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Little Compassion for Ethiopian Farmers (Part -2) – Geletaw Zeleke

Geletaw Zeleke
The Ethiopian government has been claiming double digit growth for the past more than half a decade. According to the government, Ethiopia’s economy is growing at a rate of 11% which puts it at the top of rapidly growing countries around the world. By comparison this rate of growth would put Ethiopia along side of the tiger countries. Economic experts say that if there is an overall 11% rate of growth then, there should be an income increment of eight percent. Therefore, Ethiopian farmers, civil servants and traders should have been enjoying an eight percent increase in their income throughout the past decade.

In my previous article I tried to show, empirically, how the income of the Ethiopian civil servant has declined over the last 20 years. Let alone never experiencing an eight percent income increment their income in terms of dollars together with the surge of inflation shows a shocking loss to their economic empowerment. When we take a look at farmers’ lives we see the real face of Ethiopia’s multidimensional poverty. In fact the life of farmers is much worse and more complicated than that of civil servants.

In this continued short article let’s discuss some of the challenges of Ethiopian farmers from the following points of view.

1) Absurd land policy and land grab
2) Knowing and maximizing the potential of agricultural products
3) Social justice and human rights

Land Policy and Land Grab

First of all, no one is against investments. Investment in all sectors including agriculture is the job of responsible governments. No one country could grow by closing its doors to foreign investors. The fundamental difference of agricultural investments and land grab, however, is that Foreign Investment, in a sense, is a bridge of solidarity of nations based on mutual respect and benefits. Whereas, land grab, in a sense, is a form of disrespect toward the counter nation and it is also a systematic invasion of one’s sovereignty in the 21st century. Foreign trade and investment must be shaped by the principles of solidarity, compassion and responsibility.

The Ethiopian government appears to draw pleasure from land grab in place of encouraging and supporting Ethiopian farmers themselves. A government who claims to believe in agricultural development leading the industry (ADLI) is supposed to work to transfer one hectare hold farms to medium and large scale farms. Otherwise, how can farmers lead the country’s economy? Farmers who have 6 family members on average and hold one hectare of land are not be able to feed themselves as we have seen. Year to year they seek aid especially in the months of June, July, August, September and October.
Ethiopian has abundant virgin lands. According to Rene Lefort, Ethiopia has a projected figure of 7 million hectares available for 2015. The saddening reality, however, is that poor Ethiopian farmers are concentrated on 12 million hectares where they struggle for survival while the vast areas of arable land for sale are out of their reach.

The problem of land grab goes beyond the immediate issues of economic inequalities. In Ethiopia for example land grabbers can get a lease of up to 99 years. The problem with this is that cultivation of that land can ultimately fall down the water table of the land. The main land grabbers of Ethiopia are Chinese, Indian and Saudi Arabian. All of these investors came to Ethiopia to buy land not only because they have a shortage of land but rather because their water tables are failing due to over pumping. One of their main concern is not a one or two time profit but indirectly preserving their water table for the next generation

The question remains of why the government sells its lands while millions of farmers are starving? What is the profit for the government? Instead of resettling Ethiopian farmers the government again seems so excited to sell its land for almost nothing. One of the incentives for land grab is in fact to get support from abroad. Those benefactors who get land for nothing will always support the government to their full capacity. So the profit of the government from land grab is not the small money that it earns from the lease but is the long term benefit of the relationship to guarantee its control.

