Water, sugar, and growth: the practical effects of a ‘failed’ development intervention in the southwestern lowlands of Ethiopia


In spite of high capital expenditures, the development of state-owned sugarcane estates in Ethiopia’s southwestern lowlands did not bring the desired success in terms of sugar revenues, employment creation, or the socio-economic development of the local agro-pastoralist population. Yet, the radical and capital-intensive transformation of the Omo River basin was by no means without impact. This paper shows that the Kuraz Sugar Development Project (KSDP) entails ‘side effects’ which manifest themselves in different spatial–temporal dimensions. More technically, the paper examines how water resources are linked to the outcomes of this state-led development intervention and how it increases the degree of legibility from above and outside. It is based on qualitative case study research conducted between 2013 and 2017, which included multiple visits to the study region and in-depth discussions with different stakeholders at the federal and local level.