Lands and powers between rural development and global markets: institutional logics, development projects and environmental conflicts in the growing competition for land and water. A geographical survey in African drylands


The research program aims to analyze the effects of the renewed centrality of the “agricultural issue” on the forms of the irrigation projects realized in African arid lands, in the global context of the food, economic and environmental crisis.
During the last years, the double issue of soaring food prices and the global economic crisis pushed an additional 115 million people into poverty and hunger. Since 2009, the total number of hungry people in the world had topped exceeded one billion (FAO data, March 2011).
At the same time we observe a sharp increase in competition for land, water and other natural resources due to climate change and to the higher risk of crop failure; population and economic growth and changing eating habits in populous countries (e.g. China, India and Brasil) with the need to increased fodder production to feed the cattle; foreign direct investment for large scale food production; demands for biofuels and urban and industrial expansion (FAO’s Natural Resources Department, 2011).
This emergency is not only humanitarian, political and financial but it is also a geopolitical stability issue, which could cause conflicts and tensions (e.g. in the recent riots in North Africa and in the Middle East, that have had also a food component) (Crops prospects and food situation, FAO, March 2011).
Definitely this crisis is having significant effects on a specific but absolutely central form of agricultural production linked to the hydraulic territorialization diffusion, that is the irrigation projects of big or small scale, one of the essential way to assure food production.
The crisis has damaged African countries, especially the Sahelo-Sudanese ones, which were already characterised by high vulnerability level. In these countries, insufficient cereal supplies and increasing prices have made poverty worse for local people. On one hand, the emergency status provoked by the crisis makes the strategic role of State resurface, with high visibility projects: agricultural policies stressed on national self-sufficiency and huge investments in cereal crops (especially rice). To reach these aims, governments seek to attract capital and investors to revitalize the agricultural sector.
On the other hand, many countries such as Saudi Arabia, UAE, Libya, South Korea, India and China, where fertile soils and water resources are increasingly scarce, have begun to buy and rent cultivable land, especially in Africa, in exchange for modern technologies, infrastructures (schemes, canals, roads...) and job opportunities.
In this way, many fertile areas of Africa are becoming the favourite destinations of foreign investors, which have the financial funds to perform agricultural exploitation, despite of traditional land tenure rights: this is a real race to land (land grabbing) that crosses national and continental borders (Cotula et al., 2009). How to secure land access as the best safety-net for the poor, and how to promote a good land governance as a necessary condition for secure land access and land tenure rights?
The evolution of those dynamics should be monitored, especially concerning their consequences for more disadvantaged people. We should check what development opportunities are concretely offered to rural communities, what kind of enterprises are created and how costs and benefits are shared.
In such a critical and quickly changing situation, our research aims at studying the evolution of the context of Sub-Saharan Africa. We will analyse the crisis frameworks and the interaction between the international policies, the hydraulic territorialization and the solutions adopted at different scales in disadvantaged countries. The links between the processes, the environmental resources and the sustainability will be analysed as well.
Fieldwork will have huge relevance in the research, in order to identify current undergoing territorial processes, in a context characterised by scarce and relatively unreliable secondary data.

2013 - 2014

Daria Quatrida

Responsabile per il Dipartimento
Andrea Pase