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Africa: Land Grabs Leave Africa Facing 'Hydrological Suicide' - Report
allAfrica.com: Africa: Land Grabs Leave Africa Facing 'Hydrological Suicide' - Report
By Emma Batha, 12 June 2012
A scramble for cheap African farmland by foreign investors threatens to leave millions of people without water and could ultimately drain the continent's rivers, a report warns.
"If these land grabs are allowed to continue, Africa is heading for a hydrological suicide," said the report's co-author Henk Hobbelink, coordinator of GRAIN, an organisation supporting small farmers.
Foreign governments and wealthy individuals are snapping up millions of hectares of land on the continent for large-scale agriculture projects to grow food and biofuels for export.
But the report warns there is simply not enough water in Africa's rivers and water tables to irrigate all the newly acquired land.
In some cases communities are already being moved off land to make way for these mega-projects. In others, the plantations will divert water from rivers that local people depend on for their own farming and everyday needs.
"Millions of Africans are in danger of losing access to the water sources they rely on for their livelihoods and for the survival of their communities," Hobbelink said.
"The worst case scenario is indeed we end up with a situation where the entire continent's river systems will dry out."
Hobbelink said the land deals - many of them along the Nile and Niger rivers - were already creating tensions in some parts and could fuel conflict.
Countries leasing land include Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Egypt, Zambia, Kenya Tanzania, Mali and Senegal.
The report, Squeezing Africa dry: behind every land grab is a water grab, said those acquiring farmland knew that the access to water they were automatically gaining - often without restriction - could well be worth more in the long term than the land deals themselves.
Agriculture already sucks up around 70 percent of freshwater used globally. But demand is likely to soar as the world population increases.
Investors come from India, Saudi Arabia, China, UAE, Libya, Qatar, the United States, Britain, France and Canada among others, according to GRAIN.
But the report said Africa was in no position to support these massive new agribusiness projects - one in three Africans already lives with water scarcity and climate change will make things worse.
Hobbelink also pointed out that in many parts of Africa there were distinct dry and rainy seasons and local communities had adapted their farming methods to suit these fluctuations. But he said many crops being farmed on the new plantations, including rice, sugar cane and palm oil, required huge amounts of water all year round.
Much investor interest is focused on countries in the Nile basin. The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has estimated the ten countries in the basin have enough water to irrigate a maximum of 8 million hectares.
But four countries alone - Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt - have already established irrigation infrastructure for 5.4 million hectares and leased out a further 8.6 million hectares.
Tensions have already flared over one project in Gambela in Ethiopia. The plantation, owned by Saudi-based billionaire Mohammed Al-Amoudi, is irrigated by water diverted from the Alwero River which locals depend on for fishing and farming.
In April an armed group ambushed Al-Amoudi's Saudi Star development operations, leaving five people dead, according to GRAIN's report.
Advocates of land deals and irrigation projects say these big investments in Africa should be hailed as an opportunity to tackle hunger and poverty. But Hobbelink said people were being paid as little as 70 cents a day to work on projects.
"Virtually all the land use we've seen is about installing huge plantations and removing people from their territories," he added.
"It's more about creating poverty than helping to address it."
Hobbelink said the key to ending poverty was to invest in and improve on local technologies and methods for managing and conserving water.
"We think the current drive for land-grabbing, as we call it - which is what we think it is, has to be stopped," he added.
GRAIN's report comes ahead of the Rio+20 summit on sustainable development. Water will be one of the key topics under discussion when the meeting opens on June 20.
Read more at AlertNet Climate, the Thomson Reuters Foundation's daily news website on the human impacts of climate change.
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- 06-14-2012, 03:50 PM #2.I am:
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Re: Africa: Land Grabs Leave Africa Facing 'Hydrological Suicide' - Report
Squeezing Africa dry: behind every land grab is a water grab
2012-06-13, Issue 589
cc J BHidden beneath today’s global scramble for farmland is a growing scramble for control over water.
Those who have been buying up vast stretches of farmland in recent years, whether based in Dubai or London City, understand that it's the access to water that they get from the land deals, which they often get for free and without restriction, that may well be worth the most over the long-term. "The value is not in the land," says Neil Crowder, whose UK-based company, Chayton Capital, has been acquiring farmland in Zambia. "The real value is in water.”
And water is abundant in Africa, according to those behind the hundreds of large farmland deals that have been signed across Africa. They say the continent's water resources are vastly under-utilised, and they want to harness them for their agriculture projects. But the reality is that a third of Africans already live in water-scarce environments and climate change is going to up these numbers significantly. A closer look at where these deals are taking place and how much water they plan to consume shows that the projects will rob millions of people of their access to water and risk to deplete the continent's most precious fresh water sources.
WHEN THE NILE RUNS DRY....
Few countries in Africa have received more foreign interest in their farmland than those served by the Nile River. The Nile, Africa's longest river, is a lifeline especially for Egypt, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Uganda, and already a source of significant geopolitical tensions aggravated by the numerous large-scale irrigation projects that have been undertaken in the region. Back in 1959, Great Britain brokered a colonial deal that divided the water rights between Sudan (a bit) and Egypt (a lot), and no one else. Massive irrigation schemes were built in both countries to grow cotton for export to the UK. In the 1960s, Egypt built the mighty Aswan Dam to regulate the flow of the Nile in Egypt and increase irrigation possibilities. The dam achieved both, but it also stopped the flow of nutrients and minerals that fertilised the downstream soils of Egypt's farmers.
