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No Concession at PETAR: Combating Privatization is a Women’s Struggle in Brazil



This text comes out of conversations with women from the Ribeira River Valley who have devoted themselves to opposing the concession of one of the region’s most important parks. Their struggle is fundamental, and part of diverse resistances against the privatizing trend of creating ‘territories without people’. They remind us that their territory has been and is rooted in their stories, voices and resistance.

We wrote this text with many hands, from conversations and elaborations by women from the territory of the Ribeira River Valley – between Brazil’s South and Southeast regions – who have devoted themselves to fighting against the concession (1) of one of the region’s most important parks, the Alto Ribeira Tourist State Park (PETAR, for its name in Portuguese). The park, located in Iporanga and Apiaí municipalities, is currently administered by the São Paulo state government, and was included in a concessions plan together with other conservation units. This allows private companies (national or international) to gain the right to exploit commercially the part of the territory where the main tourist attractions are concentrated.

The Ribeira River Valley is the region in Brazil that harbors the largest portion of the Atlantic Forest biome, of which 70% is preserved. While in most of the country this biome was destroyed by megaprojects and real estate speculation, in the Ribeira River Valley local communities’ relation with and defense of the forest have contributed to its maintenance. Since last century, the conservation policy conceived to house this biodiversity has been a policy ‘without people’, which created many parks and conservation units that restrict the ways of life of communities (2) in the territory. Only more recently, and through struggle, have some areas gone over to what is termed sustainable use areas. These units are of a type created by Brazil’s National Conservation Units System, and were meant to operate under a regime that tolerates the presence of communities in the territories. This is not entirely the case in practice, seen as even in these locations there are many conflicts between people’s ways of life and the rules of Conservation Units. As a rule, the way environmental and land issues are resolved in the Ribeira River Valley is through the expulsion – forced or by wearing down – of the communities that inhabit it.

Advances in terms of the implementation of more sustainable use areas – where one can practice traditional agriculture, even though permission is required – have allowed communities to remain on the territory. But their real demand has always been the regularization of land ownership. Although they have inhabited the territory for centuries, most communities do not have their lands demarcated or deeds for them, which generates great insecurity. Land conflicts have worsened in Brazil with new policies of digitalization of territorial organization, like the Rural Environmental Registry (CAR) (3). In other words, these communities continue to this day fighting for their right to land, as well as fighting in parallel against the environmental policy, especially in the parks.

Privatizing the concession for 30 years: displacements, insecurity and gentrification

This is the case of quilombola and cabocla communities in Iporanga municipality that were superimposed by the Alto Ribeira Tourist State Park (PETAR). Ana Ercilia – a resident of Iporanga since her childhood, environmental monitor and involved in the current struggle against the concession of the park to the private sector – relates that in 1958, at the time when the park was created, people from the territory believed it would be an amusement park, such was the absence of dialogue and transparency of the authorities vis-à-vis the communities. After some time, they came to understand the actual kind of park that had arrived at the territory, already by then owing to restrictions in access to services like electricity, and when people started being prevented from upgrading or enlarging their own homes and yards. Since then, there began a struggle to push back PETAR’s limits to no longer include Bairro da Serra, a district that was ‘cut in half’ when the park was established. Much of its territory ended up inside the park. Bairro da Serra harbors both traditional communities and long-standing residents of Iporanga, as well as important items of Ribeira River Valley’s historical and cultural heritage. The struggle of the dwellers, through their association, ensured an agreement that redrew the park limits so that people’s homes stayed outside the zone with restrictions. However, the farmland remained inside the conservation unit, which greatly restricted people’s way of life and meant that tourism work became families’ only source of income.

The park limits were redrawn but the land ownership regularization of the Bairro da Serra community did not happen. Several families have been displaced by the park to this district, which is in PETAR’s surrounding buffer zone, but the displacement was not accompanied by deeds to the land. The families only have a provisional right to remain, which does not guarantee that the park will not resettle them. (4) This situation is particularly difficult for the women, whose work is concentrated in their own yards and who earn a living mostly from their work there and at various local business initiatives.

Currently, the communities are facing a new offensive onto the territory. The São Paulo state government, based on its privatist policy, has opened an international tender process for the concession of an area of the park – where most of the main tourist attractions are located – for a period of 30 years. This took place in the second half of 2021, already during the pandemic, and without any public consultation whatsoever. Since then, a broad resistance movement against the concession of the park has emerged.

The struggle against the concession is organized with the involvement of residents, peoples and communities, researchers, activists and supporters in general. Women make up a major share of this resistance. Based on their self-organization, they have demonstrated that they are particularly impacted when the government chooses to strengthen public-private partnerships in this way. The question of land regularization, for instance, is being completely ignored in this process. That a private company could literally own the territory for 30 years and that the families, especially the women, should continue to live with the insecurity of not owning their land is an aberration. It clearly demonstrates that the state’s intention in promoting this concession is not improving communities’ quality of life, as it alleges.

