The Sugar Group denies the allegations made against the projects.
Tribes in the Lower Omo Valley face a critical situation due to a risk posed by state-run sugar projects to the livelihoods of communities living in the area, which is located in the southern part of Ethiopia.
The Oakland Institute, a think tank institute based in the US, has undertaken a study on the impacts of the Kuraz Sugar Development Project and Gilgel Gibe III Dam on communities living in the lower valley of Omo.
The investigation report claims humanitarian crises, including “starvation and death,” have been caused by the projects. The indigenous tribes in the area are also facing severe diseases and hunger, “resulting in starvation-caused deaths,” according to the report.
However, management of the Ethiopian Sugar Industry Group refutes the claims as “fake and biased,” with no good intention on the part of the public in the area.
Reta Demeke, head of communications at the Group, confirmed having read the report and said the institute with the report has previously been sharing such “allegations” showing its stand against the projects. “They don’t want to see such development taking place,” Reta said.
The Institute, a two-decade-old entity known for such investigations globally, revealed the 15-page report on February 8, 2023, alerting the government and humanitarian institutions about the “deteriorating situations.”
Three indigenous tribes in the Lower Omo Valley, the Kwengu, Bodi, and Mursi, mostly live off the valley as pastoralists and hunter-gatherers. The report discusses the relocation of locals from their livelihoods, water contamination, malnutrition, loss of resources like their cattle, and several other calamities leading to the deaths of tribe members in the project area.
The project trained and embraced over 3,200 households in the practice of irrigation and provided the natives with over 800 hectares of irrigable land, according to Reta. “Over 150 natives have also received permanent job opportunities with short-term skill training,” says Reta.
In his attempt at disputing the claims that the locals were resettled, Reta says it was rather a villagization, not a resettlement. He claims that the Group, the then Ethiopian Sugar Corporation, built villages with services such as health centers for the tribes to coexist.
Locals, according to the report, were given jobs, but they were few in number and “menial jobs” with low pay were provided. The men working as buffalo hunters in the sugarcane farm and the women removing the crushed sugarcane were some of the jobs available to the locals, according to the 15-page report. “These jobs pay between USD seven and 28 a month.”
The Institute’s report disproves the provision of irrigated land for the tribes. It revealed that members of the tribes were forced to resettle against their will, vacating their livestock herds. Failed promises were made to two of the tribes, Mursi and Bodi, as the then-Corporation would provide them with irrigated land and villages with schools, access to health care, and other services, according to the report.
“Little to none of this ever materialized,” reads the report, adding that the Bodi and Kwegu were initially provided a piece of land with irrigation for the cultivation of corn. “After the community members had cultivated for two years, the factory owners took it back and gave them another small parcel of dry, rocky land that is far away from resources.”
The deteriorating number of cattle due to malnutrition, disease such as tuberculosis, and lack of medicines for the sick ones is also affecting people, as read in the report. It is reported that the fish production has also decreased due to the loss of floods in the Omo River.
The factories are said to have made the villagers eat bush leaves to stay alive, the report said.