In my recent reply to David Attenborough‘s claim that hunger in Ethiopia is caused by overpopulation, I pointed out that he had totally ignored the forced dispossession of peasant farmers and the sale of huge tracts fertile land to foreign investors who grow export crops.
For more on this horrendous situation, read Unheard Voices: The Human Rights Impact of Land Investments on Indigenous Communities in Gambella, a new report from the Oakland Institute.
From the introduction …
“Millions of acres of Ethiopia’s most fertile land are being made available to investors, often in long-term leases and at give-away prices. Although proponents of these investments call them ‘win-win’ deals, the reality proves much different.
“To make way for agricultural investment, and through its so-called villagization program, the Ethiopian government has forcibly displaced hundreds of thousands of indigenous people from their lands.
“This relocation process has destroyed livelihoods. It has rendered small-scale farmers and pastoralist communities dependent on food aid and fearful for their own survival.
“Ethiopian officials have also beaten, arrested, and intimidated individuals who have refused to comply with relocation policies.
“These actions are in direct contravention of Ethiopia’s obligations under international human rights law. …
“The struggle of the Anuak in Gambella is emblematic of the struggles of other communities in Ethiopia that are being forcibly displaced to make way for large scale land investors.”
The authors describe how this process deprives the dispossessed of food:
“By moving indigenous populations away from valuable farming, forest, and water resources, the Ethiopian government’s villagization program has stripped indigenous populations of their sources of livelihood and has exposed them to food insecurity. According to Human Rights Watch, the government has resettled indigenous populations during the harvest season, preventing them from harvesting their crops—and instead, forcing them to leave their crops behind.”
And they quote Obang Metho, Executive Director of the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia:
“[The Anuak] used to live on riverbanks, but they are now in a place where there is no river. They are taken far away from fish, and they can’t fish at all. Land is their identity—it is what they breathe, and they’re taken away from that. Even now, some people are so stressed. They sit in camp and do nothing. Their way of living and their existence has been taken from them. … Before, the people had food, but now they are pushed to depend on food aid.”
The report’s recommendations are far from revolutionary, but the story it tells is a powerful refutation of the crude populationism that Attenborough and others claim explains African poverty.
Download the full report here. (pdf 1.6 Mb)