Even though the park was imposed upon the communities in the 1950s, over time they appropriated it as best they could. Owing to the intense restrictions placed on their way of life, one of the main sources of income that dwellers have today is community based, autonomously organized work in tourism as environmental monitors. Currently, there are 250 monitors registered with PETAR. Visitors usually hire them, and their presence is compulsory in the case of visits to the caves. They are residents of the communities and beyond presenting the park’s attractions they talk about the history of the Ribeira River Valley and the communities where they live. The organization of monitorship as paid work was part of the negotiations between the state government and the communities as an alternative source of income in the face of restrictions to the use of the territory and to customary practices that were turned into environmental crimes. One of the changes proposed in the privatization RFP specs is that tourists may self-guide inside the park, which would make it even harder for the environmental monitors to obtain an income, as they would cease to be essential to the tourists.

With the concession, communities – and especially women, who run the various small businesses in the area surrounding the park – will cease having a leading role in the tourism field. The concession holder will take on that role. For example, the concession plan involves greatly increasing the number of yearly visits to the park, creating trails for vehicles and publicizing new attractions. The women fighting the concession argue that with these initiatives the government wants to impose another type of tourism on the territory. Instead of people interested in getting to know the communities through the local guides, who are also sources of knowledge about local ways of life, it wants tourism organized by companies that are likely to prioritize the hiring of bilingual guides, for example, rather than members of the local community.

This tourism package undoes the “bread-winning flow”, a kind of economy constructed over time by the communities, which are themselves set to become just another tourist attraction. This new and extremely colonialist tendency has worsened under the neoliberal government of São Paulo state, which is implementing a development program called “Valley of the Future”. Communities other than the ones surrounding PETAR have been classed as tourist attractions by this program, including with signs on highways, without any kind of consultation or dialogue with the communities about this. So the community becomes a foreigner in its own territory. Gentrification, likely to happen via the construction of hotels and higher ticket prices – actions forecast in the concession process –, will make it impossible for community members to access the park, a place they know well and where they enjoy spending time.

The effect forecast is not the valuing of communities and the building of economic alternatives. Rather, people fear they will be pushed out of their territory more and more, and will find themselves forced to migrate to the peripheries of the surrounding cities, a trend already observed particularly among the young, who have not remained in the territory. Furthermore, for the ones that do remain, there is concern about increasing sexual violence and objectification of women’s bodies with the significant inflow of men from the outside. The concession of the park also has no matching measures in terms of improving the public policies that service the community. Given that the concession, if granted, will last 30 years, the women are especially concerned about their young children, who will spend their childhood, adolescence and early adult life in this privatized territory.

This privatization is taking place at the same time as the “Valley of the Future” project advances in the Ribeira River Valley, which also raises doubts as to how the exploitation of the territory will take place. The main front of this development project has so far been opening up the region to mining. (The whole region of Iporanga, including the area of PETAR, was exploited by mining in the past.) Since the concession process provides for the use and exploitation of the territory, this raises the suspicion that mining activities may return in certain parts of the territory, including inside PETAR. After all, as the women state, when it comes to these projects “everything is connected and stitched up in advance”.

In the legal sphere, this whole process has been conducted on the basis of approvals granted in the dead of night, with no participation by communities directly affected. The state government has gone as far as using documents from other meetings (minutes, photos) to claim that consultations with the community about the concession were held. Due to the pandemic, health precautions become the alibi for not holding major public consultations. What has happened in practice is that hearings are deliberately hollowed out since they are proposed in an online format or in-person but in the state capital, in a context where dwellers lack internet access and the resources to travel. According to the specs, the actions to be developed by the company that wins the concession include activities that go against the park’s Management Plan. This unmasks the environmental racism involved in the privatization: if it means companies develop their business, the environmental impact studies need not be taken into account. Nevertheless, this way of conducting the concession, i.e., by disrespecting traditional communities’ right to prior, free and informed consultation (ILO Convention 169), has been understood by part of the Judiciary as valid, which has speeded up the process in spite of these irregularities.

In an even greater offensive than the state government of João Dória, in São Paulo, the federal government of Jair Bolsonaro launched on February 7, 2022, a decree for the concession/privatization of five Conservation Units. One of them, the Serra da Canastra National Park, was created during the military dictatorship and overlaps an area of 1,500 families of rural producers, including 43 communities and 550 traditional families, recognized as Canastreiros.

Women self-organize and resist

When nobody is being heard, least of all are the women. The spaces for participation are scarce and, moreover, tend to be set aside for just a few leaders – men, in general – who, owing to the patriarchal structure of the communities themselves, do not take women’s concerns, perceptions and arguments to the public debate. This, in addition to the disregard the State has shown towards the issue of participation, has made women unite in their own collective, from where they organize the fight against the concession from their self-organization. As well as enhancing the resistance based on a plurality of voices, women’s self-organized spaces have also been important as a form of self-care against the harassment that the State has undertaken over the course of the process, which has even caused mental illness and emotional distress among the communities.

