Panel 23: ENVIRONMENT – Water

Are land grabs actually water grabs? Water scarcity is a driver of land grabs. Arid countries in the Gulf and elsewhere seek to produce their food in other countries’ endowed with higher rainfall, rather than rely on volatile global commodity markets to sustain national food security.

The targets for such inward investment are savannah ecosystems in sub-Saharan Africa. As traditionally managed these rain-fed ecosystems have limited agricultural productivity. The essential water needed to raise crops and livestock comes in two forms for existing farmers as well as for investors: either green water (captured in the soil after seasonal rainfall) or blue (fresh) water (which is diverted or pumped from surface or ground waters to irrigate the crop or fodder). Access to green water is inextricably associated with land leases. Some proposed intensive farming projects are based on irrigation by local blue water resources in rivers and aquifers. Will foreign land deals bring about investments in water infrastructures that compete for scarce water with local farmers and other water users? As water catchments do not fit national boundaries and climate change is likely to amplify seasonal rainfall variation the new demands for water associated with inward investment will politicise access to well watered land? The panel will consider emerging evidence from Ethiopia and Sudan, as well as wider trends from across sub-Saharan Africa and in the global trade and investing systems.

Chair: Tony Allan, SOAS, University of London