Food for 9 Billion: Bangladesh & Ethiopia

Photo by John Miller / American Public Media's Marketplace

This week there were two installments in the ongoing series entitled “Food for 9 Billion,” a yearlong collaborative project by the Center for Investigative Reporting, Homelands ProductionsPBS Newshour and American Public Media’s Marketplace.

On Tuesday this week, Marketplace aired this piece focused on Bangladesh and the problems its people face due to climate change. As John Miller reports, “Bangladesh is one of the world’s great food success stories. In the 1970s, famine killed more than a million people. But since then the country has made huge strides. It’s still extremely poor. But incomes are up, malnutrition is down, and the population growth rate is about half what it was a generation ago. And it produces enough rice — the staple food — to feed just about everybody. Which is no small feat, since it’s got half the population of the United States crammed into a space the size of Iowa. The question now is whether climate change will sweep those gains away.”

Yesterday, PBS Newshour ran this segment focused on a struggle over land and water rights in Ethiopia, where the interests of multinational investors seem to be trampling the rights of rural people. As Cassandra Herrman describes, “The Anuak people of the Gambella region have lived in scattered settlements like this for centuries, growing maize in wetter months farming closer to the river in the dry season. But last year, the Ethiopian government launched a program called villagization. Officials told the people here they would be relocated to areas with better access to clean water, health, and education. But this woman says they were forced to move under false pretenses…. The plight of the Anuak people is at the heart of a complex battle over landownership and water rights between farmers, the government, and foreign investors…. According to the company Saudi Star, when completed, this rice farm [being developed on land that Anuak consider theirs] will be the largest in Africa.To attract investors to this area of the Nile River Basin, the Ethiopian government puts few, if any restrictions on water usage in its contracts with foreign companies. Saudi Star will spend $2.5 billion on the rice farm, on clearing forests, on their fleet of new tractors and combines, and on extra experts…. But, in Gambella, Anuaks say they are not seeing the benefits of the country’s investment strategy. While companies like Saudi Star now have access to much of the region’s best land and water, the leader of this village says they’ve been moved to drier areas where farming is more difficult.”

Both stories are well-reported slices of life in the 21st century that, while distant from the US, are nonetheless very much linked to our modern way of life. Check them out.

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