Land Grabbing in Africa: investigating the hydraulic territorialization patterns between local development and global markets


During the past 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 exceeded one billion. 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 diet habits in populous countries (e.g. China, India and Brasil) with the need to increased fodder production to feed cattles; foreign direct investment for large scale food production; demands for biofuels and urban and industrial expansion; and, starting from 2008, the “food resources commodization” process.

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.
Definitely this crisis is having significant effects on a specific but absolutely central form of agricultural production linked to the hydraulic territorialization: the large or small scale irrigation projects, one of the essential way to assure food production.

Are we at the beginning of a new season of irrigation agriculture’s expansion in PVS? Will the big project pattern appear again, the same pattern that in the ’80 and ’90 ended in failures? Will the attention to people participation be forgotten, the same attention that may have appeared only as a password in reaction against the big projects’ crisis? How will the new strategic role of the agricultural issue impact on the embryonic local development processes rising from the big exogenous projects’ withdrawal? Is this process going to impose again and again a strongly unstable territoriality, erazing other territorialities and local specificities for rigid schemes “valid” in every territory? Will the actual reality in PVS, where there’s the presence of a stakeholders multitude and their capacity in acting on different scales, be crushed by the big projects’ exclusive and excluding territoriality?

These are some of the issues the present research project plans to investigate. The observation field will be dry Africa, north and south of Sahara desert, where water resources’ management is essential to agricultural production because of the rain scarcity in the recurrent scanty precipitation’s years. In Sahel, we intend to observe the hydraulic territorialisation’s evolution in weak countries, where in the ’90 the small project’s pattern spread abroad, and there was the attempt to implement private or associative entrepreneurship. In the Mediterranean shore, it will be possible to observe the evolution of great projects linked to water. In this case, strong countries (due to oil and gas resources, population numerousness, tradition) can impose transformative patterns of territories and agricultural societies. The interpretative schemes and the field work experiences of the proponent group, will allow to apply the geographical analytical tools, required to light up these issues, crucial also for the same results of the development project.

Marzo 2016

Pierpaolo Faggi

Pierpaolo Faggi (Dipartimento di Scienze Storiche, Geografiche e dell'Antichità)
Andrea Pase (Dipartimento di Scienze Storiche, Geografiche e dell'Antichità)
Marina Bertoncin (Dipartimento di Scienze Storiche, Geografiche e dell'Antichità)
Andrea Pase (Dipartimento di Scienze Storiche, Geografiche e dell'Antichità)
Daria Quatrida (assegnista di ricerca)
Egidio Dansero (Università degli Studi di Torino)
Giovanni Sistu (Università degli Studi di Cagliari)
Davide Cirillo (Università degli Studi di Torino)
Sara Bin (professore a contratto)
Anna Brusarosco (professore a contratto)