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Water Grabbing In The Blue Nile River Basin: A Focus On Ethiopia

Congress: 2015
Author(s): Eva Crego Liz (Vancouver, Canada)

Keyword(s): Sub-theme 17: Climate change, impacts and adaptation,

In this paper, we evaluate the blue and green water footprint of land grabbing in Ethiopia and we analyze the implications this phenomenon might have on water resources with a special focus on the Nile River Basin.

Large-scale land acquisition by foreign, and to less extent by domestic investors, mainly in developing countries, is a phenomenon that has accelerated over the past years, especially since the food price crisis in 2007-08. The increasing demand for food due to population growth and dietary changes, as well as the increasing demand for biofuels, are some of the drivers that explain the growing interest in large-scale farmland investments (Allan et al., 2013). This phenomenon is also known as land grabbing, since these large-scale land acquisitions most often lack transparency and are not based on free, prior and informed consent of the affected land-users (ILC, 2011). Water grabbing goes hand-in hand with land grabbing, water being a necessary input for agricultural production. In that sense, the land grabbing phenomenon calls for attention to the water-food-energy nexus and to the need to address water, food, and energy security challenges jointly.

Ethiopia is among the most land grabbed countries in the world (Rulli et al., 2013). In addition, its long-standing claims on a larger share of the Nile waters have been always stifled by Egypt. The new development of irrigated agriculture in Ethiopia, brought about by foreign investment in land, might challenge the existing status quo regarding water resources allocation in the Nile River basin. In addition, land and water grabbing might give rise to environmental and water justice issues when the land and water rights of the current users are infringed.

Within this general context, we evaluate the blue and green water requirements of land grabbing in Ethiopia and we discuss the implications this phenomenon might have on water resources from a water governance perspective.

Studies in this regard have already been conducted (Rulli and D'Odorico, 2013; Dossio et al., 2012). Rulli and D'Odorico (2013) have estimated the blue, green and grey water footprint of land grabbing at a global scale. At a more detailed scale, Dossio et al. (2012) have estimated the water implications of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in agricultural land in Ethiopia and in relation to the Blue Nile watershed.

With objectives similar to those of Dossio et al. (2012), we evaluate the blue and green water requirements of land grabbing in Ethiopia drawing on the most current Land Matrix dataset, an extensive database launched in June 2013 that includes information on land deals all over the world, and considering not only the FDI but also the domestic investment. The approach taken in the present study also differs from the one of Dossio et al. (2012), being the main goal of this paper, not only to quantify the amount of water that will be needed to bring into production the grabbed land, but to provide as well relevant information and discussion to inform future water management and water governance strategies at a basin level. To this end, we carry out the analysis at three different levels or scales: 1) the local level; 2) the country level; 3) and the regional or watershed level.


The Land Matrix is a global and independent land monitoring initiative that has collected an extensive global dataset on large-scale land acquisitions. Drawing on the information compiled in the Land Matrix database about the size of land deals and the type of crop to be produced, the blue and green water footprint associated with land deals is estimated at a regional level for Ethiopia, using the CROPWAT 8.0 model (FAO, 2009).

Data on land use and land cover, as well as actual and projected dam storage capacity, has been used to refine the green and blue water footprint estimates.


This is a still ongoing research. Nevertheless, our primary results provide some estimates of the amount of blue and green water that would be necessary to bring into production all of the agricultural land subject to large-scale land deals in Ethiopia.

The accuracy of the estimates is intrinsically bounded to the accuracy of the Land Matrix database. As stated by its developers, the land deals dataset is inherently unreliable due to the lack of transparence surrounding the land grabbing phenomenon. In that sense, the figures obtained will most likely be an underestimate of the actual water requirements associated with large-scale land acquisitions. Nevertheless, they provide useful information regarding the implications that land grabbing has on water resources. Our analysis in this paper focuses mainly on the Ethiopian Regions that are within the Blue Nile River basin. The accounting of the blue and green water footprint of land grabbing at a regional level may help to better inform water governance strategies at a basin level. This kind of analysis also helps to bring to light the water resources captured by foreign investors associated with large-scale land acquisitions, and highlights the environmental justice implications of this phenomenon.


The blue and green water footprint of land grabbing estimated for the Ethiopian Regions within the Blue Nile River Basin provide relevant information regarding water uses in the basin that may help to inform better and more equitable water governance and water management strategies in the future. The analysis also highlights environmental justice issues that contradict the long-standing Ethiopian claims on a more equitable and reasonable share of the Nile waters, since evidence show that a more productive use of Nile's water might not to be accompanied by a more equitable share of water and benefits for the communities. 1. Allan, T., Keulertz, M., Sojamo, S. and Warner, J., 2013. Handbook of Land and Water Grabs in Africa. Foreign direct investment and food and water security. Routledge, Avingdon, UK.

2. Bossio, D., Erkossa, T., Dile, Y., McCartney, M., Killiches, F., Hoff, H., 2012. Water Implications of Foreign Direct Investments in Ethiopia's Agricultural Sector. Water Alternatives, 5 (2), pp.223-242.

3. FAO, 2009. CROPWAT 8.0 Decision Support System. Available at

4. International Land Coalition, 2011. Tirana Declaration - Securing land access for the poor in times of intensified natural resources competition. Global Assembly 2011, Tirana, Albania, May 24-27, 2011. Available at

5. Rulli, M.C., Saviori, A., D’Odorico, P., 2013. Global land and water grabbing. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – PNAS, vol. 110, no. 3, pp. 892-897.

6. Rulli, M.C. and D’Odorico, P., 2013. The water footprint of land grabbing. Geophysical Research Letters, vol. 40, pp. 6130-6135.

2011 IWRA - International Water Resources Association - - Admin