There is something in common between Karuturi Global, a pioneer worldwide in production of roses, Emami Biotech, a part of Kolkata-based Emami group, the conglomerate Shapoorji Pallonji, and another eight other Indian companies.
According to a recent report by a US-based policy think tank, these Indian enterprises are on a land grab spree in Ethiopia and have already acquired 600,000 hectares of land (mostly on lease) in past few years.
These enterprises plan to yield edible oil, cereals, pulses, rice, soya bean and cotton from these lands.
In a meet in the capital last week, a non-government organisation from Ethiopia talked about the exploitation, displacement and hardships the country’s population is undergoing, as their lands are either given away or leased at throwaway prices to foreign companies - a majority of which are Indian.
The meet was attended by representatives from the US-based think tank Oakland Institute, former civil servants, well-known environment and development activist Ashish Kothari, and journalists.
As per the report from Oakland Institute, Karuturi Golbal has acquired land at Rs 59 per hectare, and plans to grow palm oil, cereals and pulses.
Similarly, Emami Biotech plans to yield Jatropha and edible oil seeds on the 100,000 hectares it has acquired; Ruchi Soya plans to yield soya bean on the 25,000 ha it has leased for 25 years, and Whitefield Cotton Farm and Vedanta Harvests plans to grow cotton and tea respectively.
Over the years, like many other African countries in the sub-Sahara region, Ethiopia too has come to become a popular destination for agriculture investments.
According to estimates, nearly 3,619,509 ha of lands were granted to domestic and foreign investors combined for agricultural purposes from 2008-11.
It is fertile land, rich with natural resources, water and forests, argues Obang Metho, executive director at Solidarity Movement of New Ethiopia, the NGO visiting the capital. He was accompanied by his associate Nyikaw Ochalla.
Five districts in Ethiopia have witnessed huge investments in the agriculture sector recently. Of these, Indian enterprises have acquired lands mainly in Gambella and Afar regions.
“I know it is an Ethiopian problem,” Obang Metho said, as a matter of fact. “But the indigenous people of Ethiopia know that it is an Indian company, because it carries an Indian name.”
Both the speakers from Ethiopia said that they understood that the ruling government of Ethiopia took away lands from locals, and consequently prevented them from harvesting their lands. This not only denied them from raising their food resources and livelihood but also displaced them.
The International Food Policy Research Institute’s Global hunger Index placed Ethiopia at No. 5 in the list of the world’s ‘hungriest nations’ in 2012.
‘Over 10 percent of the population is chronically hungry,’ the report had stated. Almost 80 percent of its local population depends on agriculture for food and livelihood.
A report compiled by Indian Social Action Forum on ‘India’s role in the New Global Farmland grab’ cited that though Karuturi had promised ‘to bring health clinics, clean water and other benefits to the people, but there is no sign of it according to the local people.’
Karuturi though is not the only Indian enterprise to have failed its promises; the report cites several other glaring examples.
Also present at the meet, noted environment and development activist Ashish Kothari puts enterprises actions into perspective. He observed that aspiring for higher economic growth and expecting this to automatically help the social well being of a population is a faulty assumption.
He argued, “It is automatically assumed that if there is 8 or 9 percent economic growth, people would be pulled out of poverty, which is absolutely false.”
“India and China are becoming the new colonisers because of growth fetish,” Kothari summarised.
Metho explained why he and his compatriot had come to the capital. “We are asking you not to become an extension of this regime.”
At the end, like his colleague, Ochalla too pointed, “It is the name of India. We want the Indian government to make sure that its name is not tarnished because of vested interests."