15 06 2012


In history some things never change…

The term ‘land grabbing’ immediately comes to mind when one thinks of the present and the future of Africa. The term will be heard more often from now on.  From ‘land grabbing’ one would understand “taking away, stealing land or an entire country belonging to someone else”. It is the correct description of what is today going on in Africa.

Africa has always had to cope with drought and famine. Problems arising from harsh natural conditions have always been at the root of mass deaths. In the past Africa has never been free from conflict, wars and massacres. In the Africans’ harsh existence, these problems have always had their place. But now, more has been added to them.

Africa has become a growing market. International investors are more and more interested in the continent with each passing day. African countries are more prominent within the international community compared to the past. They have taken great steps over structural reforms and integration with the world economy, especially in the field of agriculture. But is this all good? The Economist has reported that during the last decade six out of the ten most rapidly growing economies in the world were sub-Saharan countries. This state of affairs and rising interest does not save Africans from starving to death. Africa today experiences hunger and malnutrition among other problems. There is also the difficulty of access to food. Difficulty of access to food’ means that while food stocks exist, they are unreachable by people.

For example, Ethiopia, which has a landmass of 1,104,300 square kilometres has difficulty feeding its estimated population of 81 million people. 49 percent of the population suffer chronic malnutrition. Even in good years with a rich harvest, millions of people survive thanks to food aid. Yet Ethiopia is an agricultural country. Agriculture makes up 50 percent of its GDP.  90 percent of its exports are agricultural goods. 80 percent of all employment in the country is in the field of agriculture. One should note that only 20 percent of arable land in Ethiopia is used in agriculture.

Ethiopia is also challenged by heavy erosion due to successive periods of drought and flooding and deforestation. Each year, around two million people face death both due to falling coffee prices and the rate of drought having increased from once in every thirty years to once in every  four. Only half of the population have access to clean water. Almost half of Ethiopian children between the ages of five and 14 work. The number of children living on the streets is estimated in the hundreds of thousands.

Agricultural infrastructure is almost non-existent in Ethiopia. For example, the irrigation system is very weak. There is only the rain, that is used for irrigation in the country at large. Yet in Ethiopia which deals with such heavy problems, in the Rift Valley which is only a few hundred kilometres away from Addis Ababa with its hundreds of thousands of homeless children many types of fruit and vegetables are being raised in special glass tunnels in hi-tech greenhouses. Not for the people of Ethiopia though, but for markets in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Dubai where they will appear less than 24 hours after having been picked.

For example the Dutch-Spanish Jittu Horticulture Plc firm has been raising agricultural goods for rich Gulf countries through hi-tech means in Ethiopia since 2007. Many other international firms, especially from India, also compete in the same market. Around one million hectares of land are used in the East African country for this purpose. It is estimated that the size of land used in this way will rise to around three million hectares within a few years. The low costs and high profitability to be found in the region is very attractive for firms. The rising price of food only serves to increase the attraction.

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