No matter how much the Ethiopian farmers citizenship rights are violated, no matter how much the small holder gets in trouble, no matter how much the water table will fall the EPRDF will never worry about these things. They always look for opportunities to prolong their power. Nowadays Ethiopian arable land will be for sale to become an instrument to prolong the agony of Ethiopian farmers.
Knowing and maximizing the potential of agricultural products
Another problem for Ethiopian farmers is that they do not know the full potentials of their agricultural products. In 2010 I had the chance to participate in the 21st Asian Friendship Society Annual Conference in Osaka, Japan. There I met a man from Japan who I asked how many things are made from rice in Japan. After he thought for a while he listed a number of remarkable and unexpected products. The Japanese use rice to cake, many kinds of breads, juice, soup, pasta, macaroni, pizza, rice cheese, rice milk, cleansing cream, lotions, soaps, facial masks, alcohol and more. The Japanese see the potential of rice and use it for the purpose of what they want. After hearing what that man told me I thought of fenugreek, adenguware, the pea-like vegetable shimbra ሽንብራ, guwaya ጓያ and sinafich ስናፍጭ. In Ethiopia about 146 types of crops grow. This puts Ethiopia at the top of countries in the world with the potential to grow many kinds of crops. I was wondering what are the potentials of some of the Ethiopian plants. What is there inside the pea-like vegetable ሽንብራ? Can it be soap? Can it be lotion? Can it be a facial mask? Can it be shampoo? What is the potential of Fenugreek? Can it be cheese? Can it be milk? Emphasis on food engineering will help to know and use our products in optimizing ways. The potential of the variety of Ethiopian soil for agriculture and the potential of Ethiopian unique cereals must be known in order to eliminate hunger from Ethiopia. Self-reliance can be achieved through knowledge about our products potentials.

The Ethiopia farmers are very hard working people some research shows that Ethiopian women farmers work 18 hours per day but, the problem is that they do not have conventional ways for production. The responsibility rests on the shoulders of the government but the government does not concern itself with educating farmers.

In the 1970’s in Ethiopia basic education programs were a good example for African countries. Adult farmers were starting to write their names and they could even do basic mathematics for the first time in their lives. Unfortunately, this and other such programs did not continue with the same passion when the current regime came to power. If such programs did continue at the same rate of success after 20 years today’s middle aged farmers would be better prepare. They could easily adapt technologies to solve their immediate environmental problems; they could improve their food culture and grow more vegetables; they could improve their knowledge and attitude towards their internal and external environments. Unfortunately, the current literacy rate remains at 35.9% which is one of the lowest rates in the world.

Social justice and human rights

About eight years ago an Addis Ababa Education Bureau official held a meeting with Addis Ababa school directors at which I was in attendance. During that time he read a comparative study of Ethiopian current development at the time. According to the research presented on average Ethiopian farmers had to walk 6 hours to get to a main road, and that in all sectors access to education, health and infrastructure is behind that of neighboring countries. According to his presentation if we continue to progress at the same rate of the last 10 years we will need 30, 40, 50 or 60 years to catch up to neighboring countries like Sudan and Kenya. So, the current generation can not see Ethiopia reach the level of development of today’s neighboring Kenya and Sudan in their life span. The current per capita income, which is an estimated 350USD does not represents the vast majority of farmers in Ethiopia since economic disparity is very high.

Taking a look clean water supply farmers are the most neglected society. Since 70% of our body is water we need to drink clean water in order to improve our life span. In the 21st century while most countries are improving their access to clean water most Ethiopian farmers are highly exposed to more than 70% of water born diseases.

When we look to the human rights conundrum farmers are the most vulnerable group of society. The characteristics of human rights violations in cities and rural areas are very different. The pattern of human rights violations in cities is more likely systematic as a result of higher levels and volume of information flow and the presence of international human rights watches. In remote areas it is easy to violate farmer’s rights. Today Ethiopian farmers do not have privilege because of this it is difficult to get at their fears and experiences through interviews.

Today Ethiopian farmers seem to have stopped telling the truth about the regime because they know that the consequence is a dangerous life. Since the land is owned by the government farmers do not have security. On the other hand when we talk about human right the first right is the right to food. But, whenever we here of starvation striking the first and the vast majority of victims are farmers.

In rural areas murder, detention for long periods of time with out court order, disappearance and countless human rights violation are being perpetrated on Ethiopian farmers. The voice of the of farmers’ agony is echoing, little compassion for farmers.

Geletaw Zeleke

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