Live link: GRAIN interviews Nyikaw Ochalla

Ethiopia is one of the main targets in the current global farmland grab. The government has stated publicly that it wants to sell off three million hectares of farmland in the country to foreign investors, and around one million hectares have already been signed away. Much of the land that these investors have acquired is in the province of Gambella, a fertile area that is home to the Anuak nation. The Anuak are indigenous people who have always lived in Gambella and who practise farming, pastoralism, hunting and gathering. Nyikaw Ochalla, an Anuak living in exile in the United Kingdom, is trying to understand what this new wave of land deals will mean for the Anuak and other local communities in Ethiopia.

How will these large-scale projects affect the agriculture of the Anuak?

The Anuak are a distinct people who have always had close ties to their environment. As an indigenous population, they have been marginalised by the government for many years. They sustain themselves mainly through farming, hunting and fishing, while some Anuak are also pastoralists.

The attraction of Gambella for foreign investors is its fertile lands. But the area is fertile because the local people have nurtured and maintained its ecological systems through their agricultural practices. They may not have had access to modern education but they have a traditional means of cultivation, which includes rotation. When the rainy season comes, they move to the drier areas and when the dry season comes they go along to the river banks, making sure that they manage their environment effectively. So all of the lands in the region are used. Each community looks after its own territory, and the rivers and farmlands within it. It is a myth propagated by the government and investors to say that there is waste land or land that is not utilised in Gambella. More