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February 01, 2012

Is Indian investment in Ethiopian farms a 'land grab?'

When an Indian company invests hundreds of millions of dollars in Ethiopian commercial farming, is it boosting Ethiopia's food reserves and modernizing agricultural practices? Or is it grabbing land and displacing Ethiopia's poorest citizens?

The debate over Indian-owned Karuturi Global's investments in Ethiopia's Gambella region may sound extreme, but it is representative of the strong emotions one finds across the developing world about the subject of agricultural investment.

In Ethiopia – where critics are aghast at the government for inviting foreign capitalists to grow cash crops for export while millions still rely on handouts – the rancor is hindering much-needed constructive discussion on how to improve a sector of the economy that employs most of the population.

Much coverage of this debate tends to the sensational. A piece by the Guardian, for instance, claimed that there was evidence of displacement because of Karuturi’s rice, palm oil, sugar and cereals operations, but none was provided.

Huffington Post columnist Alemayehu G. Mariam – a vociferous US-based critic of the Ethiopian government – re-reported Karuturi's farm manager's comment that the company had not seen the land before renting it. Managing Director Sai Ramakrishna Karuturi begs to differ. "I stayed in Gambella for 45 days researching the area before narrowing down on the location," he responds.

The tone of these types of critiques – portraying deals merely as agro-imperialism facilitated by a bungling state – enrage officials, sidelining crucial issues and further reducing the already slim chances of engaging the government.

..more...Christain Science Monitor

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