Video-Ethiopia: A Battle for Land and Water
REPORT AIR DATE: Feb. 29, 2012
A controversial resettlement program in Ethiopia is the latest battleground
in the global race to secure prized farmland and water. Correspondent
Cassandra Herrman reports as part of the Food for 9 Billion series, a
NewsHour partnership with the Center for Investigative Reporting, Homelands
Productions and Marketplace.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, a struggle over land in Western Ethiopia that pits
village farmers against the government and land investors.
Tonight's story is part of a multimedia project that looks at the challenge
of feeding the world in a time of social and environmental change. It's a
NewsHour partnership with the Center for Investigative Reporting, Homelands
Productions and American Public Media's Marketplace.
The project is called Food for 9 Billion.
Tonight's correspondent is Cassandra Herrman.
CASSANDRA HERRMAN: The Anuak people of the Gambella region have lived in
scattered settlements like this for centuries, growing maize in wetter
months farming closer to the river in the dry season.
But last year, the Ethiopian government launched a program called
villagization. Officials told the people here they would be relocated to
areas with better access to clean water, health, and education. But this
woman says they were forced to move under false pretenses.
WOMAN (through translator): When we left our farm, our crops were ready for
harvest, but they told us to leave them in the field, that we would find
plenty of corn and other food in the new place we were moving. But they
don't give you enough food to fill you up. They give you food in a small
container but it can't even feed a family for a day.
CASSANDRA HERRMAN: The plight of the Anuak people is at the heart of a
complex battle over landownership and water rights between farmers, the
government, and foreign investors. It's a battle that is being fought in
many African countries.
The Ethiopian government officially owns title to all the land here, but
farmers have the right to use it. The government calls this land abandoned
because it's so sparsely populated. But Anuaks say they need it, some for
grazing, some to lay fallow, and that it's the best farmland in the country.
MAN (through translator): Moving us to a new village might be good for the
government, but not for us. It's not good to move a person from the land
they have lived on for generations. Maybe the government thinks we are not
worthy enough to live on such beautiful land, and they want to have it.
CASSANDRA HERRMAN: Over the next two years, 1.5 million people in four
regions of Ethiopia will be relocated. The government insists that the
villagization program is voluntary.
But Human Rights Watch says Anuak are being forced to move so that the
government can lease the land to investors. The rights group recently
documented cases of violence and arbitrary arrest.
OKOK OJULU, Anuak leader (through translator): Land is political. Land is
very emotional. And land is our identity.
CASSANDRA HERRMAN: Anuak leader Okok Ojulu was a voice of resistance against
villagization. Fearing for his live, Ojulu fled Ethiopia and now lives in
exile in neighboring Kenya.
OKOK OJULU: When I see my village, very small in the face of this big
population coming in, I see a big threat. We need to fight for the future of
CASSANDRA HERRMAN: Ojulu says it's not just his people's land that is at
stake. Gambella, with several rivers and a sizable dam, is rich in water
Water is the driving force behind many agricultural deals on the African
continent. This rice farm is owned by a Saudi sheik and is on land that
Anuak consider theirs. According to the company Saudi Star, when completed,
this rice farm will be the largest in Africa.
HAILE ASSEGIDE, Saudi Star Agricultural Development: Our objective is to put
Ethiopia in the rice map of the world. We would like to export about one
million tons of rice. We expect about $1 billion of income for the country.
CASSANDRA HERRMAN: In many places in the world, water is becoming a scarce
resource. Saudi Star's rice will go to Gulf nations no longer able to
irrigate their own crops.
To attract investors to this area of the Nile River Basin, the Ethiopian
government puts few, if any restrictions on water usage in its contracts
with foreign companies. Saudi Star will spend $2.5 billion on the rice farm,
on clearing forests, on their fleet of new tractors and combines, and on
extra experts like Mohammad Manzoor Khan, one of the project's director.
MOHAMMAD MANZOOR KHAN, Saudi Star Agricultural Agency: It's a lot of rice
for the world market of local people. This project is generating a lot of
income. It can really bring a revolution in poor production, as well as
uplifting the social ambitions of the people around.
CASSANDRA HERRMAN: But Ethiopians don't typically eat rice, and many
question the move to grow crops for export, when Ethiopia and the Horn of
Africa have a long history of periodic hunger caused by war and weather
DESSALEGN RAHMATO, Forum for Social Studies: This country is a country that
has suffered food insecurity and famine, still suffers food insecurity, and
yet gives out its huge land resources to foreign capital.
CASSANDRA HERRMAN: Dessalegn Rahmato is a food policy expert with the Forum
for Social Studies. He says making sure people have access to food should be
the government's priority.
DESSALEGN RAHMATO: There is no provision -- in any of the contracts signed
by the government and investors, there's no provision for food security,
local food security at all. And if there are people who are starving there,
it's not their concern.
CASSANDRA HERRMAN: In the capital, Addis Ababa, the government says the way
to ensure people can afford food is to provide jobs through attracting
investment and foreign currency.
At the Ministry of Agriculture, Director of Investment Essayas Kebede says
that as a country of farmers, Ethiopia needs agricultural exports in order
to pay for importing necessary items.
ESSAYAS KEBEDE, Agricultural Investment Agency: To have tractors, to have
harvesters, to have other equipment and to have fertilizer, we are importing
fertilizer. We are importing oil. We are importing everything.
CASSANDRA HERRMAN: But, in Gambella, Anuaks say they are not seeing the
benefits of the country's investment strategy. While companies like Saudi
Star now have access to much of the region's best land and water, the leader
of this village says they've been moved to drier areas where farming is more
MAN (through translator): If they take all the water from the small river,
the river will dry up. Then where would we get water? I heard also that they
are planning to take water from the lake a few kilometers from here.
CASSANDRA HERRMAN: The lake he is referring to is the Alwero Dam. Saudi Star
is close to finishing an 18-mile canal from the dam to irrigate their rice
MAN (through translator): If I knew they were moving me so they could sell
my land, I would have refused to leave, so that they could kill me and bury
me in my own land. That would have been better.
CASSANDRA HERRMAN: Many of the relocated communities could face endemic
hunger as early as next year, according to Human Rights Watch. Most are
still waiting for farms or seed.
More than 12 million Ethiopians are currently in need of food assistance.
The future for groups like the Anuak grows increasingly uncertain as the
global land rush continues, not just in Ethiopia, but in dozens of countries
across the African continent.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You can find the first two reports in this series at the Food
for 9 Billion website. There's a link to it on NewsHour.PBS.org.
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Received on Wed Feb 29 2012 - 11:01:39 EST