Ethiopia: Heineken is said to leave farmers without land

Heineken is said to leave Ethiopian farmers without land, according to an investigative report by Mail & Guardian, a South African weekly newspaper and website.

In 2013, following Heineken’s decision to build a new brewery in Kilinto, a town on the outskirts of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, about 200 villagers were evicted from their land to make way for the new brewery. Although the farmers did receive some compensation in the form of a small plot of land and one-off cash payment, they consider this to be far below the value of the land that was taken from them.

“It was a depressing time,” says Tolosa Balacha, a former farmer in Kilinto. On a piece of land of 1 000 square meters, he grew barley and teff, Ethiopia’s staple food, before he was told he had to move.  In compensation, he received a piece of land measuring 50 square meters plus ETB 60 000, or just over USD 2 000 at the time. “The plot was too small to build a new house and the money was too little to buy one,” he says. “Now I’m a security guard on a construction site. My life is standing still.”

Many farmers who were forcibly resettled feel the same way as Mr. Balacha. This is the opposite of what people were promised when Heineken announced to build a new brewery 10 years ago. “Everyone benefits from this,” said Lilianne Ploumen, Dutch minister of foreign trade and development co-operation at that time, when she laid the first stone for the new brewery on a sunny day in February 2013.

By law, all land in Ethiopia belongs to the state. Foreign companies that want to build factories or operate farms must rent land from the government. It is the government that is responsible for relocating and compensating anyone who already lives there.

Since 2008, some seven million hectares have been leased to investors. “The land grabs are done mostly without prior consultation and without adequate compensation, sometimes with no compensation, to the evicted farmers and community members,” wrote Samrawit Getaneh, at that time a legal researcher at the African Union, in a 2019 article in the African Human Rights Law Journal. Getaneh described the phenomenon of land grabs across Africa as a “neocolonialist scramble for Africa”, of which Ethiopia is the epicentre.

Although Heineken was not directly involved in the land grab, the company does not appear to have done anything to mitigate the risk and denies any responsibility for it.

“In line with Ethiopian practice, the process of engaging with stakeholders, providing fair compensation and suitable relocation is managed by the Ethiopian government,” Heineken said in response to a request for comment. “We are concerned to hear allegations of human rights abuses and, while we were not directly involved in the resettlement process, we will engage locally to understand what happened and whether there is evidence of mistreatment. If so, we will engage with the relevant authorities to understand what can be done to address the concerns.”

Heineken entered the Ethiopian beer market in 2011, through the acquisition of two government-owned breweries operating in Ethiopia, one in the east Harar Region, and the second in Bedele, in the west of Ethiopia. In 2015 Heineken inaugurated its latest state-of-the-art breweryin Kilinto near Addis Abeba and since then it has continued to expand and invest in the country and became market leader in the landlocked country in the horn of Africa. More than one year ago, it lost this status again, when Diageo announced to enter into an agreement for the sale of Meta Abo Brewery, its brewery in Sebeta, Ethiopia, to BGI, part of Castel Group. (, 25.1.2022)

Share this article: