In our recent posts, we have been trying to make visible the connection between personal investment and land-grabbing in places like Mozambique, Brazil, Uganda, Ethiopia and others. Those who rely on pension and retirement funds are investing in corporations who profit from the suffering of small-farmers. Few people would knowingly and willingly participate in dispossessing farmers of their land, livelihood, and future. The reality of this situation requires that we acknowledge take ownership of these events.  It may be disconcerting and even a painful, but it is only when that complacency only perpetuates injustice can we begin to take action.

For a detailed list of the pension funds that are investing heavily in land grabbing, click on the following link: You may recognize the Second Swedish national Pension Fund that currently has $500 million invested in farmland in the US, Austrailia, Brazil, and it has future plans for more. The California Public Employees’ Retirement System has plans to invest up to $1.1 billion in farmland. TIAA-CREF, a fund that supports many teachers and college professors, has placed $2 billion into farms in North and South America, Australia, and Eastern Europe. There are massive investments, and they are having an equally sized impact on the lives of small farmers in the Third World.

We should recognize that it is not simply through pension funds that we may be contributing to land grabbing. Other forms of investing contribute indirectly as well. It is often argued that nitrate-based fertilizers are the “modern fire” that will propel our future as investors: “The human population continues to grow, rapidly. All around the world, there is more and more demand for protein to eat. All of it must be raised. And all of the livestock must be fed by grains that must be grown. At the foundation of this cycle are nitrate-based fertilizers” (Stansberry’s Investment Report). A growing population means that more food will be needed, and there will be profits to be made from the fertilizers used to grow that food. The assumption is that the only type of agriculture used to produce this food will be corporate, industrial farming, the kind that uses nitrate-based fertilizers because this is the only kind of agriculture that will both produce large profits for investors and yet unfortunately destroy the eco-system. The lands of small farmers gobbled up around the world are being cleared to make room for this very type of agriculture.

Yet, industrial agriculture is not the only type of agriculture out there. Numerous studies have shown that industrial agriculture does not produce more food than non-industrial methods. Research in India as well as other countries shows that farmers using the system of rice intensification and/or system of crop intensification have not only produced significantly higher yields but also use less water, and farmers are able to use so-called weeds as fertilizer by pushing them underneath the soil where they fertilize plant roots. The method was develop by small farmers and scientists in Madagascar for small farmers around the world, and it currently hold records for the largest harvests per hectare of land.

What industrial agriculture does is to create vast fields containing one single crop, a crop that can be harvested and sold on international markets whether as food, or as fuel for vehicles. Industrial agriculture brings more profits, not more food. It also brings many unwanted consequences such as the depletion of fields, destruction of biodiversity, vulnerability to crop disease, and the pauperization of small farmers evicted from their lands. The deeper and deeper we delve into this issue, the more it becomes clear that investing in land grabbing is not really an investment that profits all people. It is a more like a sentence for the poor to conditions of misery. While the investors reap profits that damage the planet and leave a negative legacy for their children and grand-children. For small farmers and for our environment, it is imperative that we recognize that there are alternatives to investing in land grabbing. We can invest in funds that promise social responsibility, focus on small business investments, and are concerned with environmental sustainability.

One such fund that we see advertised in progressive magazines is Domini Social Investments. This fund has “social and environmental standards — for example, avoiding tobacco companies and weapons manufacturers, and investing in companies that act with respect toward the environment, their employees, and the community”.

Banks like the Urban Partnership Bank that invest in the economic and environmental sustainability of urban communities are also possible places to search for personal financial security. Domini even argues that one need not expect smaller returns if you choose to place your money in socially responsible investments. By investing in these alternatives one gets both the satisfaction of not participating in the new global land grab and the satisfaction that comes from the knowledge that your money is being used to strengthen communities and the environment for future generations.