by Billie O'Kadameri
Article published on the 2009-11-18 Latest update 2009-12-04 15:51 TU
Drought and food insecurity is blamed on the effects of climate change.
And environmentalists and agricultural policy planners fear the leasing of huge tracts of land to private developers in some countries could harm the environment.
They are concerned that land which is already under strain from years of degradation will suffer more.
They say the loss of trees in particular has caused an imbalance in the ecosystem, resulting in regular drought and famine.
The government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has embarked on a controversial policy of leasing huge amount of land to foreign private investors in an attempt to boost agricultural production for the local market and for export.
Ethiopia has very low per capita electricity coverage. So nearly 85 per cent of its rural population relies on wood fuel for domestic energy for cooking, according to Dr Gemedo Dalle, Head of Forest Genetic Resources Department at the Ethiopian Institute for Biodiversity and Conservation in Addis Ababa.
This already constitutes an emerging crisis for the government and policy planners. Yet more land tree cover will be under pressure as large-scale land investors flock to Ethiopia taking advantage of the country’s land policy that makes it easy to acquire huge land areas.
Indian land entrepreneur Ramakrishna Karuturi, who has leased nearly 765,000 hectares in Ethiopia, in his office in Addis Ababa, October 2009.
(Photo: Billie O'Kadameri/RFI)
The world should applaud instead of vilifying efforts by people like him, he says.
“When you look at the last ten years of world food production vis-à-vis consumption, I think over six of those ten years, we in the world have eaten more than we produced," he told RFI. "And world food stocks are at a debilitatingly low 67-day stock - 67 days of food is disastrous and I don’t think in the history of mankind, the world has ever come this close”.
Professor Kwadwo Asenso-Okyere, Director of the Addis Ababa-based Knowledge, Capacity and Innovation Division of the International Food Policy Research Institute opposes the leasing of huge tracts of land to foreign investors.
“If you are acquiring, say, hundreds of thousands of hectares of land and you clear all of this land, the impact on the environment is very severe, because you are going to cut all the trees," he says.
"Sometimes they don't grow food, sometimes it is for biofuel plants and other things so it is not going to improve the food security of the people. Sometimes they even cultivate food but the food is shipped completely out.”
But Karuturi rejects the claims that his investment will not address food security problems in Africa.
“Africa is the world’s largest market for food. Africa imports 16-billion-dollars worth of food every year. Out of 25 million tonnes of rice that is traded globally per year, ten million tonnes is imported by Africa. Of course I will sell my food in Africa because Africa is the best place to sell food [...] people are acutely short of food here.”
The Ethiopian government insists that its policy will seek to balance investment in agriculture, with a strict regime for protecting the environment.
Dr Abera Deressa, Ethiopia’s Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Addis Ababa, October 2009
(Photo: Billie O'Kadameri/RFI)
“They cannot harm the environment," says Ethiopia's Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development Abera Deressa. "We are very clear on this. We in the Ministry of Agriculture are developing an environmental code of practice for the private sector. [...] We are also advising them not to cut trees, they have to manage soil erosion."
The global climate change crisis is because of poor management of the environment in developing countries and CO2 emissions by developed countries through industrialisation process, the minister points out.
"But but here in Africa, in our country, pollution of the environment is by poor management of agricultural practices - deforestation, degradation, improper land management. These are the factors that we have to control”.