Petitioners have criticized a decision to lease of large portions of forest lands to foreign entities following a revelation that the Ethiopian Agriculture Ministry had leased 3012 hectares of forest lands in Gambela Regional State to Verdanta Harvest Plc, an Indian company.
In their quest to garner political support, inhabitants of the region recently presented a petition containing over 1500 signatures to the country’s president, Girma Wolde-Giorgis, requesting an immediate rejection of the intended investment in order to protect the area from deforestation.
Echoing the petition’s concerns, President Girma, an environmentalist, raised the issue with Tefera Derebew Minister of Agriculture who dismissed the petition. A move that led the President to condemn the lease of forest lands for agricultural purposes in an official letter addressed to the Ministry late last year.
“Whilst our country is representing Africa in the international panels regarding global warming by our Prime Minister for no reason should forest land be given out for agriculture purposes,” part of the letter read.
Indeed, the President’s views fall in line with those of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi who is quoted as saying during the Africa Bioenergy Conference and Expo, two years ago, that “It is through the improvement of agricultural productivity that we can protect our forests (…),” Meles added.
But, despite the president’s plea, Isayas Kebede, agriculture investment support directorate director of the agriculture ministry, told local reporters, early last month, that the lease would have no negative environmental impact but rather assist local development. Local critics argue that cutting down trees spanning huge portions of land will result in deforestation.
Many environmental experts have signaled that the consequences of deforestation include droughts while warning that forests help to generate rainfall in drought-prone areas, elsewhere. In this logic, deforestation in Gambela Regional State might not affect that region per se, but another.
During a meeting organised to gather petitions on the effect of climate change in the Horn of Africa country ahead of the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit led by Mr. Terefa Derebew, it was noted that an estimated number of 5.3 million Ethiopians adversely affected by harsh drought conditions resided in the Oromia and SNNPR regional states, and the remaining in the Somali, Amhara and Tigray regional States.
A local newspaper reported, last month, that the land will be used to grow tea and coffee which is as good as the forest environmental contribution.
In spite of a continuous struggle by the petitioners to stop the land lease, “the situation remains unchanged”, sources from the ministry of Agriculture told Afrik-News this week.
In a recent visit to India, Agriculture Minister Tefera announced the preparation of an extra 3.6 million hectares of land and called on Indian companies to invest in Ethiopia.
Ethiopia has leased 1.8 million hectares of land to foreign agriculture companies; most of them are from India.