No 'land grab' in Ethiopia


The Japanese private sector is welcome here

Japan Times | Sunday, Apr. 11, 2010




The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia


I am writing in reference to the April 4 article "Japan, please don't go grabbing Ethiopians' land." Since the content of the article distorts facts and misinforms the readers of your esteemed newspaper, I thought I should react to the claims made by the writer and straighten the facts.

Since C.W. Nicol claims to have left Ethiopia, particularly over the last two decades, the country has charted a new course in its history. It has ushered in a new political and economic dispensation. Ethiopia is peaceful, stable and a symbol of religious harmony, and is governed by a democratic constitution crafted by the active participation of its citizens. It is also trying to turn the corner against poverty thus becoming one of the fastest-growing non-oil producing economies in Africa. According to forecasts by Economist magazine, Ethiopia will be one of the five fastest-growing economies in the world in 2010. Therefore, this is the image of the new Ethiopia, and the days of chaos and internal strife, which Nicol alludes to in his article, have long gone. Appreciating his contribution as a game warden in the 1960s, I would like to invite Nicol again to visit Ethiopia and see for himself these monumental transformations.

Since the 2008 food crisis, interest is growing in agricultural investment, particularly in Africa. This has created a very good opportunity for Ethiopia — which has a vast amount of arable land and favorable agro-climatic conditions — to attract investment in the agricultural sector. Nicol subscribes to the view propagated by some media outlets labeling this kind of investment as a "land grab" or "new colonialism." I wish to underscore that Ethiopia has never been colonized, with all its nations, nationalities and peoples gallantly defending their sovereignty in unison, and neither would it succumb to any form of neocolonialism.

It should be noted that out of 74.3 million hectares believed to be suitable for crop production, only 15 to 18 percent has so far been utilized. Although Ethiopia has abundant land and labor resources, it does not have adequate capital to develop the agricultural sector. Therefore, the government has made unutilized land in some parts of Ethiopia, particularly in the lowlands, available for foreign investors who are interested to develop it using their massive capital and technology. This is done with a view to supplement the efforts made by the government to transform small-holder agriculture from one of subsistence to commercialization, which has achieved tremendous results by raising agricultural productivity.

I also wish to underscore that there has not been any dislocation of farmers as a result of agricultural investment by foreign companies since the government has so far been allocating only unutilized land and some other land holdings by government-owned enterprises. Therefore, the concerns expressed by Nicol are unwarranted and do not reflect the actual reality in Ethiopia. It is based on this fact that I found his plea for Japan to not "go grabbing Ethiopians' land" nonsensical.

The attraction of agricultural investment no doubt greatly contributes in increasing agricultural production by introducing new technologies and capital. It also creates ample employment opportunities, assists Ethiopia's effort to attain food security for its people and benefits the entire economy by generating foreign-currency earning. Ethiopia is endowed with various agro-climatic conditions suitable for commercial production of a wide range of agricultural products. Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to call upon the Japanese private sector and all investors around the world to seriously consider the possibility of investing in the agricultural sector in Ethiopia.
Original source: Japan Times


  1. J. Wed.
    14 Apr 2010

    To see initial article by Nicol click here: An interesting Debate... however it leaves out (as is usually the case) the voice of the peasants. On one side a Foreign observer with no recent connection to Ethiopia cries out neo-colonialism. On the other the Japanese Ambassador speaks only for the economic interests of his country- not going beyond the arguments of Ethiopia's urban elites. CW Nicol might 'distort facts and misinform the readers' with his story-telling. But he is right to state that 'there is no land in Ethiopia that has no owners or users'. It is therefore very likely that the allocation of land for foreign investors does not exactly take into account the people who previously worked that land. Ethiopia's urban elites (politicians) state constantly that peasant will be duly reimbursed or relocated or alternatively employed by the new super-farms. The whole land grabbing debate is really stuck between market-centric interests and superficial critics of neo-colonialism. The Land-grab should not be seen as a homogenous process in Africa... what is needed is a regionally specific debate with respect for different socio-political conditions in different regions of Africa. The Ambassadors arguments for example does not take into account the peasants’ attachment to land that defies economic rationale, nor their hand to mouth existence that makes it hard for them to start a new life/employment in a different region. There are many examples in Ethiopia's history on the effects of relocation. In the 1969s 1960s with the rise of coffee prices, investors grabbed coffee land from peasants in Kaffa, Sidamo and Arsi the provinces, leaving them with nothing. The ‘unutilised’ land which is promised to investors is actually part of the resource base of nomads and pastoralists who, until investors come along, are the only ones to make use of the plant growth on marginal soils. To state '74.3 million hectares believed to be suitable for crop production, only 15 to 18 percent has so far been utilized' is really just an exercise of number crunching which lacks any cultural and socio-political knowledge about Ethiopia, outside Addis Ababa. Ethiopia has the second largest population in Africa... I wonder if the Ambassador has ever been outside the city...wherever you go in Ethiopia you are not alone!

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