Famine and abundance rub shoulders in Ethiopia

by Philipp Hedemann in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Infosud/swissinfo.ch

Red and friends work on Karmjeet Singh Sekhon's farm in western Ethiopia (Philipp Hedemann)

While millions of people in the Horn of Africa suffer a terrible drought, foreign investors are harvesting tonnes of cereals to be exported to Asia and the Gulf states.
swissinfo.ch reports from western Ethiopia on farmland leased by an Indian entrepreneur, where it is not unusual to see young children labouring in the fields.

Kneeling in the middle of a sugar-cane field in blistering 40-degree Celsius heat, a young boy is digging up weeds. An Indian worker stands over him to make sure he doesn’t miss any. Red is eight years old and earns €0.83 (SFr0.96) for a day’s work, less than the cost of using pesticides.

The United Nations says 4.5 million people in Ethiopia are currently in need of aid as a result of a devastating drought. Three million are affected in Somalia, where there are pockets of famine, 3.5 million in Kenya and 120,000 people in Djibouti.

The humanitarian crisis threatens to become worse than the terrible 1984-85 famine which devastated the region and caused the deaths of a million people. Today most emergency food aid is imported.

Meanwhile, Indian tenant farmers are hoping to earn millions by exporting crops grown in Ethiopia. In the world’s twelfth poorest country the race for the country’s most productive agricultural land has only just begun and the social and environmental consequences are immeasurable.

“It’s still total wilderness here, but we will soon start growing sugar cane and palm oil,” explained Karmjeet Singh Sekhon as we drove through burning bush land in his Toyota 4×4.

The 68-year-old Indian investor is the manager of a huge farm, which covers an area of ​​nearly 300,000 hectares in western Ethiopia, one of the biggest in the region. read here

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