The land grabbing phenomenon is spreading around the world. Millions of hectares of agricultural land, mostly in the global south, have been sold off at ridiculous prices in recent years, trampling on the rights of local communities and robbing them of their primary resources - land, water and, consequently, food. Who is responsible? Unfortunately many of us are unknowingly implicated.
Since the food crisis of 2007-2008, there has been increasing interest in foreign land investments from companies and governments that have decided to outsource agricultural production. The Gulf states, for example, decided it was better to produce elsewhere rather than suffer the massive market fluctuations of imports. The demand for bio-fuels has driven this trend further, encouraging more monoculture crops to be planted with ‘energy plants' like jatropha or maize.
In recent years, the most aggressive players in the division of land have been investment funds and, in particular, pension funds. Many large financial institutions, both public and private, have begun to speculate on agricultural land: this type of investment attracts between 5 and 15 billion dollars and is expected to double by 2015 (GRAIN, 2011).
The NGO GRAIN has released a list of pension funds involved in land grab investments, including some that manage entire professions. In California, for example, ex-teachers have found that their savings invested with TIAA-CREF were helping to finance large land acquisitions in Australia, Brazil and Poland. In Denmark, the public pension fund PKA has invested nearly $50 million in the SilverStreet Capital investment management firm that specializes in the acquisition of agricultural land in Africa. In short, if there is no legal framework to control land ‘investment’ and obligations for funds to be fully transparency, any of us may be complicit in this wave of land grabbing.
Slow Food has joined over 60 civil society organizations in signing the declaration released today asking governments and financial institutions to put an end to the funding of land grabbing by pension funds, banks and insurance companies. The petitioners are asking for an end to speculation in the global food chain, starting with land; for full transparency, making public any kind of involvement - even indirect - with speculation on agricultural land; and for independent evaluations that can determine the potential impact of investments.
Today is also the opening day of the Agricultural Investment Summit in London, which tells investors on the website that they will learn to “define this emerging and expanding asset class” and "unlock the potential of foreign investment opportunities."
The tragedy is that many of the contexts defined as "investment opportunities" have a real need for immediate funding: not speculative actions to fatten investors wallets, but a real and appropriate investment to boost local development.
To learn more:
Download the Civil society statement on the finance of land grabs, June 2012, signed by Slow Food and 60 other groups.