By Megan Perry / Sustainable Food Trust

A land grab twice the size of France is under way in Ethiopia, as the government pursues the wholesale seizure if indigenous lands to turn them over to dams and plantations for sugar, palm oil, cotton and biofuels run by foreign corporations, destroying ancient cultures and turning Lake Turkana, the world’s largest desert lake, into a new Aral Sea.

There is growing international concern for the future of the lower Omo Valley in Ethiopia. A beautiful, biologically diverse land with volcanic outcrops and a pristine riverine forest; it is also a UNESCO world heritage site, yielding significant archaeological finds, including human remains dating back 2.4 million years.

The Valley is one of the most culturally diverse places in the world, with around 200,000 indigenous people living there. Yet, in blind attempts to modernize and develop what the government sees as an area of ‘backward’ farmers in need of modernization, some of Ethiopia’s most valuable landscapes, resources and communities are being destroyed.

What is happening in the lower Omo Valley shows a complete disregard for human rights and a total failure to understand the value these tribes offer Ethiopia in terms of their cultural heritage and their contribution to food security.

A new dam, called Gibe III, on the Omo River is nearing completion and will begin operation in June, 2015, potentially devastating the lives of half a million people. Along with the dam, extensive land grabbing is forcing thousands from their ancestral homes and destroying ecosystems.

Ethiopia’s ‘villagization’ program is aiding the land-grab by pushing tribes into purpose built villages where they can no longer access their lands, becoming unable to sustain themselves, and making these previously self-sufficient tribes dependent on government food aid.

A total disregard for the rights of Ethiopia’s Indigenous Peoples

What is happening in the lower Omo Valley, and elsewhere, shows a complete disregard for human rights and a total failure to understand the value these tribes offer Ethiopia in terms of their cultural heritage and their contribution to food security.

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