Saudi Star Agriculture and Irrigation Project in Gambela, Ethiopia


As part of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Initiative for National Food Security, which seeks to outsource food production overseas, Saudi Star PLC acquired large areas of land in Gambela, Ethiopia. In 2008 Ethiopia’s ruling party, lead by then-Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, signed a 60-year concession on 10,000 ha with the companies’ head, Saudi billionaire Sheik Al-Amoud. The total area Saudi Star has under lease in Gambela is 140,000 ha, but the company aims to increase this to 500,000 ha. Development of rice production and an irrigation project using water from the Alwero River (the irrigation project is funded by the government of Ethiopia) was underway as of 2012. In January 2012, Human Rights Watch reported that local populations were forcibly displaced for the Saudi Star rice project in Gambela. Shortly after the announcement of the irrigation project in April of 2012, Saudi Star’s farms came under attack, resulting in 5 dead and 11 wounded. Retaliation attacks were reported, as well as villagers fleeing to neighboring Sudan. Federal police now guard the area. The project is also infringing on Gambela National Park boundaries.

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Basic Data
NameSaudi Star Agriculture and Irrigation Project in Gambela, Ethiopia
SiteAbobo area
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Land acquisition conflicts
Intensive food production (monoculture and livestock)
Specific CommoditiesRice
Other - Teff, Oilseed, Sunflowers
Live Animals
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsThe companys stated target is to grow 1 million tonnes of rice per year to generate US$1 billion per year in export revenues, leasing a total of 500,000 ha in Ethiopia. It plans to employ 250,000 people.

Project Area (in hectares)140,000
Level of Investment (in USD)2,500,000,000
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population70.000
Start Date2008
Company Names or State EnterprisesSaudi Star Agricultural Development Company from Saudi Arabia
Relevant government actorsEx-Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, Current Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn
International and Financial InstitutionsProtection of Basic Services
The World Bank (WB) from United States of America
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersHuman Rights Watch,, Oakland Institute,, Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia,, Inclusive Development International,
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginPREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups MobilizingFarmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International Organizations
Forms of MobilizationCommunity-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Land occupation
Media based activism/alternative media
Advocacy by international NGO and Diaspora groups; At the local level demonstrations and resistance. (5 killed in an attack on farms workers in April 2012)
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Desertification/Drought, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Potential: Soil erosion, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsVisible: Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..) , Deaths
Potential: Malnutrition
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures
Project StatusUnder construction
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCriminalization of activists
Violent targeting of activists
Other: WB investigation of displacement/human rights violation underway (2013)
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.An injunction prepared by IDI was sent to the WB to investigate if funds are allocated to Vilagization, a direct by-conflict of Saudi Star’s project. As of August 2013 the investigation has been approved but no further action has been taken. Construction on Saudi Stars project continues.
Sources and Materials

Lands are sold via Ethiopia’s eminent domain


Oakland Institute, 2011, 'Land Deal Brief: Saudi Star in Ethopia'
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The Guardian, 'Land Grabbers: Africa's Hidden Revolution'
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, 'Has Saudi Star learned right lessons from deadly ant-‘land grab' attacks on its Ethiopian farm?'
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, 'Ethiopia: Land rent contractual agreement made between Ministry of Agriculture and Saudi Star Agricultural Development PLC'
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, 'Saudi billionaires company will invest $2.5 billion in Ethiopia rice farm'
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, 'Al-Amoudi plans largest agro investment' http:///2716
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, 'State enterprise sues Saudi Star'
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, 'Saudi Star among firms behind thousands of forced relocations in Ethiopia' http:///post/view/19938
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, 'Ethiopia: forced relocations bring hunger, hardship'
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, 'Official: gunmen kill 5 farmworkers in Ethiopia'
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Solidarity Movement for New Ethopia, 'African Land & Natural Reserouce Grabs Destroy Lives and Futures of Africans'
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Gambela Today 'Ethiopia: Lives for Land in Gambela'
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All Africa, 2013, 'US, UK, accused of ignoring, facilitating abuses in Ethiopia'
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Media Links

, 'Ethiopia: A battle for Land & Water'
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'Saudi Star rice farm'
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Meta Information
ContributorAliza Tuttle
Last update24/06/2014