How to govern the global rush for land and water?

Authored by: Julia Ismar

Handbook of Land and Water Grabs in Africa

Print publication date:  August  2012
Online publication date:  September  2012

Print ISBN: 9781857436693
eBook ISBN: 9780203110942
Adobe ISBN:


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The global financial crisis, the 2007/08 food crisis and shifting trends in energy supplies have gathered as the perfect storm on arable land. As a consequence, investments in farmland and the acquisition of large tracts of fertile land in Africa, South America and Eastern Europe have picked up significantly, giving rise to the notion of a global ‘land grab’. The common narrative behind this catch-all phrase is that ‘national governments in “finance-rich, resource-poor” countries are looking to “finance-poor, resource-rich” countries to help secure their own food and energy needs into the future’ (Borras and Franco 2010a: 508). This trend has been decried as the latest act of neo-colonial 1 intervention in Africa, which is where roughly 70% of the land grabs are taking place (Deininger and Byerlee 2011). On a more pragmatic note, (international) investment in Africa’s land is presented as one solution to the global food crisis, a way of overcoming the chronic lack of investment needed to kick-start the agricultural sector in Africa, hence creating win-win situations for investors, the host states and the sub-Saharan rural poor alike. Media reports have focused on Sovereign Wealth Funds of the Gulf states and Western investment funds as main actors, even though private and local investors are increasingly joining the race for unutilised, ‘reserve’ lands. This race, however, is not only about land. In many African countries, water and land rights are inextricably linked (Meinzen-Dick and Nkonya 2007), with the consequence that water is often implicitly or explicitly given away with the land. This ‘blue dimension’ of the land grab has only been acknowledged recently, but has now spurred the notion of a ‘water grab’, a scramble for the world’s finite water resources masked by the interest in wide swaths of land.

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