“Gambella has offered investors 1.1 million hectares, nearly a quarter of its best farmland, and 896 companies have come to the region in the last three years. They range from Saudi billionaire Al Amoudi, who is constructing a 20-mile canal to irrigate 10,000 hectares to grow rice, to Ethiopian businessmen who have plots of less than 200 hectares.
This month the concessions are being worked at a breakneck pace, with giant tractors and heavy machinery clearing trees, draining swamps and ploughing the land in time to catch the next growing season.
Forests across hundreds of square km are being clear-felled and burned to the dismay of locals and environmentalists concerned about the fate of the region’s rich wildlife.
Local government officers have denied claims that people are being forcibly moved to make way for foreign companies.
“This year we will relocate 15,000 people to give them better access to water, schools and transport. [But] it is a coincidence that the investors are coming at the same time as the villages are being relocated,” said Kassahun Zerrfu from Gambella’s department for investment.
“We are not relocating people to give land to the investors. The problem is there is no infrastructure where they have lived. It’s all voluntary.”
Under the government’s “villagisation” programme, three or four villages at a time are being moved closer to roads and services, but many people say they are not being compensated and are having to wait. “We were promised a school, a health clinic and fresh water eight months ago. We only have one water pump so far,” said Udul Ujulu, chief of Karmi village, a new village of 250 people nine miles outside Gambella town.”
Update 1: The Torygraph reported on this phenomena in 2009:
“Indian farming companies have bought hundreds of thousands of hectares in Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Senegal and Mozambique, where they are growing rice, sugar cane, maize and lentils for their own domestic market back in India.
Its government has given soft loans as aid to support the overseas ventures in what has been described as a challenge to China and Saudi Arabia in the new scramble for Africa. China, South Korea, and a several Arab countries have led the way in creating new African mega-farms to outsource domestic food production and use cheaper labour.
Critics have described the development as modern “piracy” and “land grabbing” from countries that have in the past been blighted by famine and severe food shortages.
South Korea has bought just under 700,000 hectares in Sudan, while Saudi Arabia has signed a deal for 500,000 hectares in Tanzania.”