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Forthcoming article on the impacts of displacement and resettlement in the Lower Omo Valley

The lower Omo is set to become the largest irrigation complex in Ethiopia, with the Ethiopian Sugar Corporation’s ‘Kuraz Sugar Development Project’ as its centrepiece. This will require the forced displacement and ‘villagization’ of thousands of agro-pastoralists. Since villagization began in 2012, Edward (Jed) Stevenson and Lucie Buffavand have been studying its impacts on the food security and well-being of the resettlers, using both household surveys and long term ethnographic research.

They are now about to present the first results of this work in an article entitled Do our bodies know their ways?:Villagization, food insecurity and ill-being in Ethiopia's Lower Omo Valley. The article has been accepted for publication in the African Studies Review and is made available here, in pre-publication form, with the permission of the editors.


This paper investigates food security in the context of development-forced displacement. In southwest Ethiopia a large hydro-electric dam and plantation schemes have forced people to cede communal lands to the state and business speculators and indigenous communities have been targeted for resettlement in  noe, consolidated villages. We carried out a food access survey in new villages and communities not yet subjected to villagization; we complement this with ethnographic research. Survey data suggest that household food insecurity was high in both places, but lower in villagization sites than in communities not subjected to villagization. Ethnography paints a very different picture. Settlers were unable to feed themselves, and depended on food aid. The salient features of villagization were heat, indignity and bodily discomfort. We discuss the contrast between the information generated by the different research methods, and ask how surveys might mistake the precarious  state in which the settlers found themselves for the stable and continuing state implied by food security. We highlight the potential of survey research to mislead and stress the importance of taking local context into account. The impacts of villagization in the Lower Omo cannot be understood apart from wider forces that are changing both the way people live and the landscape around them.

Click here to view the published text

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