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Saturday, May 12, 2012

In pictures: In Ethiopia - Land leasing or land grabbing?

BBC - In the last few years, large-scale acquisitions of farmland in Africa, Latin America and Asia have made headlines across the world. In Africa, countries such as Ethiopia, South Sudan, DR Congo and Sierra Leone have all signed major land deals with foreign investors. But how do they affect local people? Photos: Alfredo Bini. 
The host governments and investors say that this will lead to the creation of infrastructure, jobs and social services. In Awasa, Ethiopia, a firm called Jittu Horticulture employs around 1,300 workers who are said to earn less than $1 (£0.63) a day. The company assures that all of them have access to health care and a pension.
With a greenhouse area of about 800 hectares (8 km2), Jittu is one of the largest agricultural companies in the country and is the biggest exporter to the United Arab Emirates. Through one of its Dubai importers, it supplies many hotels, restaurants and shopping centres there.
Critics, who describe these acquisitions as "land grabs", believe that their main beneficiaries are the foreign investors because most of the commodities produced are for export. They argue that the land deals are not done transparently, thus creating a breeding ground for corruption.
“I wouldn’t define it as land grabbing. We exploit the economic opportunities which came about after the food price shock of 2007. The land is offered to us by the government, who is its legitimate owner. We don’t pay much rent but we create jobs,” says Birinder Singh, the manager of Karuturi Agro Products.
Forest is burnt in the Karuturi compound in Gambella, western Ethiopia, in order to make it easier for the tractors to prepare the land for planting oil palm and sugar cane. The initial compound of 100,000 hectares (1,000 km2) will be extended to 300,000.
The area is near a national park where Africa's second largest animal migration goes through. It borders another compound leased to Saudi Star, controlled by Mr al-Amoudi. Karuturi says that it has done environmental impact studies and preserved the free movement of animals through corridors of intact forest.
In Awash, central Ethiopia, sugar cane cuttings are planted. This territory is included in the government-owned Metahara Sugar Factory's 20,000 hectare expansion plan for boosting sugar and biofuel production.