What is evident is that the types of conservation ‘without-people’ that have been adopted as the model and that have for decades dictated the environmental policy of several countries, including Brazil, is very efficient for capital in the current historical period of expansion of its borders. The creation of territories without people means the creation of territories without resistance, where privatizing projects – as in the case of PETAR’s concession – can develop unfettered. We believe that the struggle against the concession in this case will be victorious because the communities of Iporanga have never accepted the fact that their own territory is not their property. Over time, given that the imposition of the park was a reality that could not be changed, they gradually became more and more its owners, appropriating means to live and create within that environment. However, they have always exposed what they see as wrong and fought over the still latent conflicts, like the absence of deeds to their land.

It is not by chance that the State’s concession plan provides for the closing of one of the park’s entrances via Iporanga municipality, even though this entrance greatly facilitates visits to one of the park’s top caves. It is an attempt to exclude the most resistant communities, making it no longer viable for them to access the park or work as environmental monitors. This reminds us that the history of the Ribeira River Valley has been the history of the erasure of the paths trodden by traditional communities, and the construction of paths that privilege the flow of capital. Federal highway BR-116 – a major highway that cuts in half many of the Ribeira River Valley’s municipalities and is responsible for much of the cargo haulage in Southeast Brazil – is an icon of this.

What we know is that the old paths never actually cease to be used, and that the elderly are especially concerned about reminding the young about where these paths pass, where they are and where they end up. The privatization project intends to uproot communities from their territory based on a re-architecture of such paths, but it is failing to take into account the capacity of resistance and inventiveness of the peoples that laid them.

Natália Lobo and Miriam Nobre – Sempreviva Organização Feminista, World March of Women – Brazil.
Jéssica Cristina Pires – Caiçara, quilombola, agroecology technician, representative of communities from Iporanga, PETAR Women’s Collective, Petar Without Concession Movement.
Paula Daniel Fogaça – Biologist; holds a master’s degree in Sustainability.

(1) In order to support the struggle organized by women against the privatization of PETAR and follow this movement, please access and sign the online petition.
(2) The Ribeira River Valley harbors a variety of traditional communities and peoples, like the Guarani Mbyá and Guarani Ñandeva indigenous peoples, and quilombola, caiçara and caboclo communities.
(3) The Rural Environmental Registry (CAR) is a tool created by Brazil’s new forestry code. It is a geo-referenced digital registry of the country’s rural territory. This instrument, which ought to guide the implementation of environmental policies, has been used and a document that justifies what has been termed digital land-grabbing in many countries of the Global South. To find out more, check here.
(4) For more information on the history of Bairro da Serra and relations between Iporanga’s traditional communities and PETAR, see “Florestas e lutas por reconhecimento: território, identidades e direitos na Mata Atlântica brasileira” by Pedro Castelo Branco Silveira. Available here.

Original Source:   World Rainforest Movement


Statement: The Energy Sector Strategy 2024–2028 Must Mark the End of the EBRD’s Support to Fossil Fuels



The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is due to publish a new Energy Sector Strategy before the end of 2023. A total of 130 civil society organizations from over 40 countries have released a statement calling on the EBRD to end finance for all fossil fuels, including gas.

From 2018 to 2021, the EBRD invested EUR 2.9 billion in the fossil energy sector, with the majority of this support going to gas. This makes it the third biggest funder of fossil fuels among all multilateral development banks, behind the World Bank Group and the Islamic Development Bank.

The EBRD has already excluded coal and upstream oil and gas fields from its financing. The draft Energy Sector Strategy further excludes oil transportation and oil-fired electricity generation. However, the draft strategy would continue to allow some investment in new fossil gas pipelines and other transportation infrastructure, as well as gas power generation and heating.

In the statement, the civil society organizations point out that any new support to gas risks locking in outdated energy infrastructure in places that need investments in clean energy the most. At the same time, they highlight, ending support to fossil gas is necessary, not only for climate security, but also for ensuring energy security, since continued investment in gas exposes countries of operation to high and volatile energy prices that can have a severe impact on their ability to reach development targets. Moreover, they underscore that supporting new gas transportation infrastructure is not a solution to the current energy crisis, given that new infrastructure would not come online for several years, well after the crisis has passed.

The signatories of the statement call on the EBRD to amend the Energy Sector Strategy to

  • fully exclude new investments in midstream and downstream gas projects;
  • avoid loopholes involving the use of unproven or uneconomic technologies, as well as aspirational but meaningless mitigation measures such as “CCS-readiness”; and
  • strengthen the requirements for financial intermediaries where the intended nature of the sub-transactions is not known to exclude fossil fuel finance across the entire value chain.


Download the statement:

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Will more sovereign wealth funds mean less food sovereignty?



