‘Karuturi and government displaced locals, disrupted Gambela'
by Ruchi Ahuja
Nyikaw Ochalla outlines the disparaging treatment towards locals in Gambela as he highlights government as well as Karuturi’s complacency towards the displaced locals.
Share with us about the key concerns – where and how Karuturi Global has failed the Ethiopians?
The company (Karuturi Global) farming operations in Ethiopia lacked consultations and prior consent of indigenous communities. It was unprecedented rush by the government to lease arable farmland traditionally owned by the subsistent and pastoralist communities in the remote Gambela. Gambela is home for thick forest, wild lives, abundant fish species, cattle herds and fertile arable farmland. These natural resources have been a source of livelihoods for over 3,00,000 indigenous people. This action by both Ethiopian government and Karuturi Global has led to loss of livelihoods, wild life transit corridors, destruction of natural environment, bio-diversity of the region, restrictions to natural habitat for numerous wild lives, and encroachment to Gambela National Park-home for many distinct animals.
The promises of creating employment and economic improvement to the country could not be realised. Neither, farming obligations as stipulated in the contract document were met. The company could only provide seasonal employment opportunities and could not sustain the labour demand. The presence of Karuturi Global in the region has wide spread human rights abuses, serious economic difficulties and social upheaval. The farm is being guarded by Ethiopian military forces who threaten, make arbitrary arrest and detain local farmers.
With little experience and financial capability, the company was driven by international events including financial crisis and food price increase by speculating that investment in agriculture-food crops would yield high return on investment. As evidence shows, the company has gone underground from public scene. It operates from undisclosed location in Ethiopia and has put its machineries on rent to secure financial returns.
How far-reaching have been the impacts of this mess?
Karuturi Global has deprived traditional communities’ access to construction materials, traditional rotational farming system, fishing grounds, alternative food sources, grazing areas, and destroyed community self-reliance. Being home to thick forest, rich bio-diversity, protects trees and holy sites, unethical farming methods destroy sustainable natural environment management and restrict passes corridor for wild lives. Communities have been forced to abandon their homes and go for exile of suffering on unproductive land in the region.
Do you think that Ethiopians government or civic bodies have a role play in letting the Karuturi mess happen?
In a country where freedom of speech and association is banned, the role of civic organisations to monitor and contribute constructively to key important development matters of the country could not be imagined. Yet, Diaspora organisations including Anywaa Survival Organisation-ASO have been playing a key role to identify and expose the ill effects of commercial farming in Ethiopia. However, the concerns for Diaspora has fallen on deaf ear and widely ignored by authorities in Addis Ababa.
As the contract and final deal of large scale commercial farming that led to unimaginable destruction and loss of traditional communities’ livelihoods was between Ethiopian government and without adequate measure in environmental and social assessment, the government of Ethiopia has lion’s share in letting Karuturi Global to continue with the implementation of unfeasible and destructive project.
The whole large scale commercial agricultural investment saga was based on the claim that the land leased to Karuturi is unutilised and no-man’s land and could bring highly needed foreign currency argued by Ethiopian government on the one hand and speculation that such investment would yield high return on investment in the short run by Karuturi Global on the other hand. Both line of thinking has failed miserably and it ashamed both Ethiopian government and Karuturi Global.
Please share what is your opinion on Indian corporates entering Ethiopia and other African countries?
In corporate world, capital and financial flows across international border with ease. Indian corporate entities are not immune from such transnational capital and financial movements. Yet, in the area of commercial farming where land is key to majority third world countries as Ethiopia and the entrance of Indian corporation with the support of government institutions with barely strong legal and institutional protection, is controversial subject. In Ethiopia today, Indian corporations are engaged in commercial farming activities including Karuturi which is displacing local population.
Has Karuturi demonstrated the intention of undoing what it has done? What according to you should be its rightful stance?
The rush leading to Karuturi Global and subsequent destruction it has caused to the community would have been resolved by further communication with the affected pastoralist and indigenous population. As it stands, Karuturi Global is quietly withdrawing from its operation from Gambela. The community whose livelihoods and environment has been affected by Karuturi Global land grabbing are left without any legal remedies. We in ASO will ensure that efforts are made to recover the land from corporations and legal steps taken to address the injustice and destruction caused to livelihoods and natural environment.