In anticipation of Earth Day on April 22, a blistering new study has emerged on the escalating climate crisis in Africa and the threat to water for millions of Africans.

Large-scale agricultural plantations have been drying up African lands, according to the California-based Oakland Institute in its newly published report released on the eve of the Forum Alternatif Mondial de ‘Eau (FAME 2022) in Dakar, Senegal. The report sounds the alarm on a corporate water grab and calls for urgent action.

Researchers over the years have noted with concern the growing number of international investors profiteering from large-scale agricultural projects across Africa. “Financial flows going into agriculture are growing more and more institutionalized—and more and more private,” wrote the international nonprofit “Grain” in an article titled: “Barbarians at the Barn: private equity sinks its teeth into agriculture.”

“To be sure,” says Grain, “investing in agriculture has been going on since time immemorial. But since the mid 2000s, institutional investment in agriculture has really taken off.

“From seven agriculture-focused funds in 2004 to more than 300 today, the interest in capturing profits from farming and agribusiness on a global scale is real—and COVID-19 is not slowing things down.

“While 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 exposes the impact to be just the opposite,” Oakland Institute found.

“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,” they said.

“Investors typically want reliable access to water sources,” said Frédéric Mousseau, author of the report “Drying Out African Lands: Expansion of Large-Scale Agriculture Threatens Access to Water in Africa” 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 fail to materialize,” Mousseau said.

Lack of irrigation in Africa is a major factor holding back agricultural production and food security. When irrigation infrastructure is established, it benefits private firms for large-scale agriculture, often for export crops, instead of local farmers and communities.

“People living in drought stricken lands are severely impacted by large-scale irrigation projects that reduce available pastures, as fences and canals cut through traditional routes of people and livestock,” the Institute found.

Also highlighted in the report is the role of the World Bank and other financial institutions which have been guiding African governments to grant investors large plots of land and favorable water access for their large-scale projects. Tens of millions of acres of land and “underutilized” water resources are being sold off despite the devastating impact of these projects on local communities.

“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,” he said, “which has to be preserved and prioritized over granting resources to corporations that have a long track record of social and environmental devastation.”

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