Land, sugar and pastoralism in Ethiopia: comparing the impact of the Omo-Kuraz sugar projects on local livelihoods and food (in) security in the lower Omo Valley

This study assesses the impact of a large, state-sponsored sugar plantation scheme on agro-pastoralists’ livelihoods and local land use change in southern Ethiopia, specifically in the lower Omo Valley. The study compares the local perceptions on the ongoing Omo-Kuraz sugar project — sugar cane plantations and a cane-crushing factory — and describes how it has affected local communities’ environmental and livelihood strategies vis-à-vis the alleged ‘new development opportunities’. Focus group discussion, key informant interviews, and field observations were applied to get in-depth information about the socio-economic and environmental impacts of large scale land acquisitions. The results show that the implementation of large scale land acquisitions in the lower Omo Valley has put enormous pressure on local land use and land management systems. The Omo-Kuraz I and II projects, started in 2011, neither met the stated economic purposes of the then Ethiopian federal government nor satisfied the pastoral communities’ needs. The LSAI project is still highly contentious among the local community, the project office, and the local government. Our study recommends that shifting the perspective towards the local agropastoralists’ activities, understanding their views and ways of ‘using’ the environment, and creating a broader consultation platform with them may create opportunities for cooperation and synergy to optimize benefits and sustainably adapt the development project to the local context.

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This article has been published in Pastoralism 12, 32 (2022). 

Author(s) / editor(s)

Adane Kebede Gebeyehu and Jon Abbink

About the author(s) / editor(s)

Adane Kebede Gebeyehu is affiliated to the department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and to the Horn of Africa Regional Environment Center and Network, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia.

Jon Abbink is an anthropologist-historian who carries out research on the history and cultures of the Horn of Africa (Northeast Africa), particularly Ethiopia.

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