Global land and water grabbing for food and bioenergy

Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 5:00 PM
Maria Cristina Rulli, Politecnico di Milano, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Milano, 20133, Italy and Paolo D'Odorico, Univ Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, United States
The increasing demand for food, fibers and biofuels, the consequently escalating prices of agricultural products, and the uncertainty of international food markets have recently drawn the attention of governments and corporations toward investments in productive agricultural land, mostly in developing countries. Since 2000 more than 37 million hectares of arable land have been purchased or leased by foreign investors worldwide. The targeted regions are typically located in areas where crop yields are relatively low because of lack of modern technology. It is expected that in the long run large scale investments in agriculture and the consequent development of commercial farming will bring the technology required to close the existing crop yield gaps. Recently, a number of studies and reports have documented the process of foreign land acquisition, while the associated appropriation of land based resources (e.g., water and crops) has remained poorly investigated. The amount of food this land can produce and the number of people it could feed still needs to be quantified. It is also unclear to what extent the acquired land will be used to for biofuel production and the role played by U.S. and E.U. bioenergy policies as drivers of the ongoing land rush. The environmental impacts of these investments in agriculture require adequate investigation. Here we provide a global quantitative assessment of the rates of water and crop appropriation potentially associated with large scale land acquisitions. We evaluate the associated impacts on the food and energy security of both target and investors’ countries, and highlight the societal and environmental implications of the land rush phenomenon.