Why Ethiopia’s Showcase Sugar Projects Face Huge Challenges

Sunset over Omo River valley in southern Ethiopia. Flickr/Rod Waddington

By Benedikt Kamski

If it’s completed, the Kuraz sugar project in Ethiopia will be a mega-scheme unprecedented in size and processing capacity. The project sits on 100,000 hectares in the southwestern lowlands along the lower reaches of the Omo River.

Kuraz was the showcase project of the state-owned Ethiopian Sugar Corporation under the country’s first five-year growth and transformation plan launched nearly a decade ago. One of its central objectives was to meet increasing local demand for sugar. It also aimed to become a net exporter of sweeteners and to create hundreds of thousands of jobs.

This was to be achieved through the development of large-scale irrigated sugarcane estates. But today, Kuraz is just one example of the disappointing results of a decade of state-led sugar industrialization.

Across the country, several billion US dollars have been invested in new processors. Existing sugar estates have also been expanded. Yet, progress has been stuttering for years. This is illustrated by fluctuating industry output. The planned cane cultivation of Kuraz, the largest of such ventures, has been reduced by 75,000 hectares. The number of processors has also been reduced from five to four, partly because of a costly redesign of waterworks.

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