Myra Posluschny-Treuner: Land grabbing or an essential move towards development? A case study of Ethiopia

PhD-project, Political Science, University of Basel

Ethiopia, one of the poorest countries in the world and heavily dependent on international food aid, is identified as being one of the main targeted countries for land grabbing. While the Ethiopian government sees land investment as an essential part of their development strategy, international actors accuse land investors to trigger displacement of local people and increase food insecurity. This PhD research aims to contribute to a clearer and profound understanding of large-scale land acquisitions in Ethiopia.

Background

Based on a growing global awareness of climate change and its consequences, the continuously rising food prices as well as the industrialized and economically fastdeveloping countries aim to achieve more energy security through biofuels, a variety of foreign and domestic investors are encouraged to acquire vast areas of agricultural land in the global South. In that regard, Ethiopia seems to be particularly suitable due to its large "unused" affordable fertile land. The Ethiopian government fosters the shift to large-scale agriculture as an essential basis for agricultural modernization and hence, the improvement of agricultural productivity which shall lead to increased food production and economic growth. According to the findings of the Oakland Institute in 2011 at least 3.6 million ha land has been transferred to investors in different parts of the country. However, pursued research indicates that first effects of large-scale land investments show adverse consequences for the environment and local population. It has been reported that forest degradation, displacement of local populations, expropriation of land, increasing local food insecurity and increasing poverty could be attributed to large-scale land investments. Moreover, those effects may lead to local conflicts which again might trigger political instability.

Guiding research questions

The overall research question of this PhD study is "What are the large-scale land investment impacts on smallholders and the rural population in Ethiopia? To answer this broader question, several sub-questions will be addressed: 1. How do international and national policy processes influence large-scale land investment in Ethiopia? 2. Who benefits and who suffers from such large-scale land investment in terms of the Ethiopian government, investors, smallholders and the rural population? 3. How effectively do rural communities cope with land investment-related challenges? developing countries aim to achieve more energy security through biofuels, a variety of foreign and domestic investors are encouraged to acquire vast areas of agricultural land in the global South. In that regard, Ethiopia seems to be particularly suitable due to its large "unused" affordable fertile land. The Ethiopian government fosters the shift to large-scale agriculture as an essential basis for agricultural modernization and hence, the improvement of agricultural productivity which shall lead to increased food production and economic growth. According to the findings of the Oakland Institute in 2011 at least 3.6 million ha land has been transferred to investors in different parts of the country. However, pursued research indicates that first effects of large-scale land investments show adverse consequences for the environment and local population. It has been reported that forest degradation, displacement of local populations, expropriation of land, increasing local food insecurity and increasing poverty could be attributed to large-scale land investments. Moreover, those effects may lead to local conflicts which again might trigger political instability.

Objectives

Objective of this PhD research is to analyze impacts of large-scale land investment on smallholders and the rural population in Ethiopia, taking socio-economic effects into account, investigate political power and policies as well as institutional dynamics, map and analyze perceptions of all stakeholders, highlight potential and existing conflicts and reflect on aspects of gender and ethnicity and their influence.

Provisional results

Although large-scale agricultural land investment is strongly promoted by the Ethiopian government, administrative procedures for investors are very time-consuming and lack transparency. Furthermore, the performance of private commercial farms in Ethiopia is very slow. This is mainly due to labor shortage or a shortage of the investor’s capital. Moreover, no direct link between displacement of rural populations and large-scale land investment could yet be identified. The Ethiopian government seems to take the resistance of people living in identified investment areas into consideration. Additionally, land rent contractual agreements oblige the investor to provide job opportunities to the people residing in the investment area. However, extremely low wages and missing safety regulations cause dissatisfaction among workers.