, VI Conference of BRICS Initiative of Critical Agrarian Studies

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Water grabbing and expansion of agricultural frontiers: case study in a Brazilian Savannah Protected Area, State of Bahia
Andrea Leme da Silva, Carlos José de Sousa Passos, Ludivine Eloy, Saulo Aires de Souza

Last modified: 2018-12-14


Over the last three decades, more than half of the Brazilian savannah (Cerrado) was converted into soybean monocultures. Despite the focus on land grabbing, the academic literature has paid little attention to relationships between agriculture frontier expansion and water grabbing, which conflicts remain invisible in face of growing large-scale irrigated agriculture (LIA) in the Cerrado. Based on the case study of REVIS (Wildlife Refuge) Veredas do Oeste Baiano, west of the Bahia State, this study sought to understand the expansion of the soybean agricultural frontier as concerns water grabbing. We evaluated possible temporal relationships between the intensification of irrigation and changes in water river flow, institutional mechanisms related to water grabbing, and perceptions of the LIA by local communities. We employed three methodological approaches: analyses of time series for discharge and precipitation in the Corrente watershed over the last 40 years; institutional analysis of the environmental norms related to water management in the State of Bahia; and interviews with soybean farmers and peasants around the REVIS territory. Our results indicate a decrease of surface streamflow in the Corrente watershed, which might reflect changes in land-use, instead of climatic factors such as precipitation.  After 2011, it is observed an intensification of LIA related to the expansion of soybean crops in the study area. The municipality of Jaborandi, one of the seven most irrigating areas in Bahia, augmented from 11 central pivots in 1989 to 163 in 2014. At least 78 pivots are placed in the territory of REVIS Veredas do Oeste Baiano, a region of many springs. The hydrological analyses corroborated peasants' perceptions, since 90% of the interviewed persons associated the reduction of river water flow with intensification of LIA.  Water use permits have been granted in a context of limited smallholder participation, poor hydrological knowledge and/or weak law enforcement, which all provide an ‘easy way in’ for newcomers while giving them the formal state government endorsement. Finally, we conclude that the licensing mechanism of water permit grants has led to an increase in water-related conflicts, while legitimising dispossession of peasants in the current era of global resource grabs.


Agribusiness; Peasants; Water Grabbing; Western Bahia; Brazilian Cerrado.

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