In November 2022, word got out that Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the freshly minted president of the Philippines, wanted to set up a sovereign wealth fund. People scratched their heads. What wealth? The Philippines is mired in debt! It was quickly understood that this was a kind of vanity project, meant to improve the image of a man who came to power because of his family name.
Marcos’ father ruled the Philippines from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s with an iron fist. Known more for kleptocracy and the brutality of martial law, the Marcos name needed a face-lift, local media put it. Marcos boasted that a sovereign wealth fund would boost investor confidence and attract resources to fund big projects in infrastructure or agriculture. He even dubbed it “Maharlika Fund”, a nod to the mythical warrior figure that his father claimed to personify during World War II.
Vanity aside, Marcos’ proposal raised fears of graft and corruption. After all, not long ago, Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund (known as 1MDB) was exposed as a multi-billion dollar money laundering scheme for the personal benefit of Prime Minister Najib Razak, who now sits in jail. Yet, Marcos managed to get his proposal onto his country’s legislative agenda in a matter of weeks, and brought it to international investors in Davos and Tokyo for their approval as well.
What are these “sovereign wealth funds”? How are they being used? What link, if any, do they have with people’s struggles around food sovereignty, land grabbing and today’s deepening climate crisis?
Rise of sovereign wealth funds
The first sovereign wealth funds were set up in the 19th century, and grew slowly throughout the 20th. The idea, at first, was rather simple. If a state has excess resources – perhaps mineral wealth or a sudden boom in foreign exchange from exports – these should be tucked away for future use for the benefit of society.
Norway is the classic example. In the late 1960s, oil was discovered off its coast. Overnight, the country become unfathomably rich. After much debate, the government decided to set up a wealth fund – basically a piggy-bank belonging to all Norwegians. It is fed by a tax levied on the oil and gas extracted from Norway’s seabed, plus the revenues of Norway’s state-owned oil and gas companies.
This wealth is meant to be used “for present and future generations”. To ensure this, no one is allowed to touch the underlying pot of money itself, but the interest it earns each year goes into the national budget to pay for things like public health care, generous parental leaves, retirement pensions and public infrastructure. In concrete terms, Norway’s wealth fund contains $1.1 trillion. That money is invested in 9,000 publicly-listed companies across 70 countries around the world. The investments generate a return of about 3% a year, which is what goes into the national budget to provide everyone in Norway with those public services. It has become a source of national pride and unity across the political spectrum.
Many sovereign wealth funds were set up with a similar logic. The “wealth” may come from diamonds (Botswana) or copper (Chile), foreign currency reserves (China) or export earnings (Saudi Arabia). Even the state of Texas in the United States wrote into its constitution back in the 1850s that “available public lands” should be used to finance public schools. To do this, lands were either sold outright or were leased with the proceeds feeding a Permanent School Fund (a sovereign wealth fund) run by a trio of local civil servants. In all of these cases, the funds are created with resources that arguably belong to everyone and serve a public interest objective such as guaranteeing social rights (e.g. retirement for all in Norway) or covering national budget deficits in times of crisis (e.g. as happened with Covid-19 in Peru) or providing children with access to education (Texas).
Recently, however, governments have started diverging from this logic. Increasingly, sovereign wealth funds are being set up with no resources or wealth or sovereign character to speak of. Indonesia’s sovereign wealth fund, which was set up in 2021, is more like a “development” fund. It aims to secure foreign investment from companies, banks and funds in order to build local infrastructure and energy projects. Not much different from what the government already does. The Philippines’ proposal is more like a “public-private partnership” fund, as foreign investors will be asked to do joint ventures with the state or with local businesses. At one point, the government was proposing that the fund should be handed over to the private sector and listed on the stock market! Quite a number of small countries with no surpluses to speak of have set up sovereign wealth funds by offering citizenship to wealthy individuals (leading to corruption scandals as well).
Over the past two decades, the number of sovereign wealth funds has surged (see graph) and there are now more than 100 sovereign wealth funds around the world.[1] Collectively, they hold $10 trillion – which makes them the third largest economy, after the US and China, if they were a country. That figure is expected to reach $17 trillion by 2030. While most sovereign funds are national in scope, some are sub-national. The state of Queensland, in Australia, has one. Palestine has one. Even the city of Milan has one.
