Land Grabs for Zero Hunger? Views from the ground versus the discourse of farmland acquisition by university and public pension funds.

Authors: Doug Hertzler*, ActionAid USA
Topics: Agricultural Geography, Food Systems, Human Rights
Keywords: Financialization, Farmland, Land Grabbing, Sustainable Development Goals, Socially Responsible Investing
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 21
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Global interest in who controls farmland increased following the attempted large-scale land grabs by states and companies following the 2008-2009 food price spike. Many of these land grabs failed because of resistance by communities to dramatic dispossession, and interest has waned to some degree. However, processes of land financialization and dispossession of communities continue, at a less attention-grabbing pace, under the noses and with the unwitting participation of the scholarly community. Recent publications (i.e. Fairbairn; Philpott) have highlighted the role the financial firm TIAA, which manages the retirement accounts of many university employees and also acquires land for public pension funds. TIAA is the largest actor and the global leader in the acquisition of farmland in Brazil, the United States, Australia and eastern Europe (not to mention tree plantations and urban real estate). Acquiring the land of farming communities for financial purposes is not easily accomplished as it involves a loss of access, control, wealth and meaning that communities will resist if organized. While Fairbairn’s recent book explored how discourses about land are deployed among financial professionals in corporate offices and agricultural investment conferences, this paper will take the point of view of activist scholarship and analyze how discourses of social responsibility and sustainable development, including the UN Sustainable Development goals, are deployed to assuage university communities and pension fund managers in contrast to the social and environmental harm on the ground observed in northeast Brazil, and the US mid-west and south.

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