Often known as “land-grabbing,” this phenomenon is associated with an appropriation of freshwater resources “that has never been assessed before.”

“Here we gather land-grabbing data from multiple sources and use a hydrological model to determine the associated rates of freshwater grabbing. We find that land and water grabbing are occurring at alarming rates in all continents except Antarctica.

“The per capita volume of grabbed water often exceeds the water requirements for a balanced diet and would be sufficient to improve food security and abate malnourishment in the grabbed countries,” writes researcher Maria Cristina Rulli,Assistant Professor, Department of Hydraulic, Roadways, Environmental, and Surveying Engineering, Politecnico di Milano.

The study shows that foreign land acquisition is a global phenomenon, involving 62 grabbed countries and 41 grabbers.

The study reveals Africa and Asia account for 47 percent and 33 percent of the global grabbed area, respectively, and about 90 percent of the grabbed area is in 24 countries.

Indonesia, the Philippines and the Democratic Republic of Congo represent the countries most affected by the highest rates of land/water grabbing.

As far as who is doing the grabbing, the report indicates the countries most active are located in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Europe and North America. The study further indicates about 60 percent of the total grabbed water is appropriated through land grabbing by companies in the United States, United Arab Emirates, India, United Kingdom, Egypt, China and Israel.

The study is quick to point out that one of the major problems associated with large, foreign agriculture land expansion is that in most cases where land has been acquired, there is a switch from natural ecosystems such as forests and savannas and from small-holder agriculture run by local communities to large-scale commercial farming run by foreign corporations that may not be sensitive to local needs.

But the study also offers the possibility that such large farming operations may provide employment opportunity in countries where there are high levels of poverty and unemployment.

Researcher Paolo D'Odorico, co-author of the study, says one negative effect of land-grabbing is that local populations are often excluded from the direct use and management of their land and water resources.

He says foreign land acquisitions could lead to overuse of water and land with negative effects on the environment, whereas “local small-holder farmers are often in a better position to be good stewards and managers of their land and water.

“By losing control of part of their land and water, in many cases local people are giving up to wealthier nations their most precious natural resources — resources that could be used now or in the future to enhance their own food security,” D’Odorico said.

He advises that both the United Nations and the national governments involved should ensure that some of the wealth generated by foreign investments in agricultural land be used to benefit local populations.