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Karayu pastoralists of Ethiopia call for government to ensure cultural survival

15 March 2004

Ethiopia’s Karayu pastoralists have called upon the government to step up its efforts to assist them and protect their rights in consultation with community representatives. The Karayu have lost much of their ancestral pastoral lands to commercial farming interests, agro-industry and for use as nature parks and game reserves, leaving their traditional nomadic livelihoods threatened and offering them little alternative means of survival. Representatives have called for a share in new opportunities and for efforts to ensure the possibility to continue traditional practices and pastoralist lifestyles.

A representative of the Gudina Tumsa Foundation (GTF), an indigenous NGO working with the Karayu pastoralist community at the grassroots level, came to the UN Working Group on Minorities to highlight the plight of the Karayu and call for urgent measures to assist them. Karayu pastoralists are one clan of the Oromo ethnic group in Ethiopia, and live in eastern part of Oromia regional state in Fantalle district. Pastoralism is the basis of their livelihood and relies on mobility as an integral part of the pastoral system.

According to the Gudina Tumsu Foundation, a sugar factory has taken over 14,000 hectares of grazing land, while chemicals from agro-industry plants have caused environmental degradation and pollution. Many chemicals go into the Awash River, which is used by both grazing animals, and for human consumption. The community was forcibly displaced from the area to an area with no water resource, without compensation, leaving members of the community having to walk many miles for water and to reach pasture and water for their animals. The communities’ traditional mobility has been severely restricted and In 2003 the community lost 70 percent of their cattle and were forced to survive on emergency food aid.

The GTF welcomed initiatives by the Federal government, but highlighted the need for a range of social services to assist the Karayu, and for investment of some of the profits from industry to benefit the displaced people and assist local development initiatives. The organization raised its concern over possible expansion of sugar plantations to engulf a further three villages which it suggests would ‘threaten the very existence of the community’. The present government is encouraging the community to stay on the land and produce sugarcane to sell to the factory. The GTF stated: ‘We welcome the government’s willingness to suggest an alternative livelihood for the community. However, we are concerned that there has not been sufficient consultation with the community and it affects their cultural lives’.

Notes for editors

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