Impacts of Industrial Crops Expansion on Food Security, Biodiversity and GHGs Emission in Ethiopia

By Sileshi Degefa, Phd Candidate at UNU-IAS

World food shortage and oil price rises in late 2000s have triggered large-scale commercial agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa, which is still accelerating. Observing the enormous agricultural potentials and the incentives of cheap land, cheap labor and exemption from taxation, foreign companies are arriving in Ethiopia in large numbers. The government is explicit about the purpose of promoting commercial agriculture, which amongst others, is modernizing smallholder dominated subsistent agriculture through technology transfer, creating employment opportunities and boosting export-oriented crop production. The government is also optimist that industrial crop for biofuel could create an opportunity to solve the acute energy shortage of the country, as the country is a net importer of fossil fuels, which constitutes 60% of the total imports and consumes 70% of the export earnings. Paradoxically, the industrial crops for biofuels has faced serious criticism globally due to its immense danger on global food supply. The concern is manifold for sub-Saharan Africa, where chronic food insecurity has grown in to a food riots. The noticeable shift to non-food crop mono-agriculture, the transfer of land from smallholder peasants to multinational corporates and the new linkage to the international market are some of the factors that worsen the food insecurity of smallholder farmers and other local consumers. Yet, there are two conflicting views with less clarity on the link between the production of industrial crops for biofuel and food security. On one hand, some advocates believe that industrial crops reduce food insecurity by creating additional income, creating employment opportunity and through overflow of agricultural inputs and technologies for the food crop production. The contesting groups argue that, as industrial crops are not for the local market; it deteriorates the food security, evicts the native farmers, uproots their cultures, and creates political instability.  Besides, the opponents argue that the linkage of industrial crops for biofuels and food security is highly complex. The partial analysis of food security impacts of industrial crops alone could lead to the under or over estimation of the biofuels’ benefits.

Recently Ethiopia become the focal point of foreign land investment. About 94% of foreign land investments focus on the production of food for export, primarily to Asian markets.  More than 87 companies from 25 different countries are operating on 3.7million hectares of land between 2007 and 2012. The land leased to investors for Industrial Crop production constitutes 3% of the total land size of the country. Industrial crops for biofuel projects represent only 6% of the foreign land investment, but the industry is on the rise. The major industrial crops widely grown in Ethiopia are coffee, sugarcane, chat (stimulant plant), tobacco, castor oil seed, cotton, tea, jatropha, etc. In this setting, smallholder farmers traditionally grow coffee, chat, and tobacco, whereas, estate and private companies grow the remaining crops. Sugarcane is grown by the estate and recently expanding with a new pace. The government has entered contract with farmers to supply sugarcane in some places and displaced farmers to grow sugarcane in others.

The site of this study is Wonji Shoa Sugar Factory, located about 100 km east of the capital city Addis Ababa.

The sampling unit of the study is households and we will compare the food security status of sugarcane farmers with their counterpart food crop farmers.

Industrial crop agriculture has also other environmental burdens. These includes biodiversity loss, GHGs emission and pollutions. Therefore, we have additional objectives of investigating the biodiversity impacts and GHGs emission of sugarcane industry. We will assess the response of five taxonomic groups (tree, mammals, birds, insect, and rodents) to understand the response of the wider biodiversity while we employed a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to estimate the environmental performance of sugarcane.

Research objectives

The objective of this research is to assess the impacts of sugarcane on the food security of household growing it as compared to their counterpart food crop farmers. We will additionally assess the environmental impacts of the sugarcane throughout the whole production chain, which involves land use change, sugarcane cultivation, harvest, transportation, and processing using a multi-impact assessment approach.

The specific objectives of this research are to:

a)    Assess whether growing sugarcane improves food security of household growing it as compared to farmers growing other food crops and employees of the company;

b)    To examine the biodiversity impacts of sugarcane throughout the whole production chain ranging from land use change to the final products sugar and ethanol;

c)    To examine the GHGs emission and the net energy balance throughout the production chain (LUC, sugarcane cultivation, harvest, transportation, and processing).



We will use household based comparative cross-sectional study to assess the household food security. Multi-stage sampling technique will be implemented. A total of 150 randomly selected households (50 from each groups) will be included in the study. The households are categorized as out growers and non-out growers based on their participation in the out-growers scheme; otherwise, the two groups are similar in many socio-cultural characteristics. We will customize and use the Household Food Insecurity Access Scale (HFIAS), Household Dietary Diversity Scale (HDDS), and Household Food Consumption Score (HFCS) questionnaires, developed by the Food and Nutrition Technical Assistant Project and World Food Programme (WFP). We will also collect socio-demographic and other household level information using a structured questionnaire. We will apply a binary logistic regression model to assess factors associated with food insecurity.

We will use five taxonomic groups (tree, mammals, birds, insects, and rodents) as an indicator to assess the biodiversity impacts of sugarcane. Data will be collected from both primary and secondary sources. The primary sources involve key informant interview and field inventory. We will rely on information from the key informants and secondary data for all indicators except trees where we conduct field inventory. We employ a trait based approach to examine how the sugarcane along its production chain affects biodiversity.

The study uses a life cycle assessment method, and assesses the GHG emission reduction potential and net energy balance. Both quantitative data and qualitative information are collected and analyzed. We follow a framework in ISO 14040 and the methodology in IPCC guideline, 2006 to estimate the total emission and energy balance.