Thousands of residents have waited over one year for cash payments after losing lands in relocation
Two thousand six hundred households in Western Tigray Zone, Welkayit Wereda, 1,200Km north of Addis Abeba, have complained over delayed compensation for their land that was taken in the name of a sugar development project a year ago.
Back then 50,000ha of land was taken from these farmers who were promised to be compensated with money and a replacement plot of land. A replacement of land was immediately given but the money is yet to be paid. The wereda is among the most populous in the Zone which has a population of 140,983, according to data from the Central Statistics Agency (CSA).
The project, one of three mega initiatives, faced a challenge from early days. In 2012/13, even the displacement was conflict-ridden, with episodes of clashes between the residents of two kebeles, Tsebri and Tselima, when they were relocated to a kebele called Korarit.
In addition to the aforementioned kebeles, farmers from Sherella and Addis Flewuha kebeles were among the relocated.
A farmer in one of these had to leave his 3.5ha to be granted a 1.75ha plot; the average land replacement was close to half of what everybody used to occupy.
"Back then we were promised to get cash calculated at 18,000 Br for one hectare," said the farmer. "However, so far nothing has come out of it."
A second farmer, from Addis Jamot Kebele, vented his frustration, referring to the lack of infrastructure in the new location.
"Unlike the kebele I used to live in, the new one does not have sufficient access to water and electricity," one head of a relocated family told Fortune.
He then recounted that two years ago they tried to form an association of 40 individuals to deal with the compensation issue but they ended up in prison. However, officials denied that any incarceration took place.
Following a delayed response and the potential danger posed to the farmer's claim of their right to the cash compensation, the issue has gone to the region's administration and the office of the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF).
Debretsion Gebremeskel (PhD), deputy chairman of the party affirmed that that he is aware of the situation.
"A solution is underway by the wereda administrators," he said.
The wereda administrators too, confirmed the problem further elaborating the situation.
"The delay in the main project ended up having a domino effect on the whole process," said Amenaye Mesfin, head of the Welkayit sugar development project.
Initiated six years ago, the project was originally planned to be completed in six years time. But instead, it was initiated two years later by relocating the farmers. In the initial plan the farmers were integrated beneficiaries, to have the advantage of irrigation, using the dam which is also a component of the project. But that too has been delayed.
The sugar factory was projected to have 24,000tn of cane per day. When it reaches its maximum production capacity, it will be capable of producing 484,000tn of sugar and 41,654 cubic metres of ethanol a year. The factory is now being built by a Chinese company called CAMC Engineering.
Assuming that there will be a water supply from the Zarema River, construction of the May Day Dam by Sur Construction is also in progress.
Compounding the already extreme delay is a shortage of finance, experts closely assessing the projects commented.
"The compensation payment is delayed because it was not in the initial plan," Amenaye told Fortune. "Revenue from irrigation farming was the ideal setting but due to the delay we resorted to pay money."
The overall cost of the project has now escalated to 20 billion Br, from this 500 million dollars was secured from Chinese Import-Export bank back in 2013.
So far the dam has reached 50pc of its completion and the factory is estimated to be around 20pc complete. With the adjusted plan, the factory is expected to be completed in 2018/19.
From registering the original land settled by the residents before the relocation, the half plot given after the relocation, the discrepancy between the amount that is left, and checking those facts have taken time, he explained.
The information gathered has gone to administration at the region's level at least a couple of times, according to the project head.
During the first submission there were a list of people that should not have been included. Once again, the public was not consulted on the matter.
The region's Agriculture Bureau is mandated to handle the situation through a dedicated office for the Relocation Programme Council, which was established to deal specifically with the issue.
The process is still in the hands of the wereda administration.
"We are trying to facilitate both the counting and infrastructure development of the new villages," Jejaw Demoz, head of the wereda explained. "The wereda has now finalized the estimation process," he added.
After calculating the sum of money to be paid in compensation, the 'bill' it will be sent to the federal government, represented by the Ethiopian Sugar Corporation for approval, followed by the cash payment.
This case is part of ten sugar development projects that were proposed to be completed in the first growth & transformation plan (GTP I) but failed to materialize.
"In order to process the payment we have to have the document from the region," Gashaw Aychiluhim, corporate communication head at the Corporation said.
It will be cross checked and approved by the corporation.
This is not the first time that a sugar development project in Ethiopia has clashed with the public over compensation issues. Its project in Omo River was a point of contentious discussion. In 2012, human rights activists criticized the relocation of locals to make way for the Omo-Kuraz Sugar Development Project.
In three sugar development projects - Welkayit, Omo and Tana, close to 19,000 households have been affected with 38pc relocated, while the rest came under the villagization process. Villagization entails establishing new settlements of people, including pastoralists.
During GTP I (2011-2015), the Corporation spent more than 750 million Br for the purpose of infrastructure development and compensation payments to those households who were resettled due to the sugar development projects.