Maybe all of the books we had to read in high school about colonization jaded me. I just read an article from the Guardian about how the Ethiopian government is leasing out land to foreign (and local) investors to harvest. The land is currently idle and parts of it require tractors to properly cultivate and there are very few tractors now in Ethiopian.
Ethiopian is currently a food-insecure country. They import most of their food and they have very fertile soil. The plan is being sold as a great way for Ethiopia to produce more crops. The crops would decrease Ethiopia’s dependence on imports in bring money to the country, by selling the excess as exports. This process will take time, because the transportation foundation in Africa is very poor and moving product around is extremely expense.
According to the Guardian, “the move is part of a wider trend that has seen other African and Asian countries seek to take advantage of high global demand and the cost of crops by offering agricultural land to foreign companies, private equity funds and governments, particularly those of import-dependent Gulf countries.”
I think the opportunity to make Ethiopia a food-secure country is wonderful. However, I am extremely skeptical of the way the government and foreign companies are going about doing it. Who wants another banana republic? The cheap labor and cheap land I worry that the profits will not trickle down to the farmers and workers that need it the most. It seems like any jobs are better than no jobs, but rarely does that turn out to be true.
I believe that the best option would be to educate local citizens on how to become farmers. Teach them to manage a farm and run a company. Give them back the land that was nationalized in the 1970s by the government and maybe encourage foreign companies to invest in these small projects.
There is a chance that even local farmers could turn out to be corrupt or that the plan the government has set forth will not have terrible long term ramifications for the citizens of Ethiopia. I can’t see into the future nor can I control greed. I just think we need to start by educating the locals not making them cheap farm labor.
And that is my idealist ramble about cheap farm land in Ethiopia.