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Lower Omo Valley irrigated agriculture development, Ethiopia


The Government of Ethiopia has plans for massive agricultural development in the form of state-run sugar plantations and commercially leased land for the Lower Omo Valley. These plans are linked to the controversial Gibe III dam development upstream of the Lower Omo Valley in that the dam will allow large-scale irrigation agriculture. The sugar plantations are in turn linked to the countrys plans to grow its international market share of the commodity, backed at a country-level by a $640-million credit line from Indias Exim Bank[1]. However, the Lower Omo Valley is home to an estimated 200,000 agro-pastoralists, who would be negatively affected by large-scale development in terms of their access to water to grow crops and ability to exercise their way of life. Reports based on interviews with inhabitants of the region indicate that intimidation and violence are being used as a way of forcing people into leaving their land. Ethiopias policy of villagization in other parts of the country has been widely criticized for a lack of consultation with local communities, intimidation and force. The Lower Omo Valley seems to be no exception in this, as the same approach is being adopted.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Lower Omo Valley irrigated agriculture development, Ethiopia
State or province:Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region
Location of conflict:Lower Omo
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 :Water access rights and entitlements
Land acquisition conflicts
Intensive food production (monoculture and livestock)
Specific commodities:

Project Details and Actors

Project details:

Ethiopia plans to increase its sugar production seven-fold from 314,000 tons (in 2009/10) to 2.3 million tons by 2015. Of this, 1.2 million tons are earmarked for export. Ethiopia wants to achieve a 2.5% global share by 2017 [2].

Project area:345000
Level of Investment:640000000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:500000
Start of the conflict:2011
Company names or state enterprises:Exim Bank from India
Ethiopia Sugar Corporation from Ethiopia
Kuruz Sugar Industry from India
Relevant government actors:Government of Ethiopia, Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Ethiopian Environmental Protection Agency
International and Finance InstitutionsThe World Bank (WB) from United States of America
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Human Rights Watch, Survival International, Oakland Institute

Conflict and Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Forms of mobilization:Involvement of national and international NGOs
Official complaint letters and petitions

Impacts of the project

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Health ImpactsVisible: Malnutrition, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Occupational disease and accidents
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place


Project StatusUnder construction
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Criminalization of activists
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Violent targeting of activists
Development of alternatives:Human Rights Watch has called for recognition by the Government of Ethiopia of the rights of the Omo valleys indigenous communities over their historic homelands. They have called for meaningful discussion with them over the future use of their land and compensation. Pointing out that donors fund basic service provision in every district of Ethiopia and could therefore be indirectly funding the displacement of communities, the rights body wants donors to ensure their funding is not supporting forced displacement or unlawful expropriation of indigenous lands.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Clearing of land and construction of infrastructure for the planned plantations has been observed. Human Rights Watch quotes reports from Ethiopias state run media which suggest that 10,995 pastoralist households were villagized in 2010 and 2011 in the Salamago woreda district of South Omo Zone, with another 20,000 households scheduled for
villagization in 2011 and 2012.
HRW says a subsequent February 2012 state media report said the government planned to relocate 103,000 pastoralists during this 2012/13 budget year in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region[1].
Meanwhile, a report on a January 2012 joint DFID/USAID field visit to South Omo said meetings with representatives of the Mursi, Bodi, Hammar and Minogelti ethnic groups heard allegations of up to 80 arrests, limited access to agriculture lands, use of force and intimidation, and rape of women [3].

Sources and Materials

Related laws and legislationsĀ - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Available at

Ethiopian Environmental Impact Assessment Proclamation #299/2002

Charities and Societies Proclamation

Mass Media and Freedom of Information Proclamation

Anti-Terrorism Proclamation

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

[1] Human Rights Watch (2012). What will happen if hunger comes: Abuses against the Indigenous Peoples of Ethiopias Lower Omo Valley. Available at: Accessed 4 November 2012.

[2] Oakland Institute (2011). Understanding land investment deals in Africa. Available at: Accessed 4 November 2012.

[3] DFID/USAID (2012). Report of joint DFID/USAID field visit: South Omo. Available at: Accessed 1 January 2013.

LinksĀ to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Kelly, Annie and Ford, Liz (2012). DfID under fire for poor response to human rights concerns in Ethiopia. Available at: Accessed 1 January 2013.

Survival International (2012). Hunger: Ethiopias new weapon to force tribes off their land. Available at: Accessed 4 November 2012.

Survival International (2012). Revealed: how Ethiopias plantations are killing vital waterway. Available at: Accessed 1 January 2013.

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Human Rights Watch (2012). Ethiopia: Indigenous People Forced From Land. Video available at: Accessed 4 November 2012.



Human Rights Watch (2012). South Omo: Pastoralists forced from their land. Multimedia slideshow available at: Accessed 4 November 2012.

Other comments:Total Investment: $640-million from Exim Bank for sugar sector
Legislation like the Charities and Societies Proclamation, Mass Media and Freedom of Information Proclamation and Anti-Terrorism Proclamation make it difficult for communities to organise and to assess the level of local organisation taking place. Human Rights Watch reports that under the Charities and Societies Proclamation, 41 NGOs operating in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region had their licenses revoked for carrying out campaigning activities. International organisations and institutions like Human Rights Watch, Survival International and the Oakland Institute have, however, conducted research and organised letter writing campaigns and petitions on the issue.

Meta information

Contributor:Patrick Burnett
Last update08/04/2014