Ethiopia Vs Sugar Venture
Ethiopia sugar venture could sow seeds of conflict
Mon, 18 Jun 2012 17:34 GMT
Source: alertnet // Katy Migiro
By Katy Migiro
NAIROBI (AlertNet) – Up to half a million people risk destitution and hunger under Ethiopia’s controversial plans to clear huge swathes of land for gigantic sugar plantations, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW) which warned the venture could lead to conflict.
Ethiopia’s government is already moving people off land used by 200,000 livestock herders and farmers in the Lower Omo Valley in the southwest to make way for 245,000 hectares of state-run sugar plantations and 100,000 hectares of commercial agriculture, HRW said.
Another 300,000 herders, farmers and fishermen in neighbouring Kenya will see their water supplies fall as a result of a major scheme to dam the Omo River, it added.
“They are taking our land by fear and by force, we don’t know why. But we will not go. We will fight here and be killed here if need be,” a man from Ethiopia’s Mursi community told HRW in its report “What Will Happen if Hunger Comes?” Abuses against the Indigenous Peoples of Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley.
The Ethiopian military and police have beaten, arrested and harassed villagers who express concerns about the sugar plantations, HRW said.
The sugar plantations will be irrigated by 200 km of canals, using water provided by the Gibe III hydro-electric dam across the Omo River. The dam will also power six sugar-processing factories on the site.
Gibe III will become Africa’s highest dam when completed next year. It has attracted criticism because it will dramatically reduce the flow of water into Kenya’s Lake Turkana. The desert lake gets 90 percent of its water from Ethiopia’s Omo River.
Water levels in Lake Turkana are predicted to fall by at least two metres due to the dam, threatening the livelihoods of Kenyan herders, fishermen and farmers.
HRW said the irrigated sugar plantations would further reduce the flow of water into Lake Turkana.
“The potential impacts on Lake Turkana and the people around it are potentially devastating,” said Felix Horne, the report’s author, who interviewed 35 Lower Omo residents during a visit to Ethiopia last year.
“A massive amount of water is going to be used, every year, that in the past would be flowing into Lake Turkana. Now [it] will be going into the sugar plantations.”
Using satellite imagery, HRW found that 2,600 hectares, or one percent of land in the Lower Omo Valley earmarked for large-scale farming, has already been planted with sugarcane, displacing 5,000 to 10,000 people.
“Everything is being cleared in those areas. So farms are being cleared. Grain store houses are being cleared. Beehives are being cleared. There’s absolutely nothing being left,” said Horne.
Several villages have been cut off from the Omo River by the irrigation canals.
“The Omo River is their lifeline,” said Horne.
“They either grow food along the Omo River, or they take their cattle to the Omo River during the dry season or they fish in the Omo River. Without the Omo River their livelihoods will be decimated.”
The government has started resettling people in government-built villages. It says that the projects will create 150,000 jobs.
“Even though this area is known as backward in terms of civilization, it will become an example of rapid development,” Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said last year.
The project is part of an Ethiopian government policy to encourage pastoralists to abandon their nomadic lifestyle in favour of agriculture or wage labour.
Since 2010, the government has been undertaking forced “villagisation” programmes which aim to settle 1.5 million nomads in permanent villages, HRW said.
Rural Ethiopians believe their land is being grabbed for lease or sale to foreign investors, Horne said.
Ethiopia has allocated some 3.6 million hectares of land for firms seeking to invest in agriculture.
In the Lower Omo Valley, people are being resettled in “random locations within the sugar plantations” and offered work on the sugar plantations, he said.
“They do not have any say on what their future livelihoods will be,” he added.
“Ethiopia is potentially sowing the seeds for conflict in this region.”
HRW called on the Ethiopian government to suspend resettlement and carry out environmental and social impact assessments of the projects.