Skip to main content Skip to footer

Drying Out African Lands: Expansion of Large-Scale Agriculture Threatens Access to Water in Africa

Drying Out African Lands cover slide
Clearing waste pushed by Golden Veroleum into streams over hundreds of meters, North of Panama town, Liberia, September 2017 © Milieudefensie
March 15, 2022

As the escalating climate crisis threatens access to water for millions across Africa, Drying Out African Lands: Expansion of Large-Scale Agriculture Threatens Access to Water in Africa unveils the devastating impact of large-scale agricultural plantations on the right to water on the continent.

Since the 2007-2008 food crisis, Africa has been the primary destination of private international investors for large-scale agriculture schemes. Governments justify granting access to land and water to investors to meet the needs of development and food security. A review of 15 large-scale agriculture projects across 11 African countries, however, exposes the impact to be just the opposite.

Projects have often led to the loss of streams and swamps — diverted or destroyed to establish plantations. The intensive use of chemicals and pesticides has not only polluted water sources, but also led to the loss of drinking water, crops, fish, and pastures. This disproportionately impacts women, who also bear the burden of collecting water.

Lack of irrigation in Africa is flagged as a major factor hampering agricultural production and food security. When irrigation infrastructure is established, however, it benefits private firms for large-scale agriculture — often for export crops — instead of local farmers and communities. People living in arid and semi-arid lands are severely impacted by large-scale irrigation projects that reduce available pastures, prevent flood recession agriculture, while fences and canals cut through traditional routes of people and livestock.

The report details how many projects move forward without any concern for the potential environmental impact, resulting in significant pollution from the intensive use of chemicals and pesticides. While most countries require Environmental Impact Assessments, many projects moved forward before assessments were conducted or made public. “Furthermore, there is rarely any mechanism to ensure that mitigation measures are implemented once projects are established. Government agencies, in charge of safeguarding health and environmental standards, often fail because of the lack of capacity or political will,” noted Mousseau.

The report also reveals the role of international institutions in guiding African governments to grant investors large tracts of land and favorable water access to establish large-scale agriculture schemes. Through Investment Promotion Agencies set up by the World Bank, African countries are currently advertising tens of millions of hectares of irrigable land and “underutilized” water resources despite the devastating impact of these projects on local communities.

With many governments failing to perform their duty towards their citizens in preserving and ensuring their basic right to water, Drying Out African Lands details how communities and NGOs are left to advocate against the projects — and often faced with violent repression.

Drying Out African Lands report cover