Emami’s Bitter Harvest
In August this year, I moved to Ethiopia to cover the growth of Indian investment in Africa. As many of our readers may know, a flurry of reports by groups like Human Rights Watch and the Oakland Institute have implicated Indian companies in what they call “land grab” in Africa. While it is too early for me to pronounce any sort of verdict on the modalities and support for large-scale land investments in Ethiopia and elsewhere in the continent; one of my early reports suggests that things havent quite worked out as some Indian companies expected.
Indian companies which invested in controversial deals involving hundreds of thousands of acres of land in Ethiopia have found themselves out of their depth in a fast-growing African economy that is still in the process of building critical transport and irrigation networks.
Documents related to one such transaction reveal how Emami Biotech, a subsidiary of the Rs.2,200-crore Emami Group, pulled out of a Rs. 400-crore, 40,000-hectare, bio-fuel plantation only a year after the project was announced.
Indian companies are the second largest investors in the Ethiopian economy with approved investments worth nearly $5 billion.
While a majority of the businesses are small manufacturing and trading enterprises run by business families long settled in East Africa, the big money has come with the recent entry of large Indian investors.
A number of Indian companies have signed agreements to lease more than 4,40,000 hectares of land across Ethiopia, 1,00,000 hectares of which has been granted to a single Bangalore-based company, Karuturi Global Ltd. International. Rights organisations and NGOs have characterised the deals as instances of land grab and have accused the government of forcibly resettling pastoral communities.