Risky Business - large-scale land investments and possibilities of safeguarding the rural poor in Ethiopia
In the Global South lifting people out of poverty and ensuring food security is of crucial significance. While many hopes are drawn towards the possibilities of economic growth, rural development and production efficiencies gained by attracting investors and capital to the agricultural sector, such activities also threaten to expose vulnerable rural communities. This study investigates what risks are faced by rural communities in presence of large-scale land investors for biofuel production. Through studying three large-scale land investments in Ethiopia, their impacts on the rural communities and the efficiency in the safeguarding measures already put in place, this study aims to understand what measures can be carried out in the future to protect these rural poor. A qualitative interview-based study is conducted at these three sites and the results are analyzed in the light of international guidelines for responsible investments in the agricultural sector, the Ethiopian national policy for agriculture and rural development and theories on pro-poor growth. The result of the study shows that the risks are many and severely threatens the livelihoods of the rural poor as their economical margins are very limited. Providing information, complement mal-functioning markets with unions or cooperatives and pushing towards the strengthening of political representation of the members of these communities are for the specific cases studied possible measures in mitigating some of these risks. The study also argues that the often promoted ‘win-win’ investment strategy of out-grower schemes can substantially increase the farmers’ vulnerability and that the notion of idle or available land, without investigation on the ground, can be misleading.