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Saudi Star Agriculture and Irrigation Project in Gambela, Ethiopia


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 Gambela, 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 Gambela 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. In January 2012, Human Rights Watch reported that local populations were forcibly displaced for the Saudi Star rice project in Gambela. Shortly after the announcement of the irrigation project in April of 2012, Saudi Star’s farms came under attack, resulting in 5 dead and 11 wounded. Retaliation attacks were reported, as well as villagers fleeing to neighboring Sudan. Federal police now guard the area. The project is also infringing on Gambela National Park boundaries.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Saudi Star Agriculture and Irrigation Project in Gambela, Ethiopia
State or province:Gambela
Location of conflict:Abobo area
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local 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:Rice
Other - Teff, Oilseed, Sunflowers
Live Animals
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The companys stated target is to grow 1 million tonnes of rice per year to generate US$1 billion per year in export revenues, leasing a total of 500,000 ha in Ethiopia. It plans to employ 250,000 people.

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Project area:140,000
Level of Investment for the conflictive project2,500,000,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:70.000
Start of the conflict:2008
Company names or state enterprises:Saudi Star Agricultural Development Company from Saudi Arabia
Relevant government actors:Ex-Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, Current Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn
International and Finance InstitutionsProtection of Basic Services
The World Bank (WB) from United States of America
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Human Rights Watch,, Oakland Institute,, Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia,, Inclusive Development International,
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International Organizations
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Land occupation
Media based activism/alternative media
Advocacy by international NGO and Diaspora groups; At the local level demonstrations and resistance. (5 killed in an attack on farms workers in April 2012)
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Desertification/Drought, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Potential: Soil erosion, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsVisible: Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Deaths
Potential: Malnutrition
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures
Project StatusUnder construction
Conflict outcome / response:Criminalization of activists
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Violent targeting of activists
Other: WB investigation of displacement/human rights violation underway (2013)
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:An injunction prepared by IDI was sent to the WB to investigate if funds are allocated to Vilagization, a direct by-conflict of Saudi Star’s project. As of August 2013 the investigation has been approved but no further action has been taken. Construction on Saudi Stars project continues.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Lands are sold via Ethiopia’s eminent domain

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

Oakland Institute, 2011, 'Land Deal Brief: Saudi Star in Ethopia'
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, 'Has Saudi Star learned right lessons from deadly ant-‘land grab' attacks on its Ethiopian farm?'
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, 'Al-Amoudi plans largest agro investment' http:///2716
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, 'Saudi billionaires company will invest $2.5 billion in Ethiopia rice farm'
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, 'State enterprise sues Saudi Star'
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, 'Ethiopia: Land rent contractual agreement made between Ministry of Agriculture and Saudi Star Agricultural Development PLC'
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, 'Saudi Star among firms behind thousands of forced relocations in Ethiopia' http:///post/view/19938
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The Guardian, 'Land Grabbers: Africa's Hidden Revolution'
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, 'Official: gunmen kill 5 farmworkers in Ethiopia'
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Gambela Today 'Ethiopia: Lives for Land in Gambela'
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, 'Ethiopia: forced relocations bring hunger, hardship'
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All Africa, 2013, 'US, UK, accused of ignoring, facilitating abuses in Ethiopia'
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Solidarity Movement for New Ethopia, 'African Land & Natural Reserouce Grabs Destroy Lives and Futures of Africans'
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Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

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, 'Ethiopia: A battle for Land & Water'
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'Saudi Star rice farm'
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Meta information
Contributor:Aliza Tuttle
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:99
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