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Gambela agri-export land dispossessions, Ethiopia


The Gambela Region covers 2,978,200 hectares and has a population of 307,096, according to 2007 Ethiopian census data. The area is the focus of a drive by the Government of Ethiopia to attract foreign investors to its agricultural sector through tax holidays, duty-free imports of machinery, easy bank loans and cheap land. In Gambella 42 percent of the total land area is either being marketed for lease to investors or has already been awarded to investors[1]. The point of conflict is that the land leases are leading to the displacement of people from their land, loss of livelihood and deforestation. One of the main companies involved is Karuturi Global, which was allocated 100,000 hectares of land, with an option to increase to 300,000 hectares[2]. This land lease deprives about 5000 Ilea indigenous people from the lands they use for farming along the Openo River. The Ilea people were not consulted about the deal[3]. Rents for this area were reported to be as low as 15-20 birr per ha (USD1-1.25). Another major company involved in the Gambella region is Saudi Star Agricultural Development Company. Legal analysis of the land lease contracts raises concerns about lease rates per hectare, infrastructure development, water use provisions and environmental responsibility[4].

Basic Data
Name of conflict:Gambela agri-export land dispossessions, Ethiopia
State or province:Gambela
Location of conflict:Gambela
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Intensive food production (monoculture and livestock)
Land acquisition conflicts
Specific commodities:Cut flowers
Palm oil
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Karuturi Global initially received their land for USD1.25/ha (20 birr/ha) but this was later raised to USD6.75/ha (111 birr/ha)[5,7]. Karuturis intention is to sell the crops within the 19-member Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa. Karuturi has an agreement to provide 40,000 tons of rice to neighboring Djibouti. A proposed Comesa customs agreement may lead to domestically produced rice gaining preferential access to Kenya. The intention is to sell the 80,000 tons of palm oil produced on the Ethiopian market [6]

Project area:1250000
Level of Investment:350000000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:307096
Start of the conflict:2010
Company names or state enterprises:Saudi Star Agricultural Development Company from Saudi Arabia
Karuturi Global Ltd from India
Ruchi Soya Industries Limited from India
Relevant government actors:Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Anywaa Survival Organisation (ASO), Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Forms of mobilization:Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Health ImpactsVisible: Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..)
Potential: Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Criminalization of activists
Land demarcation
New legislation
Violent targeting of activists
Development of alternatives:Ethiopian environmentalists have stated that alternative economic uses such as tourism have not been explored, arguing that Gambella has the same potential as the Serengeti and Maasai Mara as a tourist destination. In addition, the Government of Ethiopia has been criticized for not consulting with local populations and attempting to develop a people-driven vision of agrarian development.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The companies concerned have cleared large tracts of land and planted crops, displacing communities.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP), Ethiopian government

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[2] Chatterjee, Pratap (2012). Thorny Business: Ethiopian Rose Exports To Europe. Available at: Accessed 3 January 2013.
[click to view]

[5] Oakland Institute. (2011). Understanding land investment deals in Africa: Ethiopia. Available at: Accessed 3 January 2013.
[click to view]

[6] Davison, William. (2012). Karuturi Global Eyes East African Markets for Crops Grown on Ethiopia Land in Bloomberg. Available at: Accessed 12 December 2012.
[click to view]

[7] Land Rent Contractual Agreement Between Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and Karuturi Agro Products Plc (2010). Available at Accessed 3 January 2013.
[click to view]

[1] Human Rights Watch (2012). Forced Displacement and Villagization in Ethiopias Gambella Region. Available at:

[click to view]

[3] Anywaa Survival Organisation. (2012). Land grabs are fueling violence in Gambela. Available at: Accessed 3 January 2013.
[click to view]

Accessed 3 January 2013.

[4] Stebeck, Elias (2011). Between land grabs and agricultural investment: land rent contracts with foreign investors and Ethiopias normative setting in focus in Mizan Law Review, Vol. 5 No.2, December 2011. Available at: Accessed 3 January 2012.
[click to view]

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

IRIN (2011). Ethiopia, the great land grab debate. Available at: Accessed 3 January 2011.
[click to view]

Key African Wildlife Migration in Yale Environment 360. Available at:
[click to view]

Dasgupta, Debashari. (2011). The new East India Companies in Outlook India. Available at: Accessed 3 January 2013.
[click to view]

Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia (2012). Saudi Star Pakistani foreign workers and Ethiopians killed in raid on Saudi farm compound. Available at:
[click to view]

Pearce, Fred (2011). Agribusiness Boom Threatens

Dubey, Rajeev (2012). Indian Farmers African Safari in Business World. Available at:
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network


Guardian Films (2011). Ethiopia at centre of global farmland rush. Available at: Accessed 2 January 2013.
[click to view]

GRAIN (2011). Grabbing Gambella. Available at:
[click to view]

Accessed 2 January 2013.

Meta information
Contributor:Patrick Burnett
Last update18/08/2019
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