As world food and energy demands grow, nations and some corporations increasingly are looking to acquire quality agricultural land for food production. Some nations are gaining land by buying up property and accompanying water resources in other, generally less wealthy countries.
Sometimes called "land grabbing," this practice can put strains on land and water resources in impoverished countries where the land, and needed water, has been "grabbed" for commercial-scale agriculture.
A new study by the University of Virginia and the Polytechnic University of Milan, and currently published in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provides the first global quantitative assessment of the water-grabbing phenomenon, which has intensified in the last four years largely in response to a 2007-08 increase in world food prices.
"Over less than a decade, the rates of land and water grabbing have dramatically increased," said Paolo D'Odorico, Ernest H. Ern Professor of Environmental Sciences in the University of Virginia's College of Arts & Sciences, and a study co-author. "Food security in the grabbing countries increasingly depends on 'grab-land agriculture,' while in the grabbed countries, local populations are excluded from the use of large parcels of land. Even just a fraction of the grabbed resources would be sufficient to substantially decrease the malnourishment affecting some of the grabbed countries."
The study shows that foreign land acquisition is a global phenomenon, involving 62 grabbed countries and 41 grabbers and affecting every continent except Antarctica. Africa and Asia account for 47 percent and 33 percent of the global grabbed area, respectively, and about 90 percent of the grabbed area is in 24 countries.
Countries most affected by the highest rates of water grabbing are Indonesia, the Philippines and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The highest rates of irrigated wa
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University of Virginia