On the second day of the Strategy & Planning Workshop, participants visited an investment area near Bishoftu, where Land for Life Ethiopia has initiated dialogue processes between investors and the community.
In Lume Woreda, close to its capital Modjo, the climatic conditions are ideal for many products that are exported to the European market, like fruits or flowers. However, the vast growing areas have major externalities on both the environment and the local communities. Flower and fruit production, in particular, requires a high input of chemical fertilizer and consumes large amounts of water. Meanwhile, the release of agrochemicals is also affecting community farmlands close to the investment site. In Ethiopia, land belongs to the government and is given to investors for investment purposes. Small-scale farmers and their families in the region are only marginally compensated and resettled to other areas. Not only are they evicted from their own land, but they also lose the basis of their livelihood.
The workshop participants visited a farm, that has been taken over by a Dutch investor only two years ago. Since he bought the farm from an Israeli company, many aspects have improved. In this area, Land for Life Ethiopia organizes dialogues between investors, communities (including traditional local elders) and the local government to find solutions that equally consider the rights of local small-scale farmers and their families. These ‘community investor local government’ forums (CILGF) can be conceived as a community–level multi-actor process, engaging all relevant stakeholders and tackling the root problem, which is the absence of dialogue between foreign investors and landowners at community level.
In the past, power imbalances between these stakeholders have led to the perception of the local community being evicted from their own land, which is worsened by their limited awareness of legal land rights and the considerable lack of communication among stakeholders. After having had bilateral conversations with relevant stakeholders, Land for Life Ethiopia encouraged the various stakeholder groups to enter discussions, helping to identify the challenges and opportunities of a planned investment in the area and enabling the stakeholders to suggest solutions which could benefit both sides, investors and community members. The discussions also inform government stakeholders about ongoing processes and encourage them to follow-up on the impacts of investments on the community. Besides the discussions, the CILG forums also encompass the organization of trainings and workshops, which seek to improve the capacities of members and their knowledge about land rights. The conduction of light assessments about the compensation practices in the investment area, as well as the engagement of media channels have helped to increase Land for Life Ethiopia’s visibility as a key actor in the commitment for land justice.
A visit to a local community informed the workshop participants about the positive impacts that the new investor and the open dialogues during the CILG forums have had. The community now has access to clean drinking water, more jobs have been given to residents, and working conditions have overall improved. However, there are still some gaps that remain, especially in terms of proportional compensation and the role of the government. For the time being, the system relies on responsible investors to benefit the communities, and there is no legal basis or accountability framework. The dialogue taking place in Lume Woreda is thus rather an exception.
The photos below, taken by the Communication Expert of the Liberia Land Authority Emmanuel C. Davis, give you an impression of the community visit in Lume Woreda.
Nonetheless, inclusive dialogue and transparency are key components of a conducive environment for responsible agricultural investments, and Land for Life Ethiopia hopes to inspire others with their practice of the CILG forums. The forums have supported the creation of legal awareness among community members and helped to reduce social and environmental externalities of foreign investments. Most importantly, the forums have created space for dialogue, transparency and mutual trust. The overarching objective is to contribute to behavioral change of both foreign investors and the government, to engage all relevant stakeholders and to promote sustainable change in policies and practice.