By: Assefa Mitike Janko
Although the global land grabbing literature focuses on large-scale land transfer to foreign and domestic ‘investors’ in developing countries, the situation in Oromia is quite different. Land grabbing in Oromia was started in the late 19th century when the Abyssinian empire conquered the Oromo nation through relentless military conquest that some scholars refer to internal colonization. Following the conquest, Oromo lost their land, natural resources, autonomy, and sovereignty, and were eventually subjected to imperial oppression under successive regimes in the country.
Despite changes in political system in Ethiopia in the last one hundred years, successive regimes in the country followed similar policiesin expropriating Oromo land and resources. Land remained to be source of political power, economic wealth and social prestige for Ethiopian political elites–the Tigrayan and Amhara elites. One of the root causes of the 1974 Ethiopian Revolution, for example, was the issue of the archaic feudal land tenure system that made the majority of Ethiopian peasants landless in their own country. Despite the land reform policy of the military regime, Oromo peasants remained prey to the exploitative state apparatus because of the nationalization of land. Land is now the sole property of the TPLF and its cronies. In the last decade, almost above 90% of land for investment in central Oromia was sold to TPLF incubated millionaires and foreigners. The indigenous people lost not only their land but also the right to live and exist as human beings. TPLF’s crony capitalism will never benefit the poor. TPLF has realized that land is the most important means of exploitation and disempowering people across the country. That is why it is snatching land in every corner of the country. The Addis Ababa Master Plan that has ignited nationwide protest is another grand scheme to dislocate poor peasants from their ancestral land without compensation. So many families have already been victims of the grand scheme and lost their livelihood. These people were offered nothing but slavery on their own land. Moreover, the floriculture industries are other instruments state exploitation and displacement of Oromo farmers.
Land for floriculture industry was grabbed from Oromo farmers in the fertile central Oormia like Bishoftu, Holeta, Sendafa, Batu, Woliso, Modjo, Alem Gena, Sebeta and Ginchi. Farmers who were displaced from their land for the floriculture have now become daily labourersin the floriculture industries with very low wage, and exposed to sever health impacts as a result of the chemicals.
The sector was blamed for most of its social and environmental shortcoming in Ethiopia (Gudeta and Degytnu, 2012). Many Ethiopian environmental activists still argue that environmental policies or standards and labor regulations are not implemented within the industry. One of the issues which floriculture industries in Oromia blamed is unsafe working conditions of floriculture farm laborers associated to massive chemical usage of the industry. In this piece of work, I will elaborate on the impacts of the Floriculture Industries on ecological and environmental sustainability, health conditions and livelihood aspects of Oromo farmers taking the case of this destructive project around Ziway area, Oromia.
Ecological and Environmental Destruction
Lake Ziway is the major source of irrigation for all floriculture industries in this area. Water is intensively extracted from this Lake by the commercial farms. These industries never pay a penny for using that much volume of water, either for regional or federal governments. Besides, they discharge their wastewater back to the Lake untreated. Local people use Lake Ziway as a source of livelihood; fishing is a common practice. In other words, the aquatic lives, in general in this ecosystem are being endangered, and some fish species are now at the verge of extinction.
When I was in Ziway Fishery Resources Research Center it was our day-to-day experience to observe the death of volume fish around the lakeshore. We tried to bring the case to the attention of higher officials including Oromia bureau of agriculture and the federal Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of water and energy. Although they came to observe the scene, they were not willing to stop the discharge of the chemical, which is released to the lake without any treatment. I remember, one higher official from Oromia Bureau of Agriculture once told us that he can’t intervene in the Floriculture industries because these projects are connected to higher politicians in the TPLF party. As our mandate we proposed to conduct research on the lake to stop fish mass killing. Unfortunately, the higher officials refused by saying “it’s a political issue”. That means, they are hiding the information from the community because if the communities know the situation happening in the lake pollution, fish death due to chemical and using banned chemical for pesticide, which have impact serious on human health, all people would protest. In this regard, OPDO (Oromo People’s Democratic Organization) that is the surrogate to the TPLF has never been working for the interest of the Oromo; rather it appeases its boss – the TPLF.
Flower growers are among the heaviest users of agricultural chemicals, including pesticides that are suspected of being among the most toxic. The chemical has three categories. The first category is the most dangerous/banned worldwide for health, which is forbidden to use it. But, all of the flower farms are using chemicals without considering workers health and bees’ colony, which is popular around the flower farm area. Due to the toxic of chemical spray workers have serious illness, die and for the bee colonies same too. When supervisors come from higher officials to check the situation, they are not willing to hear the workers even for insurance compensation. Workers union in the farm is almost forbidden.
Socio economic impact
TPLF are evicting and dispossessing Oromo farmers in the name of flower farm. Just imagine how many Oromo farmers and their families have to be evicted, displaced and killed for generations to come through land grabbing. Child labor is one of the most sensitive issues in other world. But in Ethiopia it is not an issue. Especially, in floriculture industry high child abuse with very low payment. It is because of the government officially announcing that labor cheap. Due to this even the payment is not enough for basic need.
This case is one from many cases of Oromo people’s harassments. Land grabbing in Oromia is the ongoing process from the previous system. But, in this dictatorial TPLF government, it is a matter of grabbing plus killing or torturing the people on their own land. The solution to ensure Oromo’s right to land ownership, economic empowerment and political autonomy is to struggle against this oppressive regime in unity. The current Oromo Protest is a wonderful platform that has brought Oromo political organisations and activists in unity.
 The writer of this case is Masters Student at Van Hall Larestein University of Applied Sciences, Netherlands.