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Peace seems to be restored

Four flower farms targeted by Ethiopian rebels

At least four flower farms in Ethiopia were attacked by rebels in the past few days. The extent of the damage is still unclear.

Ethiopian rebels attacked flower farms in the Bahir Dar region. According to Royal FloraHolland, at least four flower farms have been damaged by arson and vandalism. A fifth nursery was attacked, but the staff managed to defend it. Among the affected companies are a Belgian vegetable grower and an Italian grower of cut flowers. An Indian and a Dutch company are currently working on constructing a production facility in the region.

The extent of the damage at the affected companies is unclear. Yesterday, there was talk of burnt-down nurseries and destroyed pump houses, but today there is talk of mainly vehicles that have been destroyed. Esmeralda Farms, one of the affected companies, reported yesterday that it's virtually impossible to get in touch with the company in Ethiopia.

Flower supplies
The consequences for the supply of flowers appear to be limited. With around 80 hectares, Bahir Dar isn't a major horticultural region at the moment - but the Ethiopian government is looking at ways to change this. "The capital, Addis Ababa, is at 2,400 meters altitude, and this region is at 1,700 meters. A flight could stop over, load up a few thousand extra boxes and fly on," says Rinus Bouwman of BSI (Bouwman Snijder Importservice). He knows the region, having two clients there. "They weren't attacked," he says. "At those companies, the army was present." The farms do notice the consequences of the unrest. "Staff wasn't allowed onto the nursery the past days. Today they can get back to work," the consultant says. "But then the flowers haven't been harvested for two or three days."

But why are the flower farms targeted? "The government decided to expand agriculture in the Bahir Dar region," Bouwman says. "For that reason, investments have been made in recent years in the airport for instance, where large-scale cooling facilities were installed. This year, 10,000 hectares of land were appointed for the expansion of the agricultural area surrounding Addis Ababa, but the owners of the land, the Oromo, weren't compensated." During revolts against these government acts, several people were arrested. "The plan to disown the land has been partially reversed, but these people are still behind bars." This is one of the reasons why the unrest has flared up again, now in the regions of Gondar and Bahir Dar. Another issue is that the government wants to give 30,000 hectares of land to Sudan. That land belongs to the Amhara people. "That's another reason for the unrest," Bouwman says.

Peace seems to be restored
The nurseries are often a public-private partnership, and some nurseries are entirely owned by the Ethiopian government. "The protests have spread to Bahir Dar from other regions. And there have been a lot of casualties. Not only nurseries were attacked, banks and schools were targeted as well - anything that's related to the government in some way." The situation is now under control.

Bouwman doesn't expect the unrest to spread to regions with more flower production. "More army troops are being sent to this region already, in order to keep the people under control. There are two main ornamental production regions in Ethiopia. In one of them, a majority of the population work in flower cultivation, and the other region is home to the air force and army base. Things will remain calm there."
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