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Addis Ababa University


The phenomenon of larege-scale agricultural investment (hereafter LSAI) has raised profound concerns and debates regarding food security, livelihoods, and socio-economic status of the societies where such investment projects transpire. Particularly, empirical evidence regarding the impact of LSAI on the livelihoods of the local community is limited. The purpose of this study is, therefore, to quantify the actual impact of such investment on the livelihoods of the local community and contribute to filling knowledge, empirical, and methodological gaps in the literature. By using a primary retrospective data collected from 505 households and 150 married women in Abobo and Itang districts, this study employed a Propensity Score Matching method to estimate the impact of LSAI on food security and asset/wealth status of the affected households as well as on women empowerment level. Statistical techniques such as Multiple Correspondence Analysis and Principal Component Analysis were employed to construct various indexes. The quantitative analysis was complemented by qualitative data collected from 31 key informants and nine focus group discussions. The qualitative data were analyzed using content analysis. Various primary and secondary data sources were also utilized to analyze and understand the history, policy and legal frameworks, nature, magnitude, and benefits of LSAI in Ethiopia in general and Gambella region in particular. The result of this study indicates that government agencies have a weak capacity to administer investment land and projects and are characterized by flimsy horizontal and vertical coordination and integration. The land governance system is also found to be unresponsive, non-transparent, and unaccountable, and characterized by rent-seeking, corruption, and rule of man. The existing institutions, structures, land and investment policies are also failed to safeguard the local communities against potential and actual risks of the investment and to ensure potential benefits and rights expected from the investment. Above all, investment projects are poorly integrated to or isolated from the local community due to the enclave business model they adopted. Contrary to the neoclassical but consistent with middle path theories of investment, the study finds that LSAI has a negative impact on food security and wealth status of the affected households mainly due to government failure. On the other hand, in line with the argument of the resource in culture theory, the result shows that married women’s employment in LSAI projects does not have an impact on their empowerment level. In general, LSAI has contributed to the deterioration of livelihood assets of the local people and worsened the food insecurity and wealth status of the affected community than they would have been without the investment. Moreover, the federal government and Gambella regional state failed to respect, protect, and fulfil food security needs of investment hosting community through LSAI. From the gender perspective, women’s access to paid employment in LSAI projects does not improve their empowerment level. We, therefore, recommend that the state should not promote LSAI at the expense of local people’s livelihoods and urge the government to reform the sector in such a way that take the local context and rights into account and involve local people at each stage of decision making so that they can directly benefit from employment opportunities, infrastructural development, and technological transfer. Besides, the government need to look at other investment alternative models, for example, eco-tourism (that include diversified production systems of the indigenous community and promote people-centred and empowerment approach). Keywords: Large-scale agricultural investment, Livelihoods, food security, asset, women empowerment, Gambella, Ethiopia