Honduras, Ethiopia and the crazy logic of food supply

News in June 2011 that Honduras had begun to import beans from Ethiopia caused some anxiety amongst local food producers in Honduras who questioned policies which seemed to run counter to the idea of food security and very much in favour of growing biofuels.[i] The strategy is promoted by the World Bank and USAID (US Agency for International Development). The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations notes that in Honduras 60 per cent of the population have no salaries, no access to the means of production and no way of ensuring adequate food provision.[ii]

The worst element of this strategy is that red beans are now being imported into Honduras from one of the poorest countries of the world, Ethiopia, a country with 13 million people dependent on food aid from the international community. Ethiopia has a policy of renting or selling vast expanses of land to foreign companies and expelling from those lands the peoples who have used them for hundreds if not thousands of years.[iii]

The Indian company Karuturi Global leases 2,500 sq km of fertile land in the Gambella region of Ethiopia at a knock-down price of $245 (USD) per week for fifty years. The company plans to grow and export palm oil, sugar, rice and other foods. In all, Ethiopia has offered 3 million hectares of land to foreign corporations, and companies from 36 countries have leased land there.[iv]

Although local government officers deny claims that people are being forcibly displaced to make way for these companies and their farming techniques, others report that no consultation was carried out with local people. Kassahun Zerrfu from Gambella’s Department for Investment has acknowledged that 15,000 people are being relocated “to give them better access to water, schools and transport,” but claims that “it is a coincidence that the investors are coming at the same time as the villages are being relocated.”[v]

Honduras used to be self-sufficient in beans, one of the staple crops of the Honduran diet. Now, the most fertile land in Honduras is being used for biofuel crops such as palm oil and other crops for export. In Ethiopia on the area taken over by Karuturi Global, the land is also remarkably fertile and full of organic matter – as project manager Karmjeet Sekhon states, “We don’t need fertiliser or herbicides. There is absolutely nothing that will not grow in it.”[vi]

This is the logic of big capital. It can show that yields and overall food production increase. It can glory in its own success. But at the same time, it increases landlessness amongst those who need it most; it reduces food security and food sovereignty; it increases dependence; and the final result is increasing hunger. The logic of finance and the profit motive fail humanity.

[i] Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña (OFRANEH) (21 June 2011) ‘Rapiña de territorios: el olor a saqueo de los frijoles importados de Etiopía’, email communication, OFRANEH, La Ceiba.
[ii] La Tribuna (9 June 2011) ‘Más de la mitad de los Hondureños sufren por hambre’, La Tribuna, Tegucigalpa.
[iii] Op.cit.. (OFRANEH).
[iv] John Vidal (21 March 2011) ‘Ethiopia at centre of global farmland rush’, The Guardian, London.
[v] Ibid.
[vi] Ibid.