Walta Information Centre | Monday, 18 April 2011
Yaregal Aysheshum is former president of the Benshangul Gumuz Regional State. He has a diploma in history from Kotebe Teacher’s College and acquired his MBA from Open University. Before becoming president of the regional state he worked as a department head in the region and also worked as a teacher in the Oromia Regional State. Currently, he is Director General of the Federal Cooperative Agency (FCA) and is an MP. Wudineh Zenebe of The Reporter discussed with him about the current issues in the region.
You were head of the Benshangul Gumuz Regional State. What do you feel about the federal government’s initiative to build the Grand Millennium Hydropower dam in your regional state?
The Grand Millennium Hydropower dam means a lot for the region as well as the entire nation at large.
During your presidency term, the regional government Of Benshangul Gumuz had transferred immense farming lands to foreign investors. And even today, as per the regional state making an agreement with the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry has bestowed massive farmland to foreign investors. Is there any logical relationship between erecting the grand millennium hydro electric dam and transferring massive farming land to those foreign investors?
Many acknowledge that “Ethiopia will be the African breadbasket” and thus we have to realize this motto once again through enhancing massive mechanized agricultures targeting the development of the Agro industry through out the country in the near future.
What kinds of crops are familiar to the Benshangul Gumuz regional state? And what do the foreign investors focus on?
Rice is common to our region. Even, for that matter, we are the first across the country planting rice in Pawe woreda. Oilseeds, grain, and spices are also common in the region.
From Gelgel Beles to Guba Woreda, this is around 200km. The regional state has given huge farmland to foreign investors. But the investors burned out all the forest. Do you think such environmental destruction is good?
The regional state endorsed the plan on effective land use management. However a lot of unforeseen problems might occur during implementation. And thus the regional state will have to be attentive, to overcome such kind of calamity.
The reason for me to ask you this is because temperature is steadily rising in the region and doing this will eventually degrade the land. Plus the future the Grand Millennium Hydro power dam might be filled with silt which might lead to outflow of the water as well as environmental problems.
I have not seen the actual scenario on the ground and even I don’t know how far from the actual place where the Millennium hydro dam is being erected. But reforestation and protecting the land is vital. As far as protecting the environment of the Maetekel zone is concerned, there is a pilot project underway which is funded by the Finnish government. And I hope this project helps a lot. In the mean time also, when the grand millennium hydro power dam was planned, such kinds of problems have been given due consideration.
With regards to deforestation, Sun Biofuels, a British company, deforested 80,000ht of land. After the company destroyed the forest they declined to proceed with the work. Did the company compensate?
It is true the company had taken the land. And it is true that they have destroyed the forest. And it is true that the company reported the situation and that couldn’t able to work. I agree that it was a mistake. However after that incident we got a lesson that any company when it gets over its project, the company has to bring back the land just like it was before.
Did you take any compensation from the company?
We didn’t, due to of lack of experience. In those big farming lands, there is information that people are making charcoal and exporting it to Sudan. Yes! They are not investors but they are charcoal makers. The main thing is just about monitoring the contract with foreign investors, for the sake of developing the region.
Are there any charcoal makers you have come across with and have taken back the land?
Yes and some of them weep for it. But we told them that we don’t want charcoal makers, rather we want a true investor.
Huge amounts of land were given to foreign investors. Some argue that it is an act of land theft or grab? Do you agree with this?
‘Land-grab’ is not a right term. Because theft is a forceful act by its nature, and those foreign investors are not taking our land forcefully. It is based on the creditability of their project as far as attaining our goals.
In relation to this, Ethiopia is not self sufficient as far as food security is concerned. But those foreign companies, after producing the food, send it to their respective countries. This is creating resentment among the public.
The farmland that we are transferring to foreign investors is not the land that is being used by the locals. The point is that as the demand here in Ethiopia exists, the products will definitely be available here. Moreover there will be technological transfer as well.
There is rescaling of extra land that the investors took before and if there is any discrepancy, the government confiscates the extra land. Why has such a major discrepancy happened? And how did they acquire the extra land in the first place?
In Benshangul Gumuz region there was lack of skilled man power. So that is why such a discrepancy happened. Most of the measurements were traditionally conducted and eventually it created a problem in taxation, and documents authentications. In this regard, the region took serious measures to correct the problem with the help of federal government.
In Benshangul Gumuz regional state there is large amount of gold. There have been allegations that people mine traditionally and export illegally, is that true?
In the regional state, whether confirmed scientifically or not, many believe that there is a huge amount of natural treasures like gold, marble, and so on. You may be surprised that in 20 woredas across the regional state there are huge gold assortments.
What about traditional gold mining exploration and export to Sudan?
Those are indigenous people in the region; they have their own traditional exchanging mechanisms. But now the government endorsed a special proclamation in order to organize the traditional gold miners and by virtue of that to determine the price and directly giving to the National Bank. This helps a lot for those miners as well as the people at large.
Have you bought the millennium bond?
It is not only purchasing the millennium bond but I will also do anything with in my power to see the project actualized.
How much are you planning to buy?
I can’t say how much but I can tell you what I felt when the Prime Minister delivered a speech during the launching ceremony of the dam; I felt like a small baby. A baby when excited that doesn’t know what he does. Honestly, I felt like that. My contribution would be definitely from my heart.