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New threats to both conservation and indigenous groups in Southwest Ethiopia.

From Gambella Zone to South Omo Zone, Indian, Italian, Malaysian, Saudi and Korean companies are clearing land and pushing aside indigenous farmers and pastoralists

The Omo National Park will lose more than 80,000 hectares of land and the Mago National Park 33,000 hectares to the plantations. The Lower Omo Valley was declared an UNESCO World Heritage site in 1980.

Southwest Ethiopia is experiencing rapid development of large-scale plantations by both foreign investors and state-run agriculture. From Gambella Zone to South Omo Zone, Indian, Italian, Malaysian, Saudi and Korean companies are clearing land and pushing aside indigenous farmers and pastoralists to grow rice, sugarcane, seed oils, palm oil for biofuels, and cotton.

On January 25th, during the celebration of Ethiopia’s 13th Annual Pastoralist day, the Prime Minister Meles Zenawi announced “150,000 hectare sugarcane development” of land in the South Omo.  He also announced that hundreds of thousands of “other Ethiopians” would gain employment from these plantations. These will be workers brought from other regions of Ethiopia.  Now that the maps of the area have come to light, more than 245,000 hectares of local community land as well as National Park land will be developed for state-run sugarcane plantations or leased out to foreign investors for agri-business schemes.  More than 400 km of irrigation canals will be built to carry water from the Omo River to these plantations. This is slated for completion within a five-year time period. The Gibe 3 dam on the Omo River will eliminate the annual flood, making this irrigation scheme possible. 

Portions of the land of six traditional ethnic groups in Ethiopia, the Karo, Nyangatom, Kwegu, Suri, Mursi and Bodi will be developed into sugarcane plantations along with six processing factories. The Omo National Park will lose more than 80,000 hectares of land and the Mago National Park 33,000 hectares to the plantations. The Lower Omo Valley was declared an UNESCO World Heritage site in 1980. According to UNESCO “it is unlike any other place on Earth in that so many different types of people have inhabited such a small area of land over many millennia” and “it was the crossroads of a wide assortment of cultures where early humans of many different ethnicities passed”.  It is probably the oldest human-occupied landscape in the world. UNESCO also acknowledges the Lower Omo Valley and its National Parks “are home to an amazing range of wildlife.” In UNESCO’s June 2011 report it expressed “its utmost concern about the proposed construction of the GIBE III dam on the Omo River in Ethiopia and its likely impacts on Lake Turkana” urging a halt in the dam’s construction and “Expresses its concern about the … large-scale irrigation plans on the property’s Outstanding Universal Value”.

Some community members were taken by the government to see other plantations in the surrounding area, as a form of consultation. Many of these people thought the plantations would be to their benefit because they were not told that tens of thousands of workers would be brought to the area to work on these farms. This continues the long history, dating back to the 19th century, of resettling outsiders on Ethiopia’s southerly borders.   

This is a shortened and edited version of the original submission withdrawn at the request of the author.

Useful references for those interested in pursuing this topic:

 Meles Zenawi’s January 25th, 2010 speech translated in English: http://www.mursi.org/pdf/Meles%20Jinka%20speech.pdf

The downstream impact, David Turton:

http://www.mursi.org/pdf/RAS%20Talk%20-%20Copy.pdf

Impact assessment on Lake Turkana, Sean Avery: http://www.mursi.org/pdf/Avery%20final%20report.pdf

USAID Ethiopia trip report:

http://www.mursi.org/pdf/USAID%20Jan%202009.pdf

USAID Kenya trip report:

 http://www.mursi.org/pdf/USAID%20July%202010.pdf

Lower Valley of the Omo UNESCO World Heritage Site description:

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/17

UNESCO’s decision on the Gibe 3 dam (pg.48):

http://whc.unesco.org/archive/2011/whc11-35com-20e.pdf

International Rivers report on the UNESCO decision:

http://www.internationalrivers.org/en/node/6772

Oakland Institute report Understanding Land Investment Deals in Africa: Ethiopia:

http://media.oaklandinstitute.org/sites/oaklandinstitute.org/files/OI_Ethiopa_Land_Investment_report.pdf

A variety of relevant media can be found at this Oakland Institute site:

http://media.oaklandinstitute.org/land-deals-africa/ethiopia

Elias. E. & F. Abdi (2010) Putting pastoralists on the policy agenda: Land alienation in southern Ethiopia. Gatekeeper Series, IIED

Gebre, A. (2001) Pastoralism Under Pressure: Land alienation and pastoral transformation among the Karrayyu of Eastern Ethiopia, 1941 to the present. Maastricht: Shaker

Jacobs, M. J. & C. A. Schloeder (1997) The Awash National Park Management Plan, 1993 - 1997. Prepared by The Wildlife Conservation Society International and The Ethiopia Wildlife Conservation Organization, Ministry of Natural Resources Development and Environmental Protections. Addis Ababa: Ethiopia

Kloos, H., W. Legesse, S. McFeeters & D. Turton (2010) ‘Problems for Pastoralists in the Lowlands: River Basin Development in the Awash and Omo Valleys’ in H. Kloos and W. Legesse (Eds.) Water Resource Management in Ethiopia: Implications for the Nile Basin. New York

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