Is the rush for land really a rush for water?

Investment in agricultural land by international actors has increased dramatically in recent years. The food price crisis in 2008, initiated by droughts in grain-producing parts of the world, triggered an international rush for farmland, primarily in Africa and Latin America. Liberia has been the most aggressive nation in the land market, and has already made 61 per cent of total agricultural land available to investors.

The potential effects on local farmers and land rights were rapidly brought to global attention, and many have termed in land grabbing. Others see little difference between investment in land and other forms of Foreign Direct Investment. Up until the World Water Week, there has been a surprising silence on one fundamental aspect of this rush; the water that is needed for agricultural production on the acquired land.

The majority of investors come from regions facing water shortages and increasing demand for food, such as China, India, and the Arab Gulf countries, who may be investing in land in order to gain access to water resources. New investments from North American and European funds and corporations have also expanded quickly in recent years. The rapid increase in cultivated farmland will require significant quantities of water to sustain production. The majority of land lease contracts, however, contain no legal arrangements
for water use on the territories.

Water use for irrigation in land leased by foreign parties is also absent from regional discussions over transboundary waters in the majority of shared basins around world.

Land leasing will have a big impact on local development and the global food market. But for better or worse?

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