The Future of South Omo Valley

The South Omo Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a unique and spectacular place, located in the south western part of Ethiopia. The Omo Valley hosts some of Africa's most fascinating and colorful nomadic and semi-nomadic ethnic groups like the Mursi, Kara, Hamer or Bodi tribe.


Many of the tribes, mostly small in size, are pastoralists and they practice flood-retreat agriculture along the Omo River. Until now the indigenous ethnic groups of the Omo Valley are some of the most traditional in Africa. But this can soon be over. The Ethiopian Agriculture and Rural Development State Minister Aberra Deressa claims: " .. at the end of the day we [do] not really appreciate pastoralists remaining in the forest like this ... pastoralism is not sustainable ... we must bring commercial farming, mechanized agriculture, to create job opportunities to change the environment."

What does that mean for the South Omo Valley? In 2011 the Ethiopian government started a 5 years development plan for the region around the Omo River. It covers state-run sugar plantations in South Omo, construction of new roads and the development of six sugar cane factories along the west bank of the Omo River. Moreover, the Gibe III dam has alarmed foreign countries around the world. The tallest dam in Africa will have a deep impact on the indigenous people like displacement of land or loss of the floodwater for the flood retreat agriculture.

The government forces the indigenous people to leave their ancestral lands to resettle into new villages. Since 2008 over 350.00 hectares of land has been earmarked for commercial agriculture production. The idea is that the new villagers find work in the sugar cane factories. There are serious concerns about the impact of this development on the tribes and the livelihoods of the indigenous people of the Lower Omo Valley.