Flowers That Dislodge People

As Ethiopia’s floral industry blossoms, 3000 people are displaced annually in the country by flower growing investors

In Ethiopia, large fields of blooming flowers colorfully mask the memories of the thousands of people who used to live and work upon these lands. Now, most of these people are living in nearby towns and cities, struggling to survive in low-paid jobs without access to the lands that had sustained them for thousands of years.

Ethiopia is the second largest flower exporter in Africa after Kenya, shipping flowers to the Middle East, France, Germany, Canada, Sweden, UK, and the Netherlands among other countries. Data from Ethiopian Horticulture Producer Exporters Association  indicates that Ethiopia earned 271 million U.S. dollars from the sale of flowers and other horticulture products in 2018.

Flower selling is anticipated to bring half a billion dollars to the Ethiopian economy by 2025, according to the country’s second national Growth and Transformation Plan that aims to bring Ethiopia to lower-middle income country status by 2025.

Ethiopia Horticulture Targets

A Flourish data visualisation

But as Ethiopia’s floral industry blossoms, three thousand people are displaced annually in the country by flower growing investors, according to the Amhara National Regional State Disaster Prevention and Food Security Program Coordination Office. The foreign horticulture investors are accused of failing to help local communities live decent lives.

“They took large tracts of land and resources in the name of development which we haven’t seen”Solomon Worku, a Nile Water for Nile People Initiative activist.

Hiwote Yazie, 27, a resident of Zenezelma Village, close to Bahir Dar city, in Amhara region said that his community members have been reduced to “immigrants on the land that once belonged to our ancestors.” She said her community did not only lose land but also water bodies. “We have natural water but we never drink it. Investors took it,” Yazie said.

The Land Matrix has documented about 1.4 million hectares of land acquired in Ethiopia in recent decades. 120 deals have been concluded across the country, with 15 deals under negotiation, which would take up another 0.5 million hectares if concluded.

Land Deals in Ethiopia

A Flourish data visualisation

Two thirds of the acquired land in the country was allocated to international investors. Indian companies have acquired the most and largest swaths of land, especially biofuels production and large-scale agriculture, including flower farms. Companies from Saudi Arabia, USA, Italy, Malaysia, China, Austria, Israel, Turkey, Canada and Singapore are also big investors.

Foreign and Local Investors

Made with Flourish

Up to 10 of the largest horticulture investments in Ethiopia are located close to Lake Tana and the Blue Nile, covering 1,200 hectares on the Tana lakeside and another 2,000 hectares on the Blue Nile riverside, according to data from the Ethiopian Horticulture Producers and Exporters Association. The companies include Giovanni Alfano Farm, Condor Farms PLC, Fontana Horticulture PLC, Pina Flowers PLC, Arini Flowers PLC, Solo Agro Tech PLC, Tal Flowers PLC, and Joy Techfresh PLC, among others. 

Location of flower farms

These companies target fertile soils and water of river Nile and Lake Tana. Asrat Tsehay, the head of the Ethiopian Blue Nile River Basin Authority, says roses consume more water than people in the region.  They “consume an average of seven liters of water per stem per week” compared to “five liters of water each person uses per week,” he said.

Production of flowers in this region requires around “20,000 Olympic swimming pools full of water each year,” according to Meselech Zelalem, a water scientist with Amhara National Regional State Water, Irrigation and Energy Development Bureau. This is water from Lake Tana and Blue Nile River. 

Flower farms in this region have also been accused of contaminating the two water bodies with fertilizers and pesticides. Tadele Yeshiwas Tizazu, an agriculture and environmental sciences researcher, says fertilizers and pesticides in floral farms easily leach into the groundwater. This contributes to the growth of the invasive water hyacinth plant, which is slowly destroying Lake Tana, according to Dr. Mesay Abebe, an expert analyst in Ethiopia’s floral sector.

Water weed in Lake Tana. Flower farms have been accused of contaminating Lake Tana with fertilizers. Fertilizers stimulate the growth of water weed.

But floral farm owners say they are working to help communities live decent lives. Sami Banchu from Giovanni Alfano Farm said they have constructed “schools and hospitals [in the region] to stimulate development.” Mohammed Mohayub of Yemeni farm said their operations meet “standard requirements,” stating that the use of pesticides is the same as “what is permitted in Europe.”

Yehenew Belay, the head of investment office for the Amhara regional state, said the government policy that targets “attracting foreign investors at the expense of the host communities” is responsible for land grabs and the suffering of local people. 

A range of studies, including a 2008 report by the Forum for Environment, an Ethiopian environmental advocacy NGO, and a 2016 report by Ethiopian researcher Asnake Demena, have cautioned widespread negative effects of land grabs on the local communities in Ethiopia that were originally living on the land, including evictions and loss of access to natural resources that support their livelihoods. Arable lands, virgin forests and woodlands have also been cleared and allocated for biofuel projects, which destroys the natural ecology, the reports found.

The expert Abebe suggested that the government of Ethiopia should investigate these evictions and displacements and ensure that farmers are resettled and compensated in a manner that respects the rights of residents and adheres to Ethiopian law.

He added that a sustainable solution lies in the government of Ethiopian teaming up with the Horticulture Producers and Exporters Association (EHPEA) to formulate clear regulations that call for sustainable extraction of water from water bodies in this region for farming of flowers.

“All flower farms in the region should be forced to use drip irrigation system which helps to conserve water resources”Dr. Mesay Abebe, Expert Analyst in Ethiopia’s Floral Sector