The water resource implications for and of FDI projects in Africa

A biophysical analysis of opportunity and risk

Authored by: Mark Mulligan

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 rising demand for global farmland has been predominantly analysed through the lens of the social sciences. Despite the major advancements that have been made through empirical studies in African countries, the environmental implications of the goal to ‘awaken Africa’s sleeping giant’ (Binswanger 2009) have yet to be fully addressed. This chapter examines the geography of croplands, water and land productivity in Africa using a range of new remotely sensed datasets. We examine, by major sub-basin, the distribution of African croplands and pasture, their dry matter productivity and water productivity. We will compare productivity in African basins with that achieved under similar temperature and rainfall conditions elsewhere in the world to examine the productivity gap and thus the potential to achieve more ‘crop per drop’ in these basins. These analyses may indicate where advanced techniques and high inputs could sustain significant production through foreign direct investment (FDI): the ‘opportunities’. We then examine the ‘risks’ to investment. First, we examine the sensitivity of actual evapo-transpiration to increase in tree and herbaceous cover as a means of understanding the potential downstream hydrological implications of enhanced consumptive loss of water as a result of FDI in African land and water resources. This biophysical analysis is also carried out in relation to the magnitude of affected downstream populations. Second, we examine basin constraints to FDI by examining per capita water, availability by basin including an analysis of water quality. Finally we turn our attention to specific proposed large-scale investments and examine their hydrological context, opportunities and risks.

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