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Water grabbing and the role of power: Shifting water governance in the light of agricultural foreign direct investment

Andrea Bues
Humboldt Universit├Ąt Berlin, Berlin, Germany;
Insa Theesfeld
Leibniz Institute of Agricultural Development in Central and Eastern Europe (IAMO), Halle (Saale), Germany;

ABSTRACT: In recent years, the trend for foreign actors to secure land for agricultural production in low-income countries has increased substantially. The concurrent acquisition of water resources changes the institutional arrangement for water management in the investment areas. The consequences of 'land-grabbing' on the local water governance systems have not so far been adequately examined. This paper presents an institutional analysis of a small-scale irrigation scheme in Ethiopia, where foreign and national horticultural farms started to use water from an irrigation canal that was formerly managed as a user-group common-pool resource by local smallholders. The study follows a qualitative case-study approach with semi-structured interviews as the main source of data. For the analysis we employed the Common-pool Resource Theory and the Distributional Theory of Institutional Change. We found that the former management regime changed in that most of the farmers' water rights shifted to the investment farms. We found three key characteristics responsible for the different bargaining power of the two actor groups: dependency on natural resources, education and knowledge, and dependency on government support. We conclude that not only the struggle for land but also the directly linked struggle for water is led by diverging interests, which are determined by diverging power resources.

KEYWORDS: Water grabbing, power resources, water rights, agricultural foreign direct investment, Ethiopia