Land And Water Grabbing A Global Phenomenon
A recent study by the University of Virginia and the Polytechnic University of Milan titled Global Land and Water Grabbing is the first global quantitative assessment of land and water grabbing, Science Daily reports.
The study was conducted by Paolo D’Odorico, Ernest H. Ern Professor of Environmental Sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences in the University of Virginia, together with Maria Cristina Rulli and Antonio Saviori of Politecnico di Milano in Italy. Their study is currently published in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The global phenomenon of land and water grabbing occurs around the world between ‘grabbers’ -nations which gain land by buying land and property together with accompanying resources- and ‘grabbed’ countries -generally less wealthy countries whose lands are bought by foreign nations. Professor D’Odorico observes in the Science Daily article that rates of land and water grabbing have increased in less than a decade. Water grabbing in particular has shot up in the last four years, attributed to the increase in global food prices between 2007 and 2008. As global demands for food and energy grow, ‘grabber’ nations are increasingly on the lookout for opportunities to acquire agricultural land for food production.
Food security is one of the major driving forces behind land and water grabbing. Grabbings have taken place on every continent except Antarctica. According to the study, there are 62 countries which had land and water resources grabbed from them by 41 ‘grabber’ countries. Africa accounted for 47% of grabbed area while Asia 33% percent. Nine-tenths of grabbed land are in 24 countries around the world.
The countries which are most active in land grabbing are those in the United Arab Emirates, North America, Middle East, Europe, and Southeast Asia. Through land grabbing, 60% of the total water resources grabbed is appropriated by companies in the United States, United Kingdom, India, Egypt, Israel, and China.
Countries which are affected the most by highest rates of water grabbing are the Philippines, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Indonesia. Tanzania and Sudan are most affected by the highest rates of irrigated water grabbing.
When land has been grabbed for agricultural countries, a switch occurs in the land from being a natural ecosystem, or in some cases small scale agriculture, to being large-scale commercial farming. This could lead to overuse of water and land with negative repercussions on the environment, especially if local populations are excluded from management and decision making about their land and water resources. Oftentimes it is the local, small-holder farmers who are in a better position to assume stewardship of their own natural resources and environment.
D’Odorico said that by losing control of parts of their natural resources, local people in many cases are giving up their most valuable assets. These are the same natural resources that might be crucial to achieving food security either in the present or the future. On the other hand, foreign land acquisition could benefit some countries by bringing in technological investments that increase agricultural productivity. Also, local people could benefit from employment opportunities.
But a better way to benefit people in nations where resources grabbing have occurred is to make sure that they are involved in decision making regarding reallocation of rights on land and water resources, D’Odorico said. They should also benefit from part of the wealth generated by foreign investments. These could be used to improve food security for local populations in a sustainable way, or to enhance agricultural productivity for local farmers.
Though the global phenomenon of land and water resources grabbing seems here to stay, support from both the United Nations and national governments could help local populations rise from being helpless onlookers to being partners in management of their most valuable resources.
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