Some of these funds invest only abroad, some invest only at home and some do both. Key sectors they put their money in, to capture earnings, include energy, technology, health, finance and real estate. All told, sovereign funds are so massive that most people have probably had some connection to them, as they own bits of Alibaba, Flipkart, Uber, Slack, Grab, major airports, the world’s top football teams and social media like Twitter. Anyone paying for these is actually helping sovereign wealth funds take money home.
And while it seems to be a trend among political elites these days to think that setting up such structures can bring funds into the global South, 80% of sovereign wealth fund assets is currently parked in Europe and North America. In fact, one-third is in the US alone.
Agriculture: a critical concern
In dollar terms, food and agriculture represent just 2-3% of all sovereign wealth fund investments. While that sounds small, it is a politically sensitive and strategic sector for many governments. Contributing to national food security has been a historic role for sovereign funds, and it is a vital one for those of Singapore and the Gulf states.
At least 42 sovereign funds are currently invested in food and agriculture (see table). Some are major players, but many are less visible (see box). Their investments may be in largescale farmland acquisitions and production, such as orange groves in Brazil, cattle ranches in Australia or vertical pig farms in China. Some take the form of ownership stakes in global food commodity traders that ship grains, oilseeds and coffee across our oceans, like Bunge, COFCO or Louis Dreyfus. Yet others are positions in food retail systems like supermarket chains or delivery services, and the digital technologies that these operations increasingly rely on.
A handful of actors form the centre of gravity of global agricultural investing by sovereign funds. They are Temasek and GIC in Singapore; PIF in Saudi Arabia; Mubadala and ADQ in UAE; QIA in Qatar; RDIF in Russia; and COFIDES in Spain (see map). The Singaporeans and the Gulf states invest with their own food needs as a priority. RDIF brings big investors into Russia to help finance its export-oriented agribusiness sector. And COFIDES funds food projects around the world with one catch: a Spanish company must be directly involved in and profit from it, such as Borges with almond production in Europe or Pescanova with fish farming in Latin America. (Actually, there is a second catch: all of COFIDES’ overseas food and agriculture investments are loans.[2])
Quite a number of sovereign wealth fund ventures in agriculture are linked to concerns about land and water grabbing, whether directly and indirectly. In December 2022, Abu Dhabi’s government-owned ADQ, which has $110 billion in assets, got hold of 167,00 hectares of farmland in northeast Sudan.[3] It plans to grow sesame, wheat, cotton and alfalfa there, while it builds a massive new port nearby to ship the goods out. ADQ already owns:
  • 45% of Louis Dreyfus Company, with its massive land holdings in Latin America, growing sugarcane, citrus, rice and coffee;
  • a majority stake in Unifrutti, with 15,000 ha of fruit farms in Chile, Ecuador, Argentina, Philippines, Spain, Italy and South Africa; and
  • Al Dahra, a large agribusiness conglomerate controlling and cultivating 118,315 ha of farmland in Romania, Spain, Serbia, Morocco, Egypt, Namibia and the US.
Therefore, the concerns are quite serious. Al Dahra stands accused of draining aquifers in Arizona, just so that it can produce hay to transport back to UAE to feed local dairy herds.[4]
Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), one of the world’s top ten sovereign wealth funds in terms of assets, has $13.7 billion invested in agriculture. It owns several massive agribusiness conglomerates focused on livestock, dairy and fisheries. In 2021, it took 100% control of the Saudi Agricultural and Livestock Company (SALIC) which is engaged in meat and cereal production in Canada, Ukraine, India, Brazil, Australia and the UK.[5] The scale is enormous. In India, PIF produces its staple, basmati rice.
From Brazil, it gets its beef. In Australia, it operates 200,000 ha for sheep grazing and also buys lamb and mutton directly from producers. In Ukraine, it has 195,000 ha growing wheat, barley, maize and rice. PIF also owns 35% of Olam Agri, a major palm oil producer, and is building the largest vertical farm in the entire Middle East and North Africa region.[6] It is very strange, then, to learn that PIF’s new green financing instrument will explicitly exclude funding for any projects or expenditures associated with industrial agriculture or livestock![7] It shows the doublespeak of investors that expand intensive industrial food systems while needing to flash climate credentials.
Another very big player is Qatar. Its sovereign wealth fund has massive land holdings in Australia, through a stake in the 4.4 million ha Paraway Pastoral Company dedicated to livestock production. The fund allows Qatar to source its organic food supplies through Canada’s Sunrise Foods, which operates in Turkey, Netherlands, Russia, Ukraine and US. It owns poultry and seafood companies in Oman, and is now developing agriculture supply chains in East Africa. The Qatari wealth fund is connected to a Russian oil company which owns 50% of Agrokultura, which operates 200,000 ha of farmland in Russia. It also owns 14% of AdecoAgro with its 472,862 ha hectares under production in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. It is now going into Kazakhstan for the same purposes – and in direct competition with the UAE.[8]
