Land Grabbing, Personal Investment, and What We All Can Do: Part 1
Each one of us wants some sort of personal security in our lives. We want to know that in the coming years we will be able to pay the rent, put food in our stomachs, take a vacation or two, and be able to enjoy the company of our family and friends. For the privileged among us that are able to obtain any sense of financial security, it often comes in the form of personal retirement plans, regular payments made possible by massive investment funds whose profits are used to pay retired workers.
But what would you do if you learned that the very security that you expected is created from of the insecurity and suffering of peasant farmers in Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe, and Asia? Would you speak out against it? Talk to a fellow retiree about it? Organize yourself and others to demand that we rethink and change the ways that we support ourselves in our retirement? Would you even be concerned at all?
This scenario is not a doomsday scenario or a hypothetical situation; it is a reality that ties many of our livelihoods directly to the often horrific transformations in agriculture rapidly raging across much of the Third World. As GRAIN reported in depth, pension and retirement funds are investing in a form of rural transformation that is now called the Great Global Land Grab, or land grabbing for short. While this kind of investing is almost guaranteed to provide steady and secure funds that will support us in our old age, evidence from the places where the land grab is taking place show that land grabbing affects local farmers in diverse but overwhelmingly negative ways.
Land grabbing is not new. Governments, corporations, and even NGOs from wealthy countries have for centuries purchased, invested in, and controlled agricultural land in poorer ones. Investigate the history of plantation agriculture in Central America or Special Economic Zones around the world for historic examples. Even the United States experienced a similar transformation as over the past century small farmers were evicted from their lands because farming was profitable only for farmers planting thousands of acres in mono-crops. But the US had the advantage, at that time, of being a world economic power, which limited but did not eliminate the suffering produced by farmers moving off their lands because they could find alternative employment.
The new land grab is happening in the wake of the 2008 financial and food crises, a period when powerful nations, agribusiness corporations, and investors figured out a way to rake windfall profits from the suffering caused by depressed global markets. The new land grab has new actors in the scene as well. National governments (China, India, Saudi Arabia, UAE, for example) are negotiating the purchases of land in less developed countries because the food will be produced for their own markets by their own agribusiness corporations, but this does not mean that they will produce more food. In fact, world records are being set by small farmers using organic, non-industrial methods such as the System of Rice Intensification. Secondly, investors representing pension and other investment funds are putting huge sums into the new land grab. Agribusiness corporations and investment funds have reaped record profits when working-class people around the globe cannot find even self-sustaining employment and are being evicted from their lands. Someone is profiting from crisis-induced suffering, and it’s not just the corporations. It’s also all of us whose investments are tied into the new global land grab.
Land grabbing is possible because much of the world’s food is produced by small farmers who produce using non-industrial methods. These farmers plant multiple crops primarily for local consumption, and they are free of the infrastructure required by mono-crop production for international markets. Thus, not only can profits be made by ;and grabbers from the crops grown on these lands, but rising property values generated from “development” can ensure that investments in land are securely guaranteed. Grabbed land is located in countries whose governments have been easily manipulated by foreign governments and agribusiness corporations. We have recently read about projects in Mozambique, Poland, Tanzania, and Bolivia near the Brazilian border, but land grabbing is not limited to these places.
Land grabbing and its new face challenges us to rethink what it actually means to be an investor. It asks us to question our ideas about personal financial planning in order to understand the real-world effects of our attempt to find security in a world of growing insecurity. Whose lives are we altering in order to maintain our own? We will discuss the impact of personal investments further in our next post, as well as alternatives.