Alliance Against Hunger and Malnutrition in Asia

Ensuring Household Food and Nutrition Security in Asia

‘Land grabbing is water grabbing’ says Land Coalition director

ILC Director Niasse Madiodio

STOCKHOLM (28 Aug): The wave of large-scale land deals seen around the world is turning out to be not just an issue about “land grabbing” but also “water grabbing”.

During an address at one of the sessions at the World Water Week which opened on Monday in Stockholm, Dr. Madiodio Niasse, International Land Coalition (ILC) director, said there is growing evidence that in developing these lands, severe adverse impacts on people and the environment ensue, with often serious threats to water availability in the targeted countries. He said even riparian states face threats as most interventions are directed to internationally shared river basins.

“What the evidence is telling us is that the current wave of transnational land deals largely deserves to be referred to as ‘land grabbing’, and increasingly as ‘water grabbing’, as we better understand that what is really at stake is water,” Niasse said.

Citing data collected by ILC members and partners, he said that between 2009 and 2011, there were about 1,000 land deals made, involving more than 50 million hectares.

Niasse said ILC is against all forms of land grabbing at all levels, from local to international. “The ILC denounces large-scale land acquisitions that violate human rights in any way, that are socially and economically unjust, are environmentally unsustainable or are based upon undemocratic processes that do not allow for benefit sharing.”

He said ILC’s studies have shown that in recent years these land deals tend “to share the patterns of being secretly negotiated and hastily planned.”

Niasse also said that food is rightly perceived as the ultimate security need and one of the major global challenges facing humanity in the 21st century.

He noted that wealthy countries and emerging economies are putting substantial efforts in coming up with appropriate short- and long-term responses to this challenge. “Poor countries should do the same by developing national food security strategies  that help  ensure that their land and water resources are mobilized to primarily serve their own needs.

“Lessons should be learned from the many national strategies and action plans that have been prepared in the past – e.g. for fighting desertification, for climate change adaptation, combatting poverty, promoting IWRM [Integrated Water Resources Management], etc,” he said.

Niasse said very few of these initiatives, which are highly donor-driven, achieved their objectives. To succeed, the needed national food security strategies have to be nationally owned and driven, which requires government leadership and the involvement of all stakeholders, including those who already live off the land and water resources, he stressed.

He acknowledged that investment in agriculture is critical, especially in developing countries. “The investment needs are huge, but it is unclear where the money will come from.”

He said it’s a problem Africa faces, noting that almost 10 years after African heads of states committed to allocating at least 10 percent of  their national budgets to agriculture, only five out of 53 countries have met the target.

“There is no indication that domestic investments is taking place apart from purely speculative land acquisitions by urban-based elites.  Agricultural aid to Africa is just a fraction of what it was in the 1970s,” he said.

For poor countries, it’s a question of where to find viable or less costly alternatives to large-scale land deals, Niasse said.

“As we seem to have entered a period of chronic deficits in food production and skyrocketing prices of key staple crops, it is urgent to act. But what exactly can be done? With what resources?”

He said one avenue which has not been sufficiently explored is to empower the owners and actual users of the land – small farmers in developing countries, and particularly women – to become “the prime investors and food producers of the future”.

“But  creating the conditions that would unleash the investment potential at this level (including through more equitable and secure land and water rights, and provision of basic water infrastructure) can be a long-term effort, while in the current context, time is of the essence,” he said.

Meanwhile, in opening the Stockholm conference, Food and Agriculture Organization Director-General José Graziano da Silva  warned that water scarcity and pollution are posing a growing risk to key food production systems around the world.

“Agriculture, as we practice it today, is one of the causes of this phenomenon, as it represents 70 percent of all freshwater uses,” said Graziano da Silva in a statement.

But he also noted that the food production sector offers tremendous potential for changing how the world uses water.

“Agriculture holds the key to sustainable water use,” said Graziano da Silva.  “There is no food security without water security.”

To achieve that and meet the world’s growing demand for food, “we need to produce in a way that conserves water, uses it more sustainably and intelligently, and helps agriculture adapt to climate change,” he added.

In the statement, FAO said recurring droughts highlight the need to better manage water resources and safeguard food security.

It said that droughts in some parts of the world has hurt global grain production and contributed to food price spikes virtually every other year since 2007.

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