Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Colonialism is considered a dirty word in the modern world because of the exploitative nature of the relationship between the rulers and the vassals. British Prime Minister, representing the most powerful colonial power till the middle of last century, is reported have expressed his regret for the harsh regime it had used to rule the country for more than 3 centuries, while making a business cum friendship visit to this country recently! Who would have thought that in a reversal of history India itself, forgetting its past, could try to be a colonial power with a difference, the modus operandi being economic imperialism! That is what is being reported from Africa where earth's most impoverished people eke out a  miserable living due to abject poverty. In a recent report from Ethiopia, the economic muscle of Indian business enterprises has been unveiled which may be some what disturbing. Here is a take on this new issue that is confronting the world to day. 

Indian companies are among the biggest players in the land deals, with investments of over $ 5 billion, and leases over 6,00,000 hectares. Karuturi Global, a Bangalore-based agroproduce company has alone received 3,00,000 hectares. Claims by these companies and by the Ethiopian government that the deals are legal and entail no human rights violations, have been shown as false in a series of on-ground investigations. The Oakland Institute has meticulously documented the nexus of corporations, politicians, investors, and officials that has made the land-grab possible.It notes that there is no public consultation with local communities (much less their consent), many of whom find out that their pastures or fields have been sold off only when bulldozers arrive. Any form of resistance or even questioning is met with imprisonment, beating up, and even killing. Both private security companies and the Ethiopian government's own forces are used to protect the investors. And there is a total lack of environmental and social impact assessments in these deals. It is also stated sometimes that what Indian companies are doing abroad, is not the responsibility of the government. But this ignores the various ways in which the Indian government facilitates and supports such deals, not only through diplomatic channels but also financially (even if indirectly). For instance the Indian Export-Import Bank has pledged $640 million of credit over five years for Ethiopia's sugar industry, and the fact that Indian companies are getting the biggest deals for sugarcane plantations cannot be unconnected 

There is another perspective to leasing of land in undeveloped and under developed countries by business conglomerates from emerging economies like India and China. In theory putting fallow land into use for food production is a laudable act which deserves appreciation but if the local people suffer due to large scale displacement and loss of regular avocation, it cannot be acceptable and this seems to be what is happening in Ethiopia, a poor country in Africa where large acreage of land is being "cornered" by Indian business men with deep pockets in connivance with the local government. It is conceded that India has some scarcity of arable land and Indian agricultural entrepreneurs are known to be industrious and efficient. However if the fruits of their venture are exported massively where will the local population go for their food? This is where the national governments will have to be careful while opening the flood gates for foreign investment in agriculture through land leasing arrangements. An international legal frame work will have to be enforced when agricultural lands are leased out to rich landlords for raising land productivity and increased food production.  


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