Is Water the Hidden Agenda of Agricultural Land Acquisition in sub-Saharan Africa?

by P Woodhouse and A S Ganho

The many headlines focusing on ‘land-grabbing’ have distracted attention from the role that access to water plays in underpinning the projected productivity of foreign direct investment in acquisition of agricultural land in developing countries. This paper will review the explicit and implicit requirements for access to water for irrigation in planned agricultural projects on land that is subject to such foreign investment deals. It will focus particularly on land acquisition in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), where, for savanna ecosystems that cover some two thirds of the area, rainfall uncertainty is the principal constraint to increased agricultural productivity. To the extent that foreign investment ‘land grab’ deals result in the expansion of irrigation in SSA, it is therefore arguable that they may accelerate significantly the development of water infrastructure that will reduce uncertainty and risk inherent in much of African agriculture. For this to be the case, the benefits of such water resource development will need to be broadly distributed. There is, however, some evidence that foreign investment may compete with existing water use, given that land deals have in some instances included provisions for priority access to water in cases of scarcity. Using available secondary sources, the paper will assess the extent to which impacts on water use may constitute a significant hidden agenda of land deals.

File: P Woodhouse and A S Ganho.pdf