Can the river speak? Epistemological confrontation in the rise and fall of the land grab in Gambella, Ethiopia


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In this paper, I focus on the role of knowledge production in the rise and fall of the Indian multinational agribusiness firm Karuturi’s efforts to become a leading global supplier of food through the initiation of large-scale industrial agricultural production in the Gambella province of Ethiopia. In particular, I interrogate a modernist epistemological framework which privileges the ‘‘developmental’’ knowledge of the Ethiopian state and the ‘‘productive’’ knowledge of Indian capital as central to the urgent task of mastering nature and bringing dormant virgin lands to life, while at the same time it necessarily discounts, through processes of racialization, displaced indigenous peoples and nonhuman life forms as beings incapable of efficient and productive economic activity. My argument in this paper is that while modernist knowledge production and mobilization has been critical to Karuturi’s construction of the Gambella land concession as a staging ground for its launch into global prominence in agro-food provisioning, it has also proved fatal to the project, as the epistemological inability to incorporate indigenous knowledge that accounts for ‘‘extra-human’’ agency left the company dramatically unaware of the particular socio-ecological dynamics of the Baro River ecosystem on whose floodplain the land concession was located.



Geography, 1205 Urban and Regional Planning, 1604 Human Geography, 1402 Applied Economics