During the previous few years, a new and important trend began to take place in the African continent. Foreign governments and private agricultural and food producing companies began to buy and/or lease agricultural land for the purpose of food production. Nearly all of the countries involved are not self-sufficient in food production. The countries that have been active in the African continent include South Korea, who bought 1.7 million hectares in Sudan for wheat cultivations. Saudi Arabian companies have leased 25,000 hectares in Ethiopia to cultivate rice. The Indian government has leased hundreds of thousands of hectares of agricultural land for cultivation of corn and rice. China also acquired large tracks of land in Zambia and the Congo to use the cultivated products to produce biofuel. There are other countries that are also involved in African food and agricultural cultivation to ensure their future food needs.
The American-Oakland Research Center in California reported that the buying and/or leasing agricultural lands for cultivation in Africa began to create a serious problem for native African farmers. Furthermore, the report revealed that foreign governmental and private investors have already acquired more than 60 million hectare since 1999. In addition, foreign governments and private investors also secured extra privileges and guarantees from the African governments of water resources and free taxation. The report also revealed that millions of dollars from such agreements ended up in the pockets of government officials. (www.ahram.org, 6/11/2011).
It is of interest to notice that the land that is suitable for cultivation and has been the target is located around the Nile River basin countries, as well as Sudan and Ethiopia. The various land purchases that will be used to cultivate agricultural products require water for irrigation. The water supply at the present is not sufficient enough, especially for Egypt, which depends totally on the Nile River for its existence. According to the 1959 water agreement between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt, the latter should receive 75% of the Blue Nile Water and Sudan 25%.
Even this portion of water is not enough for Egypt, who imports nearly half of its wheat needs annually. During the past ten years, Egypt and the Nile River basin countries have been discussing the old agreements of water sharing and so far no agreements have been reached.
The sale of more agricultural land to foreign governments will complicate the matter even further, especially for Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. The situation should also be viewed in light of the population growth in the three states. At the present, Egypt’s population is around 88 million. Sudan’s population is around 45 million and Ethiopia’s population is 85 million, which adds to a total population of 218 million. At the present rate of growth, the three states’ total population by 2035 will reach around 450 million people and by the year 2060 will reach around 700 million people.
The sale of land by African states to foreign governments will not be implemented in the long run, due to pressing needs for food in these African states. In my judgment, such land agreements will turn into international conflicts that will require new considerations.
What will the impact of this population growth be on water needs? Even if the population growth could be controlled, the demand for water needs will continue to increase, particularly in Egypt. The flow of the Nile River through Egypt will also decrease. Nearly all the Arab states could be classified as water poverty stricken where the majority of the population hardly receives the minimal water requirement, which is 700 cu.met/person/year.
All of these states need to reevaluate their present water and food strategies and plan realistically to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.