It is important to note that many of these arrangements between sovereign wealth funds and global agribusiness involve political guarantees. Qatar is one of the biggest investors in Glencore, with whom it has a deal to ensure its access to grains and shipping services in case of need. The same is true with Qatar and Turkey’s Tiryaki Agro Group. The fund’s agricultural arm, Hassad Food, has its own agreement with Sunrise Foods which ensures that in the event of any shortage in the Qatari market, the country’s need for grain, oilseeds and wheat will be met on a priority basis.[9] Similarly, when Abu Dhabi’s ADQ bought 45% of Louis Dreyfus – the world’s third largest commodity trader – it signed a side deal giving it priority access to food shipments in times of global crisis, as the world experienced recently during both Covid-19 and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.[10]
It is fair to say that the political strategy of leveraging sovereign wealth to get access to global food supplies works. What is never mentioned is at what cost. For many of these big investment projects expand and entrench largescale corporate agribusiness, with its contingent slew of land conflicts, water pollution, indigenous rights abuses, labour violations and spiralling climate emissions. And when it comes to the Gulf states or Singapore, these are very small populations draining the resources of much bigger ones. With sovereign funds, scale is baked in. Even when they do try to reckon with social and environmental contingencies, as in the case of PIF, their attempts at making investments green or socially responsible are shallow at best. Only Norway’s stands out as making strong commitments to scrutinise and withdraw from agribusiness companies associated with social and ecological crimes, as it has done with meat packers and soy producers in Brazil (Minerva, Marfrig, SLC Agricola and JBS) as well as rubber giant Halcyon Agri.[11]
So, to answer the question: what do these funds have to do with food sovereignty? The answer is: it’s twisted. They do provide food security for a few countries. And political elites increasingly like to use the term food sovereignty to characterise these missions, as it serves their nationalist, territorial and militarist frameworks.[12] But sovereign wealth funds crush real visions of food sovereignty as they take resources away from local communities and push a capitalist, industrialist food system – be it green or not.
Putting the public interest first
Sovereign wealth funds can be a good idea if they really are sovereign (run by the people), if the resources they harness are democratically sourced and organised, and if they have a genuine public welfare mandate. We actually need more commitment to public approaches to reverse the growing inequality and privatisation that is undermining people’s rights to healthcare, housing, transportation, food, education and retirement in most countries around the world.
But there is a danger. There are increasing calls to set up sovereign wealth funds to solve government problems – from building a new capital city in Indonesia to plugging an alleged deficit in France’s pension system. But these newer funds are just tools to channel money into government coffers or private enterprises. They are not built on any collective resource or aimed at protecting a public wealth for the benefit of future generations. They seem to have little to do with traditional sovereign wealth funds, apart from the name. For that reason, they should be scrutinised and if they don’t genuinely serve the public interest they should be stopped. Similarly, those that contribute to land or water grabbing should be challenged and stopped, too.
Agriculture may not be the number one sector that these funds gravitate towards to generate wealth. But politically, geopolitically and strategically, food security is a core concern of theirs and will continue to be, requiring our critical scrutiny as well.
We need good public services that provide for public well-being. Sovereign wealth funds – despite their name – need to be put to a more scrupulous test to see if they have a role to play in that agenda.
Less visible players: Big players aside, many sovereign wealth funds participate in financing the direction of food and agriculture.[13]
• Angola’s sovereign wealth fund is investing in food and agriculture in Africa through a private equity fund that is targetting the production of maize, beans, soybeans, rice and cattle.
• Australia’s sovereign wealth fund has a Future Drought Fund since 2019. Currently holding A$4.5 billion, its sole aim is to “provide secure, continuous funding to support initiatives that enhance the drought resilience of Australian farms and communities.” Its investments must deliver returns of 2-3% above the consumer price index.
• Bolivia has a sovereign wealth fund that was set up in 2012 with state surplus funds and a loan from the central bank. It invests domestically in both public and private enterprises involved in honey production, fruit processing, aquaculture, dairy, quinoa and stevia.
