Land deals in Ethiopia endanger pastoral livelihoods

In its Land, Investment and Rights Series, IIED reports on Large-scale land deals in Ethiopia (2014, 56 pp). As the Ethiopian Government has leased at least 1 million ha of land for agricultural investments in 2005–12, Ethiopia is an important case study in the international debate on large-scale land deals. This report brings the findings of a systematic inventory of land deals in Ethiopia, describing their scale, drivers, trends and key features as well as findings about the early outcomes of the deals.

The Ethiopian Government has strategically promoted land deals for plantation agriculture, as part of their 5-year Growth and Transformation Plan. This envisages a food-secure Ethiopia by 2025. As the state rather than individuals or communities owns the land, the government can easily allocate land to investors. This has been happening rapidly, with limited scrutiny of investors and, until recently, no environmental impact assessment. Only a small amount of allocated land has been developed, because of lack of infrastructure in investment areas, high costs of land development, poor technical and financial capacity of investors, insecurity in some areas and deliberate abuse of land-lease agreements.

Most land has been allocated in Benishangul-Gumuz, Gambella and lowland parts of the Southern Region, in areas that were not intensively cultivated or were part of agropastoral or pastoral systems. Where local people lose access to resources important for their livelihood, e.g. rangeland and water resources, they are at risk of greater food insecurity. These local-level impacts are not well documented in Ethiopia, partly due to the political sensitivities of doing such research.

More studies are needed to establish the economic returns of large-scale land deals for plantation agriculture compared to other land-use systems. Pastoralism may generate better economic returns than large-scale commercial farms in some drylands, but it may be more difficult for the state to take a share of pastoralist revenue flows, compared to income from large farms. For a few investments, jobs have been created but are often taken by workers from outside the area rather than local people. The cultural difference between a pastoralist lifestyle and wage labour on a plantation should not be underestimated, and many pastoralists may well resist the change in identity required.

Posted on 6 June 2014 in Pastoralism & Natural Resources, Pastoralist Livelihoods & Nutrition, Value of Pastoralism