Prof Allen coined such an elegant phrase in 'virtual water' to describe the water embedded in products we import/ export. We can't see the water moving across boundaries as we taste figs from Turkey or gift the bouquet of roses from Ecuador, but the water is there. Patchy regulation across the world, means there is little protection for people dearly dependent on this water for their survival. The opportunities are there for large scale investors to enter local water markets and dominate allocations for their export products. Principles of free markets and economic benefits, fail to protect the remaining small holders and the environment in which they operate. Question whether shareholders insisting on ethical investments can impose sufficient pressure to change the modus operandi?
Surprisingly, few cases of large-scale organized resistance are seen against agribusinesses’ increased use of water resources, expanding political power, and ‘virtual water encroachment’. The Ecuadorian case of a canal in a flower growing area is emblematic. When the Tabacundo canal was under municipal control, over ninety percent of its water was allocated to large export flower companies. In February 2006, some 3,000 indigenous smallholders marched and eventually took control over the canal. As the communities strongly depend on the large flower companies for their income, the indigenous organization did not withdraw the companies’ water entitlements, but this conquest brought about important water security changes: the big companies were forced to take less canal water and invest in reservoirs to collect rainwater from the greenhouses’ rooftops.