This economically, ecologically and politically fragile Nile basin is now the target of a new wave of large-scale agriculture projects. Three of the main countries in the basin, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Sudan have, together, already leased out millions of hectares in the basin and are offering more. To bring this land into production, all of it will need to be irrigated. Ethiopia is the source of some 80% of the Nile water. In its Gambela region on the border with South Sudan, corporations such as Karuturi from India and Saudi Star from Saudi Arabia are already building big irrigation channels that will massively increase Ethiopia's withdrawal of water from the Nile. And these are just two of the actors involved. One calculation suggests that if all the land that the country has leased out is brought under production and irrigation it will increase the country's use of freshwater resources for agriculture by a factor of nine.
Further downstream, in South Sudan and Sudan, some 4.9 million hectares of land has been leased out to foreign corporations since 2006. That is more than the size of the whole of the Netherlands. And further up north, Egypt is also leasing out land and implementing its own new irrigation projects. Of course, it remains to be seen how much of all this will actually be brought into production and under irrigation, but it is difficult to imagine that the Nile can handle this onslaught.
Reliable figures on how much irrigation is actually possible and sustainable are difficult to find. The FAO, in various publications and in its Aquastat database, gives figures on 'irrigation potential' and actual irrigation by country and river basin. FAO establishes 8 million hectares as the total 'maximum value' available for total irrigation in all 10 countries of the Nile basin. But the 4 countries mentioned above already have irrigation infrastructure established for 5.4 million hectares and have now leased out a further 8.6 million hectares of land where irrigation will be developed.
THE NIGER, ANOTHER LIFELINE AT RISK
Another part of Africa targeted by agribusiness is the lands along the Niger River, West Africa's biggest river. Mali, Niger and Nigeria are the countries most dependent on the river, but seven other countries in the Niger basin share its water. It is also extremely fragile as it has suffered from man-made interventions such as dams, irrigation and pollution. Water experts estimate that the volume of the Niger has shrunk by one-third during the last three decades alone. Others indicate that the river might lose another third of its flow as a consequence of climate change.
In Mali, the river spreads out into a vast inland delta which constitutes Mali's main agricultural zone and one of the region's most important wetlands. It is here that the 'Office du Niger' is located and where many of the land grabbing projects are concentrated. The Office du Niger presides over the irrigation of over 70,000 ha, mainly for the production of rice. It is the largest irrigation scheme in West Africa, and it uses a substantial part of all the river's water, especially during the dry season.
Back in the 1990s, the FAO put Mali's potential to irrigate from the Niger at a bit over half a million ha. But now, due to increased water scarcity, independent experts conclude that the whole of Mali has the water capacity to irrigate only 250,000 ha. Yet the Malian government has already signed away 470,000 ha to foreign companies from Libya, China, the UK, Saudi Arabia and other countries in the past few years, and is offering much more.
The Nile and the Niger basins are just two of the areas where land and water rights are massively being given away. The areas where land grabbing is concentrated in Africa coincide almost completely with the continent's largest river and lake systems, and in most of these areas irrigation is a prerequisite of commercial production
The Ethiopian government is constructing a dam in the Omo River to generate electricity and irrigate a huge sugar-cane plantation – a project that threatens hundreds of thousands of indigenous people that depend on the river further downstream. It also threatens to empty the world’s biggest desert lake, fed by the Omo River, Lake Turkana.
In Kenya, a tremendous controversy has arisen from the government's plans to hand out huge areas of land in the delta of the Tana River with disastrous implications for the local communities depending on the delta's water.
The already degraded Senegal River basin and its delta have been subject to hundreds of thousands of hectares in land deals, putting foreign agribusiness in direct competition for the water with local farmers. The list goes on and is growing by the day.
If this land and water grab is not put to an end, millions of Africans are going to lose access to water sources which they need for their livelihoods, as they are moved out of the areas where land/water deals have been agreed to, or simply see the access to their traditional water sources blocked by newly built fences, canals and dikes that are owned by someone else.
There is simply not enough water in Africa's rivers and water tables to provide irrigation for all of the large-scale agriculture projects that foreign companies are pursuing. If and when they are put under production, these 21st century industrial plantations will rapidly destroy, deplete and pollute water sources across the continent. Such models of agricultural production have generated enormous problems of soil degradation, salinisation and water logging wherever they have been applied.
Africa is in no shape for such an imposition. Over one in three Africans live with water scarcity, and the continent's food production is set to suffer more than any other from climate change. The advocates of the land deals and mega-irrigation schemes argue that these big investments should be welcomed as an opportunity to combat hunger and poverty in the continent. But bringing in the bulldozers to plant water-demanding crops for export can never be a solution to hunger and poverty.
If the goal is to increase food production, then there is ample evidence that this can be most effectively done by building on the traditional water management and soil conservation systems of local communities, and by strengthening collective and customary rights over land and water sources.
EDITOR’S NOTE: |Read the full text of this new report from GRAIN here.
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