Saturday, May 5, 2012

Land grabbing and displacement in Ethiopia

......Although by no means a homogeneous group, pastoralists make up 10 to 15 per cent of Ethiopia's total population and perhaps, more crucially, use 63 per cent of its agricultural land. Land which observers say is being handed over to 'land-grabbing' foreign investors and state-financed irrigation schemes. 
Recent reports have claimed pastoralists in the Gambella Region, in West Ethiopia, are being forcibly relocated as part of the government's settlement plan to move them into areas with improved services like schools, water supplies and healthcare. By doing so the pastoralists are forced to abandon their cattle-based livelihoods in favour of settled crop farming. But according toHuman Rights Watch, the new villages lack adaequate farmland, healthcare or educational facilities.

Many of the areas people are being moved from are earmarked for lease by the government for cash-crop agricultural development, according to the NGO, which adds pastoralists often have no formal title to the land, allowing the government to claim the areas are "uninhabitated" or "under-utilised". Even if they are not resettled, pastoralists are losing access to the best land and water sources, say campaigners and researchers based in Ethiopia. 'We want the world to hear that the government brought us here to die,' one of those relocated told the NGO. 'They brought us no food, they gave away our land to the foreigners so we can’t even move back. On all sides the land is given away, so we will die here in one place.'

According to Human Rights Watch, Ethiopia is planning to resettle 1.5 million people by 2013 in four regions: Gambella, Afar, Somali and Benishangul-Gumuz. Attempts such as these to commercialise formerly pastoral land is nothing new and stretches back to colonial times. But the process of land being given over to overseas investors has accelerated in recent years and seen calls for official recognition of common pastoral lands. However, with pastoralists contributing little or nothing to government revenues, unlike, for example, tax-paying sugar plantations, a change in policy seems unlikely.  

'Civilisation did not come from pastoralists but from agriculture,’ says Ato Muhammad Yusuf, an MP and leading voice on pastoralist affairs in the Ethiopian government, in an interview with the Ecologist. ‘They must work on the land to be good citizens.' Yusuf argues pastoralists need to settle in order for the government to provide them with basic services like healthcare and education and safeguard their future but insists it is only being done voluntarily in the country. 

The pastoralist dilemma

In the far south of Ethiopia, pastoralists in Borena are yet to experience such 'modernisation'. This may in part be to the lack of major rivers flowing through the region to provide a basis for irrigation. Pastoral populations here rely on boreholes, a vulnerable existence exemplified by flash floods late last year that wiped out all but two of the wells relied upon by one of the pastoralist communities we visited in the Arero region of Borena. Like most pastoralists in Borena, the population is semi-settled, with the older men, women and children living together in small communities while young men roam as far as 100km searching for pasture to graze their livestock. During this time they are almost entirely reliant upon milk from the cattle they are herding for their daily food needs. 

While this makes for a lonely and difficult life for herders, it is this mobility that is key to the pastoralist way of life. In the dry rangelands of Ethiopia and other parts of Africa, pastures vary in nutritional content due to erratic rainfall and differing soil types and plant growth. By moving their animals to ensure a constant supply of good pasture, the pastoralists are able to produce comparatively more meat and milk than sedentary animals reared in the same conditions.
 However, across Borana and the rest of Ethiopia, the pastoralists' mobility and independence is being challenged by recurring drought and increased competition for grazing land from a land-squeezed population.

'The availability of pasture was better in the past and the productivity of livestock was higher when we had better pasture,' a pastoralist tells us as he passes round the pot ofBuna Qale to drink. 'We get less rain now and when we get no rain at all things rapidly get worse as animals lose weight.' Although there are fears that pastoral land in Borana could eventually be lost to large-scale farming, many young pastoralists are making their own decision, sometimes encouraged by the rest of the community, to quit pastoralism and move to nearby towns.

'The younger generation say they don't want to pursue this livelihood', says a community elder we met, 'but the older generation is stuck in this livelihood now and must look to plough crops to substitute the meat and milk.' Like everywhere else in the world, he told us, pastoralist children in his community wanted to own computers and mobile phones and pursue a different lifestyle to that of a nomadic pastoralist. 'In the past we did not go to school, now children go and earn money,' he explains. 'We can see the benefit of education if they get a job but we can't send all our children at once as we need some to help with managing the livestock.' It is often the eldest male that is held back for fear of, so the local saying goes, "leaving the family blind". However, this can lead to resentment between those going off and those staying behind as well as problems, when those who go to school fail to find work. 

'They face a difficult dilemma,' a pastoralist researcher based in Ethiopia later explains, 'some don't make good enough grades at school and are then left in limbo, there is no in-between livelihood for them. The elders can see these problems and that is why not all of them are so in favour of schooling.' 

Just like the community itself, opinions amongst aid workers and observers working within pastoralist communities is divided about whether it has a future or not. As well as the declining availability of good pasture and perhaps also to blame for it, is a growing population. Some of it may be internal migration from neighbouring regions, or refugees and pastoralists escaping conflicts in Somalia for example, but population growth rates in Ethiopia are also amongst the highest in the world. 

Such cold reality has left many of those long-time observers of pastoralists ready to write its obituary. 'Its days are numbered,' says Teshome Dahessa, who runs one of the Save the Children offices in Borena. 'This mode of life will be more diminished if not abandoned altogether within 50 years. That is the reality as more people get educated and inevitably look beyond pastoralism. Population growth and pressure on resources are all contributing to its decline.' 

Despite the many pressures on pastoral populations, aid workers we met insist they have a right to remain as pastoralists and be supported in that way of life. This makes the role of NGOs and charities like Save the Children working in pastoral regions controversial to some. By supporting communities with aid are they helping to preserve an important livelihood that is capable of adapting and coping with climate change? Or are they merely adding a ‘sticking plaster’ to an increasingly vulnerable way of life that needs to change?

This text is part of the report entitled "Ethiopia's pastoralist tribes fight for survival against 'land grabbing' and climate change" 
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