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Legal regimes help resolve water issues surrounding farmland investments

While over 70% of all freshwater resources are used for agricultural production, the value of water has not been fully understood or appreciated.

Water is the key ingredient for agricultural production; land with no water has no value. Understanding the parallel legal regimes at stake is a fundamental first step toward resolving water issues surrounding farmland investments, said Makane Mbengue and Susanna Waltman, authors of Farmland Investments and Water Rights: The Legal Regimes at Stake, a report published by International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).

While more than 70 percent of all freshwater resources are used for agricultural production, the value of water has not been fully understood or appreciated, the report says.

In Africa, which is the focus of Mbengue and Waltman’s report, a significant number of Africans live in water-stressed environments and population growth and climate change are predicted to drastically worsen the current situation.

“Farmland investments – and the large-scale commercial farming they entail – will further exacerbate this strain on water resources because they require vast amounts of water for their operations,” the report says.

The first fundamental step to addressing this reality, according to the authors, is to recognise the role of water in the context of farmland investments and the consequences of not taking that role seriously. “The amount of water extracted for farmland investments, and the quantity and nature of chemicals discharged by the use of pesticides and fertilisers, directly impacts the water resources available for other users, including local communities, other investors or neighbouring states. The different legal regimes that govern the management of water resources need to be understood and integrated into the existing legal framework for farmland investments.”

The report discusses several legal regimes that provide useful guidance for foreign investors including international freshwater law that governs the protection and preservation of international watercourses and international human rights laws, which provide for the obligation to protect and ensure the human right to water.

Farmland investments trigger parallel and sometimes competing obligations from international investment treaties, freshwater law, environmental and human rights law.

IISD is an institute that promotes human development and environmental sustainability through innovative research, communication and partnerships, according to its website. Water is one of IISD’s focuses.

Read the Farmland Investments and Water Rights: the legal regimes at stake

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