Water-grabbing: Practices of Contestation and Appropriation of Water Resources in the Context of Expanding Global Capital: from Part I - Re-Politicizing Water Allocation

G.J.A. Veldwisch, Jennifer Franco, Lyla Mehta

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

4 Citations (Scopus)


Introduction Over the past decade, much media, academic, and policy attention has focused on the rapid growth of large-scale land deals around the world (see Borras and Franco, 2010; Cotula, 2012; Cotula et al., 2009; Deininger, 2011; De Schutter, 2011; GRAIN, 2008; Li, 2011; Oxfam, 2011; von Braun and Meinzen-Dick, 2009; White et al., 2012; World Bank, 2010; Zoomers, 2010). The rush to acquire land as sources of alternative energy, food and feed crops, and environmental services led to the phenomenon popularly known as “land grabbing,” which made global headlines and contributed to skyrocketing global food prices in 2008. Drawing on notions of “marginal,” “waste,” “vacant,” “idle,” and “unproductive” lands, powerful transnational and national actors moved into large-scale agriculture to take advantage of potential windfall gains in sub-sectors such as biofuels, “flex crops” (e.g. sugar cane, palm oil, maize, soya - see Borras et al., 2012) and other major commodities (e.g. rice, wheat and other cash crops). Conservation and climate change mitigation measures also drove new demands for land (hence the notion of “green grabbing,” cf. Fairhead et al., 2012).Headline attention to “land grabbing” also turned a spotlight (albeit comparatively weaker) on the implications for existing surface water and groundwater resources (hence the notion of “water grabbing,” see Transnational Institute, 2014a). Early on, evidence suggested that in many cases the location of land grabbing was motivated also by the desire to capture water resources (Skinner and Cotula, 2011; Smaller and Mann, 2009; Woodhouse and Ganho, 2011). Although water is a potential constraint on large-scale agricultural projects, many land deal contracts did not explicitly mention water requirements (Woodhouse, 2012). Meanwhile, the land grabbed was rarely “marginal” but either already being used by small-and large-scale producers, or of prime quality and associated with irrigation facilities, or with the potential to acquire fresh water from river systems or aquifers; in arid areas, land is plentiful, and agricultural expansion will not create conflict until water is provided. This raised the crucial question of whether this water is truly “available,” unsustainably withdrawn (ultimately undermining the land’s quality), or unequally reallocated (away from existing users).Although initial media and policy attention associated land grabbing almost exclusively with large-scale food, feed and fuel crops, later research and advocacy moved beyond this limited focus on agriculture-driven resource-grabbing.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWater Justice
EditorsR. Boelens, T. Perreault, J. Vos
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
ISBN (Print)9781107179080
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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