Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Land grabs in Ethiopia

A chunk of land the size of Nebraska has been sold off in Ethiopia in recent years. The government there is leasing farm land to wealthier nations, who hope to use the land to help feed their own people.

Critics of the fast selling say that the land should be used to feed hungry Ethiopians, meanwhile those who apologize for the land grabs hope it will help feed a booming population world wide.

From the Washington Post comes this video that summaries the entire story.

Also from the Washington Post writer Stephanie McCrummen recieves arguments from both sides of the debate.

The scale and pace of the land scramble have alarmed policymakers and others concerned about the implications for food security in countries such as Ethiopia, where officials recently appealed for food aid for about 6 million people as drought devastates parts of East Africa. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is in the midst of a food security summit in Rome, where some of the 62 heads of state attending are to discuss a code of conduct to govern land deals, which are being struck with little public input.

"These contracts are pretty thin; no safeguards are being introduced," said David Hallam, a deputy director at the FAO. "You see statements from ministers where they're basically promising everything with no controls, no conditions."

The harshest critics of the practice conjure images of poor Africans starving as food is hauled off to rich countries. Some express concern that decades of industrial farming will leave good land spoiled even as local populations surge. And skeptics also say the political contexts cannot be ignored.

"We don't trust this government," said Merera Gudina, a leading opposition figure here who accuses Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of using the land policy to hold on to power. "We are afraid this government is buying diplomatic support by giving away land."

But many experts are cautiously hopeful, saying that big agribusiness could feed millions by industrializing agriculture in countries such as Ethiopia, where about 80 percent of its 75 million people are farmers who plow their fields with oxen.

"If these deals are negotiated well, I tell you, it will change the dynamics of the food economy in this country," said Mafa Chipeta, the FAO's representative in Ethiopia, dismissing the worst-case scenarios. "I can't believe Ethiopia or any other government would allow their country to be used like an empty womb. The human spirit would not allow it."

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