For centuries, farmers like Berhanu Gudina have tended tiny plots of maize, wheat, and barley amid the lush green plains of Ethiopia’s central lowlands. But now, Mr. Gudina says he sees people from India and China farming these lands. He says before, it was just locals. “What do they want here?,” he asks. “To steal everything? Our government is selling our country to the Asians so they can make money for themselves.”
Ethiopia is not the only East African country negotiating land deals. And India and China are not the only countries ones vying for land in East Africa. Last month, the first Saudi-East African Economic Forum was held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital city. Officials and entrepreneurs from Saudi Arabia met with heads of state from seven East African countries to discuss increased economic cooperation.
Saudi Arabia and other food-importing countries have been eyeing East Africa because the region offers rich agricultural land, cheap labour, and a favourable agricultural climate. These foreign countries can produce food to export back to their homelands. At the same time, they maintain that they are increasing food security for local populations.
Eseyas Kebede is head of the Agricultural Investment Agency in Ethiopia. He suggests that “small-scale farmers are not producing the quality they should, because they don’t have the technology.” Because of this analysis, the Agricultural Investment Agency is talking about offering foreign farmers three million hectares of Ethiopian land over the next two years.
The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, or AFSA, disagrees. AFSA represents smallholder farmers, pastoralists, hunters and gatherers, and indigenous people across Africa. They urge African leaders to reject what they call “the corporate takeover of African land and food production systems.” AFSA claims that African governments are not doing enough to protect the food sovereignty, biodiversity, and livelihoods of its peoples.
There is a concern that the large-scale farming practices typically pursued by foreign land investors will not only diminish local food security, but also increase carbon emissions, driving climate change. AFSA is also concerned that some proposals to reduce climate change could encourage more land grabbing and further erode African food sovereignty. These include: carbon trading, biofuels, and biochar. AFSA called for real action toward prioritizing small-scale agriculture at the climate change talks in Copenhagen, Denmark, this week.