Though I haven’t seen, I assume that the newly implemented ‘land for Grabbers’ policy is an extension of Ethiopia’s a combined Investment policy, agriculture-led industrial development policy and export-oriented trade and industrial policy. As such, there is no problem with providing arable lands to foreign investors per say. However, concerns come from the perception that ‘countries have been on a quest for the ultimate ‘breadbasket’ of grains to feed their growing population and to combat world wide rising food prices’.
It has been a longtime phenomenon for the uninformed Ethiopian farmers to be snatched of their land/produces either directly or indirectly using force, different policies and tactics that favor the protected ruling classes and the well-connected few. This and other factors left the primitive Ethiopian economy as ‘backwardly demonetized subsistent economy’.
In addition to that the poor and unfortunate Ethiopians has been suffering from chronic food insecurity and subsequent famine for centuries. Under such circumstances insuring food security should have been the government’s number one priority – had it been a government by and for the people. To do so, the government may attract foreign direct investment (FDI) by providing attractive incentives as long as the foreign land grabs lead ultimately to the country’s overall development. For so long, how such policies are implemented, the quality, quantity and price of land allotted for this purpose and other related pertinent questions puts the TPLF/EPRDF policy under a big question mark.
It is to be remembered that recently, an unidentified TPLF official passed simple but crucial out of mandate directive on the most critical Ethio-Eritrea issue saying ‘previously deported Eritreans can reclaim their property and other rights’ This highly sensitive issue actually deserves, at least, the hottest discussion and debate by major law making bodies. This implies that the fundamental land for grab policy deserves the attention of the country’s or regional law makers from the very beginning.
In this regard, the following six important points that should be given due consideration:
- Land for Grab Policy should be enacted as a law.
- Agricultural Ethiopia is following export promotion without first achieving a food security. This has already exposed the country to a high level of inflation and famine. Export promotion strategy fundamentally contradicts the policy of food self-sufficiency. If the Land for Grabbers policy is intended for export purpose, it would further exacerbate the country’s food insecurity rather than solving the problem.
- Providing virgin lands at cheapest prices for long term lease definitely has an opportunity cost to the country as the same land cannot be utilized effectively at a later time. Most of all priority should be given to local investors or joint venture.
- Indigenous People’s rights should be respected due to environmental concerns emanating from deforestation, effects of chemicals used to develop the land, dislocation, and its future impact on grazing lands. Otherwise the risky investment would end up in unexpected catastrophe.
- When formulating this kind of major policy, it should be free from any form of corruption. If the deals made by the TPLF is a bribe for officials or made in exchange for some diplomatic and domestic political support or to get technology to suppress dissent, it would definitely have bad consequences.
- And finally, based on media reports, it seems that the allotted lands around Bako area is on irrigable virgin land stretching down the Nile basin alongside Rivers Anger and River Mugher. So it is imperative to take the long-run strategic implication of Nile politics in advance.
The bottom line is that Land for Grabbers Policy should be handled cautiously and seriously. Better land should first be given to local investors as it would have long-term consequences. When giving such fertile lands to foreigners, the government has the obligation to make sure that local people are the beneficiaries of the produces so that it would help in addressing the country’s food insecurity.
If the main produce is going to be only for export consumption or solely for export promotion strategy with the aim of tackling grabber countries rising food prices, the policy would definitely have a huge opportunity cost for the country as a whole and the local people in particular. Therefore, the current policy, as it is, amounts to a land confiscation that would affect the country for generations to come.