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New Report Reveals the Threat of Large-Scale Agriculture Schemes on Access to Water in Africa

March 15, 2022
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, 6:00 AM PT

Media Contact:
Anuradha Mittal, [email protected] +1 510-469-5228
Leonard Shang-Quartey, [email protected]; +233 242303423/+221 707634061

  • New report exposes the devastating impact of large-scale agriculture on communities’ access to water, livelihoods, and food security in Africa.

  • A review of 15 projects in 11 countries — released on the eve of the Forum Alternatif Mondial de l’Eau — People’s Alternative World Water Forum in Senegal (FAME 2022) — sounds the alarm on water grabs and calls for urgent action to protect the right to water across Africa.

  • Pushed by international institutions such as the World Bank and western aid agencies, governments are advertising millions of hectares of “irrigable land” as “available” for investors.

  • While companies are offered land with unlimited, cheap or free access to water, promises of development, infrastructure, and services to communities have failed to materialize.

Oakland, CA — As the escalating climate crisis threatens access to water for millions across Africa,  a new report from the Oakland Institute unveils the devastating impact of large-scale agricultural plantations on the right to water on the continent. Drying Out African Lands: Expansion of Large-Scale Agriculture Threatens Access to Water in Africa, released on the eve of the Forum Alternatif Mondial de l’Eau (FAME 2022) in Dakar, Senegal, sounds the alarm on corporate water grab and calls for urgent action.

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.

“For the plantations, investors typically want reliable access to water sources,” said Frédéric Mousseau, report author and Oakland Institute’s Policy Director. “While they enjoy extensive freedom to use the land along with unlimited, cheap or free access to water, their promises of development, infrastructure, and services to the communities have failed to materialize,” Mousseau added.

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.

“This report sounds the alarm on the dire threat these large-scale agriculture projects pose to the water usage rights that family farmers, fishermen, and pastoralists have informally held for centuries,” said Leonard Shang-Quartey, Regional Coordinator of FAME 2022. “Access to water is a basic human right which has to be preserved and prioritized over granting resources to corporations that have a long track record of social and environmental devastation,” he concluded.

The report’s release comes a week before the global water justice movement gathers in Dakar for the FAME 2022 — People’s Alternative World Water Forum. The objective of FAME 2022 is to create a concrete alternative to the World Water Forum (WWF) — a mega-event convened by the corporate-driven multi-stakeholder World Water Council, which brings banks, transnational water companies, academics and public agencies together to mainly promote private sector solutions to water governance, management and delivery. The Oakland Institute shares the global water justice movement’s vision that water is not a market commodity but a sacred part of our global commons to be shared equitably and protected for future generations.