[Dehai-WN] PRI.org: In famine-stricken Ethiopia, a Saudi company leases land to grow and export rice

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Thu, 29 Dec 2011 21:48:21 +0100

In famine-stricken Ethiopia, a Saudi company leases land to grow and export

In famine-stricken Ethiopia, a Saudi company leases land to grow and export

Published 29 December, 2011 08:00:00 The World

Famine has swept through much of Ethiopia in the past year, but a new
project will see a Saudi Arabian country convert one of the most fertile
areas to produce rice for export. The idea is it's better to have people
employed and making money.

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Gambella in western Ethiopia is one of the most fertile places in the mostly
drought- and famine-stricken Eastern Africa country, with thick forests,
scorching heat and abundant rains.

But now Gambella, home to five rivers and a National Park, is also home to
large-scale agricultural investments. A Saudi billionaire has leased 25,000
acres from the Ethiopian government to grow rice and this summer planted its
first commercial crop. The company, Saudi Star, plans to expand that to
nearly 500,000 acres within 10 years.

Saudi Star plans to add hundreds of miles of irrigation canals and pipes to
bring water from the Alwero Dam to its thirsty rice crop. Ethiopians don't
typically grow or eat rice, so most of the crop will be exported to the
Middle East. But Muhammad Manzoor Khan, a Pakistani consultant for Saudi
Star, said the rice will still help Ethiopia feed its people.

(Photos: <http://photosbydallas.com/> Dallas McNamara)

"This kind of project can really bring a revolution in food production as
well as uplifting the social conditions of the people around," Khan said,
standing in front of rice paddies.

Ethiopia is a fast-developing nation, but it's struggling with severe
drought and skyrocketing food prices. The Ethiopian government estimates 4.5
million people in the country need emergency food aid.

In the past few years, Ethiopia has developed a comprehensive agricultural
plan that relies on foreign investment, and much-needed foreign currency to
move forward.

Saudi Star predicts its massive rice project will generate $1 billion in
revenue for Ethiopia and create tens of thousands of jobs. The Ministry of
Agriculture's Esayas Kebede said that means increased food security for
Ethiopians - if people have jobs they can buy food, even if there is a

"If you increase the purchasing power of the people, the people can easily
get their own food by their own cash," Kebede said.

But many of the local Anuak tribe say the rice farm is not providing jobs
for their people. They worry the rice will dry up the water they rely on for
their own farming and fishing. And they say, after years of hostility from
the government, they are now being forced off their land to make way for

One local woman from the Anuak tribe said the government told them they're
moving them to a better place where they can get government assistance.

"There are no farms here and no food. Now we're living like refugees in our
own country," she said.

The Ethiopian government admits it moved people from rural settlements to
villages, but not because of the Saudi Star project, they say. Kebede said
it was to provide them with better services and aid. According to Human
Rights Watch, however, many of Anuak are being relocated to parts of
Gambella that already have insufficient food for the local population.

"This large scale investment program has nothing to do with food security
concerns in the country," said Desalegn Rahmeto, a senior research fellow at
the Forum for Social Studies in Addis Ababa. "If you export all the food
items and earn foreign currency, but people in the communities don't have
access to food, that is counter productive. And this is happening, this is
not hypothetical situation, this is actually happening."


rt/> "PRI's "The World" is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering
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