Amid some misgivings here about India’s acquisition of vast stretches of land, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi Wednesday rejected charges of land grab as “loose talk” and welcomed Indian investment for development.
“There is no land grab and there will be no land grab. Indian companies should not be constrained by this loose talk,” Zenawi, the longtime leader of Ethiopia, said at a joint press conference with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after their bilateral talks.
He was responding to a question on reports in sections of the international media about Indian companies acquiring thousands of hectares of land in Ethiopia at subsidised prices.
“We have three million hectares of unutilized land. This land is not used by anybody. This land should be developed,” Zenawi said, adding that it was difficult for him to accept reports of land grab.
A host of Indian companies like Karuturi Global, which grows roses on Ethiopian soil and exports them to Europe and now will grow maize, and Ruchi Soya, have acquired thousands of hectares of land in Ethiopia that have triggered accusations of land grab.
Manmohan Singh and Zenawi held bilateral talks after the conclusion of the two-day India-Africa forum summit in the Ethiopian capital. The two leaders sought to scale up economic and security ties and agreed to combat the twin problems of terrorism and piracy.
Besides pledging $300 million for an Ethiopia-Djibouti rail link, India announced setting up of capacity-building research institutions in the areas of agriculture and textiles.
During the first visit by an Indian prime minister to Ethiopia, Manmohan Singh also announced an increase in scholarships, training programmes and slots under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme for Ethiopia.
Zenawi also made a strong pitch for attracting more Indian investment in diverse areas, including agriculture, technology, infrastructure and information technology, saying such investments were for the development of his country.
He said bilateral trade between India and Ethiopia, estimated to be $660 million, was “peanuts” and sought to scale it up to $1 billion.
Rejecting concerns over the widening trade imbalance, Zenawi called for more than doubling of the $4.5 billion Indian investments in Ethiopia to $10 billion by 2015.