims out west. Has the aid community been eating lead paint chips? Why aren’t all these hundreds of millions of dollars in aid being directed toward developing the Ethiopians’ ability to farm their own land? Wouldn’t investment in self-sufficiency free Ethiopia from the shackles of endemic famine? Isn’t the underlying purpose of all international aid programs to eventually make themselves obsolete? And here is where the cynicism creeps in. Why would anyone possibly want this? 

Most of the food insecurity issues arise in the Somali and Afar regions. The regions of the country populated by poor non-highlander Muslims who don’t always think very highly of the central government. Ethiopian governance is already severely ethnically biased and lowlanders are the bottom of the barrel. By turning over the land to foreigner and highlander farmers, who have no incentive to ensure local population food needs are met (but do have incentives to export the food), they undermine local communities self-sufficiency and increase their dependance on the government. 

In addition to possible Machiavellian motives, there is also the economics. Although the international aid community can be counted on to rush in every time there is another drought or famine, it has recently gotten the crazy idea to make aid contingent on governmental development of long-term sustainable agriculture solutions. Such conditions are bothersome. Revenue from leased land, on the other hand, comes with no strings. While the international aid community picks up most of the tab for problems out east, the Ethiopian government, for the price of a few dead babies, gets to eat its cake and have it too. 

It is not only the Ethiopian government, however, milking the system. Contrary to common belief, famines are rarely about a lack of food. Rather, it is an inability to get the food where it is needed when it is needed, and unfortunately, the aid community rarely mobilizes before it sees bloated stomachs and protruding ribs. But aid is big business. It generously fills the pockets of the international aid army, while at the same time, subsidizes donor countries’ agricultural sectors. In the US, for example, aid is ‘tied’, which means that Congress mandates that food commodities must be grown by American farmers and shipped on American boats. According to the Government Accountability Office, at least half of the value of food aid is lost before it arrives where it is needed. Additionally, instead of buying cheaper locally available food, tied aid ensures that by the time it arrives, it is usually already too late. Finally, when this food bonanza does arrive, it immediately saturates the market and drives down the market price of any locally grown food, further impoverishing local farmers. And then a couple of years later, the cycle repeats. In other words, famine subsidizes the US agricultural/shipping economy. In this elaborate equation, there are a lot of winners, but it isn’t the dead. 

In conclusion, I am writing this to try and discover what I am missing. Why does the international aid community flood Ethiopia with food and money while ignoring the fact that the country is selling off the land that could apparently solve its problems? Is the aid business so integral to sustaining donor countries’ agricultural economies that they willingly turn a blind eye to this scam? Is it a business calculation by donor countries that the Ethiopian government’s focus on increasing foreign income reserves at the expense of creating food self-sufficiency will create a future market for agricultural imports? Is this the tradeoff that the US, in particular, makes to pursue its foreign policy, notably the War of Terror? Undoubtedly, the warp and weft are so tightly bound that there are aspects unseen and unfathomable, but perhaps someone else understands the logic of the illogical. From here though, it sure does look like lives are just part of the cost of governance and international business


Comment from: minewu jal [Visitor]
minewu jal

Ok Nazret, simple question, who is this outsider and if he/ she is genuine why the need to conceal identity and how does this ‘personal observation’ differ from a propaganda material that has been collected by naive diaspora ethiopians and passed to Eri-TV?…of course this could be desperate negative propaganda by interest group not only to discredit the current regime but in fact with a touch of deliberate deliberate tendency to incite north south divide. but I tell you one thing, It is hard to blame people like this so called writers for insulting your intelligence cos you allow them to but it is depressing to see the desperate state of mind some of us diaspora oppositions are in. Our inability to read between the line and differentiate the a regime from our countries long interest is mind boggling that I wouldn’t be surprised if Ethiopia fails to exist tomorrow. our poverty inflicted miqegnnet is killing far as you are concerned, it seems any one who can trash woyane-led Ethiopia is welcome. just because the ‘my observation’ fiction suits your detest for a rime you lamp it on your wall not knowing an idiot from Er-Tv may be insulting your intelligence. Maferiawoch

