Abobo, Anyuak Zone, June 13, 2015 (GMN) - Saudi Star donates 26 tractors and 30M Birr to Gambella regional state local farmers and youth. Saudi Star Agricultural Development PLC, a food company, produces sugar, rice, and edible oil. The company is based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Abobo Town, Anyuak Zone, Gambella region. Saudi Star Agricultural Development PLC operates as a subsidiary of Midroc Ethiopia P L C.
As part of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Initiative for National Food Security, which seeks to outsource food production overseas, Saudi Star PLC acquired large areas of land in Gambella, Ethiopia. In 2008 Ethiopia’s ruling party, lead by then-Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, signed a 60-year concession on 10,000 ha with the companies’ head, Saudi billionaire Sheik Al-Amoud. The total area Saudi Star has under lease in Gambella is 140,000 ha, but the company aims to increase this to 500,000 ha. Development of rice production and an irrigation project using water from the Alwero River (the irrigation project is funded by the government of Ethiopia) was underway as of 2012.
The opportunities and constraints facing Gambella agriculture are strongly influenced by conditions which vary across geographical space. These conditions include basic agricultural production potentials, access to input and output markets, and local population densities which represent both labor availability and local demand for food. Understanding the geographical expression of these factors is an important way of making sense of Gambella’s agricultural and rural development options and for guiding the definition of supporting policies.
These conditions not only vary over space, but change over time as well. New and improved tractors, roads, expanding telecommunications, improved access to electricity, as well as rural growth, continue to lower transaction costs and improve market access. Changing production opportunities and new technologies have allowed greater flexibility of livelihood decisions within defined biophysical endowments. As Gambella continues to invest in infrastructure, agriculture and technology, the agricultural landscape continues to be reshaped and redefined into broader areas of opportunity and growth.
Agricultural investment vs. land grabs
Since the last five years, Ethiopia has caught the attention of the international media due to the leasing of large tracts of land to foreign investors. The rapid and alarming rise in international food prices prompted many countries particularly those who have huge surplus of foreign exchange like Saudi Arabia, India and others to lease agricultural land in Africa and produce food for their consumption. The great rush for African land in the name of agricultural investment has been dubbed by the international media as „land grabs?. Ethiopia has been one of the countries in Africa made vast tracks of land available to these investors. Accordingly, it leased land to Djiboutian, Indian and Saudi companies. Much of the land which is transferred to the international investors is located in the lowlands of the country where there is spare population settlement, high rainfall and vegetation cover.
The two regional states which are affected by this process are the Gambella and Benishangul-Gumuz regions which are located in the western parts of the country. In both regions hundreds of thousands of hectares of land were transferred to foreign investors. In the Gambella region, the agricultural company –Saudi Star established by the Saudi Ethiopian business tycoon Sheik Mohammed Alamoudi aims to produce rice for the Saudi market. In the same regime and in the Benishangul-Gumuz region, the Indian agricultural company Karuturi leased hundreds of thousands of hectares of land for commercial development.
The government argues that these agricultural investments are crucial for the development of the country they bring foreign exchange, expertise in commercial agriculture and help the country achieve its food security. Moreover, government officials underscore that these investments take place in areas which are not or under utilized by local people. Local and international critics and however air contrasting views. First, the transfer of hundreds of thousands of agricultural land to investors undermines the livelihoods of the local people who depend on their land resources. Second, the introduction of commercial agriculture harms the ecology and vegetation of the concerned areas. Third, as the foreign companies lease land to export their produce to their home countries, these farms contribute little to ensuring the food security of the country.