• Brunei’s new sovereign wealth fund is considering investing in agriculture, in partnership with the Malaysian Investment Development Authority.
• Not much is known about how China’s sovereign wealth funds invest. The China Investment Corporation has $1.3 trillion, making it the largest in the world. It invests in agriculture overseas and reported a remarkable return of 14.27% on its overseas holdings in 2021. Equally remarkable, alternative investments, which include private equity and farmland, are said to account for 47% of its overseas portfolio. China’s National Social Security Fund is also a sovereign wealth fund and is invested domestically in agriculture through its private equity portfolio.
• France’s sovereign fund is known to be a big investor in agriculture and food, both domestically and abroad. One very controversial foreign project it is connected to is led by Arise IIP, a subsidiary of Olam, in Chad.[14]
• Gabon’s sovereign wealth fund, built from oil revenues, runs a private equity fund that invests in the food and agriculture sector. It also invests directly in agriculture and farmland projects at home.
• The National Development Fund of Iran has some $24 billion, most of it from oil and gas revenues and all of it invested domestically. According to some sources, 1% is invested in water and agriculture, including farmland ownership, a sector the fund wants to invest more in.
• Ithmar Capital, a state investment company, serves as Morocco’s sovereign wealth fund. Details are lacking but their strategy is to co-invest in Moroccan agribusiness operations with foreigners such as Spain’s COFIDES or Gulf state investors.
• Nigeria, like Abu Dabhi and Spain, has its sovereign wealth fund investing in fertiliser production. This is a very strategic concern.
• Palestine’s sovereign wealth fund is a public company that does local impact investing. Its initial funds came from the Palestinian Authority. It is invested in a 50 hectares seedless grape farm, looking into investing in animal feed production and helping set up a National Agriculture Investment Company.
• Türkiye Wealth Fund has 2% of its investments in food and agriculture, as of 2019.
• In the US, the states of Texas, New Mexico and Alaska have sovereign wealth funds that are heavily invested in farmland, whether directly or through private equity funds. The agribusiness operations they fund are in some cases domestic and in others overseas (usually in the Southern Cone of Latin America or Australia).
• Vietnam’s State Capital Investment Corporation is invested in agriculture/farmland through a joint venture with the State General Reserve Fund of Oman, showing how co-investing is a common strategy of sovereign funds.
Sovereign wealth funds invested in farmland/food/agriculture (2023)
AUM (US$bn)
UAE – Abu Dhabi
Saudi Arabia
UAE – Dubai
UAE – Abu Dhabi
UAE – Abu Dhabi
Future Fund
Alaska PFC
Australia – QLD
Texas PSF
UAE – Dubai
Dubai World
New Mexico SIC
Canada – SK
CDP Equity
Ithmar Capital
AUM (assets under management) figures from Global SWF, January 2023
Engagement in food/farmland/agriculture assessed by GRAIN
[1] Important sources used for this report include: Javier Capapé (ed), “Sovereign wealth funds 2021”, IE University, Madrid, Oct 2022,; Global SWF, “2023 Annual report”, New York, Jan 2023,; the websites of Global SWF ( and SWF Institute ( as well as Preqin Ltd.
[3] Reuters, “Sudan to develop Red Sea port in $6-bln initial pact with Emirati group”, 13 Dec 2022,
[4] Ella Nilsen, “Wells are running dry in drought-weary Southwest as foreign-owned farms guzzle water to feed cattle overseas“, CNN, 27 Nov 2022,
[5] See SALIC website:
[6] AeroFarms, “PIF and AeroFarms sign joint venture agreement to build indoor vertical farms in Saudi Arabia and the wider MENA region”, 1 Feb 2023,
[7] Public Investment Fund, “Public Investment Fund Green Finance Framework”, February 2022,
[8] See Hassad Food, “Hassad signs MoU with Baiterek to discuss investment projects that supports food security”, 12 Oct 2022, and Global Sovereign Wealth Fund, “Gulf funds drawn into soft power battle over Kazakhstan”, 25 Aug 2021,
[9] See Hassad Food, “Strategic local and international investments along with global partnerships to satisfy the market needs from grains and wheat”, 28 Mar 2022,
[10] Reuters, “Commodity group Louis Dreyfus completes stake sale to ADQ”, 10 Sep 2021,
[11] See Fabiano Maisonnave, “Norway oil fund omits meatpacker JBS from deforestation watch list “, Climate Fund News, 4 Apr 2018,, Earthsight, “World’s largest pension fund dumps shares in beef firm in wake of corruption scandal”, 24 July 2018, and Paulina Pielichata, “Norway sovereign wealth fund divests Halcyon over environmental concerns”, Pensions & Investments, 27 Mar 2019,
[12] “L’Afrique sur le chemin de l’autosuffisance alimentaire”, Seneplus, 27 Feb 2023,
[13] Main sources for this box are each fund’s respective website, news clippings and Preqin Ltd.
[14] Arise, “Bpifrance and Arise IIP establish a partnership to foster agricultural materials processing and co-industrialisation projects on a pan-African scale”, 15 February 2023, , and Benjamin König, “Arise IIP, la firme qui dépouille les paysans africains”, L’Humanité, 4 April 2023,
Source: Grain