03/13/12 @ 01:49
Comment from: Imperial Body Guard [Visitor]
Imperial Body Guard

The neo-colonial regime of ethnic federalism continues its repugnant agenda of divide and rule, for short term gain and selfish ends. Their alien ideology is to use force to disregard the indigenous rights of Ethiopians, for the regime prefers to stink of hellish sulfur than to recognize the land proclamation of the Emperor which entitles every Ethiopian family a gasha of freehold land to be past down from generation to generation in order to increase their standard of living.
“The salvation of Our country, Ethiopia, as we have repeatedly stated lies primarily in education as Ethiopians are one all Ethiopians are also one. And education is the only way to maintain this condition.” HIM Negus Haile Selassie I
Education teaches us that intensive agricultural practices such as slash and burn are only short lived before the land becomes depleted of its nutrients and rendered worthless. Chemical fertilizers may make a major contribution to the profits of large agro-chemical firms, but have been proven to be ineffective over the long term by causing a breakdown in the natural ecosystem and polluting rivers as well as losing the essential nutrients required in good soil structure. Ethiopians must be educated in modern agricultural techniques such as- Organic production, bio-dynamics, permaculture, soil and water conservation techniques. Coupled with Co-operative enterprise rural communities can possess the modern implements and machinery required to increase their agricultural productivity abundantly. By allowing the regime of ethnic federalism to continue their colonial type exploitation will only cause further misery and hunger for the Ethiopian population, whom the majority earn their living from farming.

“The most effective way of utilizing any outside assistance is to create and develop an atmosphere of self-help, where the available human and natural resources could be tapped in the best interest of the people. Everyone, in all walks of life, regardless of his professional occupation should feel concerned and play an active role to solve such problems which affect mankind, Now, We call upon the generosity of Our people to help develop agriculture and improve its productivity.” Selected Speeches of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, Freedom from Hunger Campaign 1963

“The forest resources of Our Empire constitute one of the most important elements of the wealth of Our land. When Our forests are properly conserved, they protect the fertile soil from erosion; they render the landscape green and beautiful. But when forests are neglected and gradually destroyed, the wealth of Our land is progressively reduced and the country slowly becomes bare and barren.” Selected Speeches of HIM Negus Haile Selassie, page 483-4

“During the past year, the abrupt cessation of rainfall during the growing season caused considerable damage to Ethiopia’s crops. This experience has demonstrated that it is essential that the rivers of Our country be devoted to irrigation, so that the food needs of Our ever-growing population will no longer be left at the mercy of the whims and caprices of the elements.” Selected Speeches of HIM Negus Haile Selassie I, page 485

‘Experts have forecast that today’s rapid population growth will have far reaching consequences in the future. Food production is envisaged to fall short of the need of the world population, thus threatening mankind with the scourge of hunger. As We have said in the past, a view which is shared by many, Ethiopia, besides satiating her local needs, could also become the granary of her neighbouring countries, provided her agriculture is fully developed through modern means. Therefore, it is necessary for Us to continue Our endeavours to improve on our agriculture so that We can realize and develop our great potentials in this regard.’ Important Utterances of HIM Haile Selassie I, page 156

‘The soil of Ethiopia is a fertile soil. And it is loyal and dependable. Given but the proper attention and care, the Ethiopian soil remains, however much it is tilled, a dependable source of livelihood and dignity and wealth. It is thus ill-advised and indeed unreasonable to abandon the honourable and rewarding livelihood of farming in quest of other forms of employment in urban areas. A renewed dedication and diligence in farming would surely be a venture of more rewarding and lasting value.
It is not only that Ethiopia is ideal for the development of agriculture but the preponderant majority of its people also happen to earn their livelihood from farming. Draft legislations aimed at accelerating the tempo of agricultural development have been therefore prepared, following a thorough study of the existing systems of land administration and tenure in the various governorates-general.’ HIM Negus Haile Selassie I

‘In our own times, there are those expansionists who by shedding blood, desire to achieve their ambition and by dismembering themselves they are seen as tools for alien interests. Our people from Ethiopia shed blood, to save them from disintegration. Those personalities who believe in freeing a country by secession are selfish and prey to outsiders. We will not accept their motives.’ Selected speeches of HIM Negus Haile Selassie I, page 426

“The fundamental obstacle to the realisation of the full measure of Ethiopia’s agricultural potential has been, simply stated lack of security in the land. The fruits of the farmer’s labour must be enjoyed by him whose toil has produced the crop.” Selected speeches of HIM Negus Haile Selassie I, pages 492-3

“The aim of those leaders that is based on ambition for power and personal gain is one with no firm foundation and will, consequently, crumble easily.” Selected Speeches of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, page 471

“For those of you who possess the land and labour but lack capital, We have made credit available at low interest. For those of you who have the necessary capital but do not possess land to work on, We have, in accordance with Our proclamation which entitled every Ethiopian to ownership of land, established offices in every province through which you may be able to acquire land. Those who have neither land nor money will be granted land and a financial loan at low interest. For those of you who possess land, who have financial resources and manpower, We have made experts available to furnish you with the necessary guidance and advice in your undertakings.” Selected Speeches of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, page 486

“Every structure must be built on a solid foundation, for those constructed otherwise would soon collapse. The proclamation by which We made land grants to the entire Ethiopian people is the foundation of this scheme.” Selected Speeches of HIM Haile Selassie I, page 487

Long Live the Constitutional Monarchy!
Long Live African Unity!
Long Live the Charter of the United Nations!
Bless the Ethiopian committee of the Freedom from Hunger Campaign!
Fire burn down the alien imposed federation star of secession
Rise with the Lion of Judah!
Gasha for Ethiopians!
Long Live Independent Ethiopia!

03/13/12 @ 09:10
Comment from: Belay [Visitor]

as time goes it appears the consensus amongst the majority of ethiopians regarding the land issue is it is a disaster. to begin with the government made the decision in rush without considering other alternatives such as encouraging ethiopians to take on mechanized farming or even the government itself investing on it, like its doing in power. after all if it is beneficial to the indians why not!? unless the government does some thing soon the only explanation is the obvious which is corruption. there is no question these indians pay millions of dollars for the government officials to facilitate the land deal.

03/13/12 @ 15:18
Comment from: EPRDF is Corrupt [Visitor]
EPRDF is Corrupt

That is what no body can understand what the Woyane government is doing except to conclude that it is working against the welfare and wellbeing of Ethiopians.
It is all Woyane made famine to milk the system and callously kill people.

It is absurd to find ” Ethiopia . the world’s largest recipient of humanitarian food and development assistance‘ selling fertile land for “long-term leasing at obscenely low prices some 7.4 million acres of virgin land to foreign FOOD corporations.”

The other absurdity is how the US and the European who rushes to give aid upon demand are not condemning this cruelty.

Of course the Ethiopian government is milking the system both ways by receiving aid and selling land.

All the excuses for the “endemic food insecurity include primitive agricultural practices, dependence on rain, land degradation, erosion, faulty land use and management policies, corruption, conflict, land ownership laws, lack of infrastructure, market inaccessibility, and everyone’s current favorite, climate change” means nothing.

03/13/12 @ 19:36
Comment from: ayan [Visitor]

mr imperial guard how old are you your king was good at speeches his ethiopia and ethiopians are not the same for the rest of us dont take it ethnicaly i am amhara few balabats and their family owened most of the country fertile land playing with it while the rest of the country is starving.stop praising him but i agree with whoever wrote the article while food shortage become global crisis which is worsening everyday i dont see the logic why we giving the land so cheap to just to get hard currency for the few rich guys to import garments and bmws blacklabel etc. it should reserved for ethiopian companys like the banking airlines tele

03/14/12 @ 01:24



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