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Farmland values hit record highs, pricing out farmers



Joel Gindo thought he could finally own and operate the farm of his dreams when a neighbor put up 160 acres of cropland for sale in Brookings County, S.D., two years ago. Five thousand or six thousand dollars an acre should do the trick, Mr. Gindo estimated.
But at auction, Mr. Gindo watched helplessly as the price continued to climb until it hit $11,000 an acre, double what he had budgeted for.
“I just couldn’t compete with how much people are paying, with people paying 10 grand,” he said. “And for someone like me who doesn’t have an inheritance somewhere sitting around, a lump sum of money sitting around, everything has to be financed.”
What is happening in South Dakota is playing out in farming communities across the nation as the value of farmland soars, hitting record highs this year and often pricing out small or beginning farmers. In the state, farmland values surged by 18.7 percent from 2021 to 2022, one of the highest increases in the country, according to the most recent figures from the Agriculture Department. Nationwide, values increased by 12.4 percent and reached $3,800 an acre, the highest on record since 1970, with cropland at $5,050 an acre and pastureland at $1,650 an acre.
A series of economic forces — high prices for commodity crops like corn, soybeans and wheat; a robust housing market; low interest rates until recently; and an abundance of government subsidies — have converged to create a “perfect storm” for farmland values, said Jason Henderson, a dean at the College of Agriculture at Purdue University and a former official at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.
As a result, small farmers like Mr. Gindo are now going up against deep-pocketed investors, including private equity firms and real estate developers, prompting some experts to warn of far-reaching consequences for the farming sector.
Young farmers named finding affordable land for purchase the top challenge in 2022 in a September survey by the National Young Farmers Coalition, a nonprofit group.
Already, the supply of land is limited. About 40 percent of farmland in the United States is rented, most of it owned by landlords who are not actively involved in farming. And the amount of land available for purchase is extremely scant, with less than 1 percent of farmland sold on the open market annually.
The booming housing market, among a number of factors, has bolstered the value of farmland, particularly in areas close to growing city centers.
“What we have seen over the past year or two was, when housing starts to go up with new building construction, that puts pressure on farmland, especially on those urban fringes,” Professor Henderson explained. “And that leads to a cascading ripple effect into land values even farther and farther away.”
Government subsidies to farmers have also soared in recent years, amounting to nearly 39 percent of net farm income in 2020. On top of traditional programs like crop insurance payments, the Agriculture Department distributed $23 billion to farmers hurt by President Donald J. Trump’s trade war from 2018 to 2020 and $45.3 billion in pandemic-related assistance in 2020 and 2021. (The government’s contribution to farm income decreased to 20 percent in 2021 and is forecast to be about 8 percent in 2022.)
Those payments, or even the very promise of additional assistance, increase farmland values as they create a safety net and signal that agricultural land is a safe bet, research shows.
“There’s an expectation in the market that the government’s going to play a role when farm incomes drop, so that definitely affects investment behavior,” said Jennifer Ifft, a professor of agricultural economics at Kansas State University.
Eager investors are increasingly turning to farmland in the face of volatility in the stock and real estate markets. Bill Gates, the Microsoft co-founder and a billionaire, is the biggest private farmland owner in the country and recently won approval to buy 2,100 acres in North Dakota for $13.5 million.
The number of private equity funds seeking to buy stakes in farmland has ticked higher, said Tim Koch, a vice president at an agricultural financial cooperative in the Midwest, Farm Credit Services of America. Pension funds also consider farmland a stable investment, Professor Ifft said.
Farmers, too, have witnessed an influx of outside interest. Nathaniel Bankhead, who runs a farm and garden consulting business in Chattanooga, Tenn., has banded with a group of other agricultural workers to save up to $500,000 to buy about 60 acres of land. For months, the collective has been repeatedly outbid by real estate developers, investors looking to diversify their portfolios and urban transplants with “delusional agrarian dreams,” he said.
“Places that I have looked at as potential farmland are being bought up in cash before I can even go through the process that a working-class person has to do to access land,” he said. “And the ironic thing is, those are my clients, like I get hired by them to do as a hobby what I’m trying to do as a livelihood. So it’s tough to watch.”
Mr. Bankhead characterized the current landscape as a form of “digital feudalism” for aspiring working farmers. Wealthy landowners drive up land prices, contract with agricultural designers like himself to enact their vision and then hire a caretaker to work the land — pricing out those very employees from becoming owners themselves.
“They kind of lock that person to this new flavor of serfdom where it’s, you might be decently paid, you’ve got access to it, but it will never be yours,” he said.
Unable to afford land in her native Florida, Tasha Trujillo recently moved her flower farm to South Carolina. Ms. Trujillo had grown cut flowers and kept bees on a parcel of her brother-in-law’s five-acre plant nursery in Redland, a historically agricultural region in the Miami area, about 20 miles south of downtown.
When she sought to expand her farm and buy her own land, she quickly found that prices were out of reach, with real estate developers driving up land values and pushing out agriculture producers.
A five-acre property in the Redlands now costs $500,000 to $700,000, Ms. Trujillo said. “So I essentially didn’t have a choice but to leave Miami and Florida as a whole.”
“Farming is a very stressful profession,” she added. “When you throw in land insecurity, it makes it 20 times worse. So there were many, many times where I thought: ‘Oh my God. I’m not going to be able to do this. This isn’t feasible.’”
As small and beginning farmers are shut out — the latest agricultural census said that the average age of farmers inched up to 57.5 — the prohibitively high land values may have ripple effects on the sector at large.
Brian Philpot, the chief executive of AgAmerica, an agricultural lending institution, said his firm’s average loan size had increased as farms consolidated, squeezing out family farms. This, he argued, could lead to a farm crisis.
“Do we have the skills and the next generation of people to farm it? And two, if the answer is going to be, we’re going to have passive owners own this land and lease it out, is that very sustainable?” he said.
Professor Henderson also warned that current farmers may face increased financial risk as they seek to leverage their high farmland values, essentially betting the farm to expand it.
“They’ll buy more land but they’ll use debt to do it,” he said. “They’ll stretch themselves out.”
Economists and lenders said farmland values appeared to have plateaued in recent months, as the Federal Reserve raised interest rates and the cost of fertilizer and diesel soared. But with high commodity prices forecast for next year, some believe values will remain high.
A native of Tanzania who moved to South Dakota about a decade ago, Mr. Gindo bought seven acres of land to raise livestock in 2019 and currently rents an additional 40 acres to grow corn and soybeans — all the while working full time as a comptroller to make ends meet.
For now, he has cooled off his search for a farm of his own even as he dreams of passing on that land to his son. The more immediate concern, he said, was whether his landlord would raise his rent. So far, the landlord has refrained because Mr. Gindo helps him out around the farm.
“He really doesn’t have to lend me his land,” Mr. Gindo said. “He can make double that with someone else.”
In Florida, Ms. Trujillo said, the owner of the land where her brother-in-law’s nursery sits has spoken of selling the plot while prices remain high, so he too has begun looking for his own property.
“That’s a big fear for a lot of these farmers and nursery owners who are renting land, because you just never know when the owner’s just going to say: ‘You know what? This year, I’m selling and you’ve got to go,’” she said.
In Tennessee, Mr. Bankhead said he considered giving up on owning a farm “multiple times a day” as friends who have been longtime farmers leave the profession.
But so far, he remains committed to staying in the field and doing “the work of trying to keep land in families’ hands and showing there’s more to do with this land than to sell it to real estate developers,” he said. “But the pain of not having my own garden and not being able to have my animals where I live, it never stings any less.”
Original Source: Farmlandgrab

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