Connect with us

Special Projects

Witness Radio – Uganda, Community members from Mozambique and other organizations around the world say NO to more industrial tree plantations



21st/09/2020: Kampala – Uganda – As we commemorate the International Day of Struggle against Monoculture Tree Plantations, Witness Radio – Uganda together with more than 730 members of Mozambican communities, and 120 organizations from 40 countries, have signed and released an Open Letter demanding the suspension of plans to expand such monoculture plantations in the Global South, especially in Africa.


The letter warns of the “real danger of a gigantic, worldwide expansion of monoculture tree plantations”, under the false pretext of ‘reforestation’. Governments of the Global North are placing their bets on this, while refusing to take the measures necessary to avoid climate chaos. Thus, they perpetuate the capitalist model of unfettered exploitation and destruction, mainly in countries of the Global South, to the benefit of the private profits of a few.


The letter denounces a report produced in 2019 by the African Development Bank (AfDB) and WWF-Kenya, which identifies 500,000 hectares of land in 10 African countries suited for industrial tree plantation by private companies. This report invites the Cooperation Agencies of North European countries and the World Bank through the International Finance Corporation (IFC) to invest public money in this expansion. This proposal ignores the existence of communities on these lands, as well as all the calls and struggles by communities against this kind of project. It is unacceptable that in this day and age, governments of the North should impose their plans on communities in 10 African countries without them having access, let alone the ability to opine on such plans.


The letter demands that “the non-public version of this study be published immediately by the AfDB and WWF-Kenya so that its content may be known”. It also demands that national governments of the Global South no longer follow the dictates of the World Bank and Northern governments, and reject the privatization of community lands and their transfer to private capital, as is currently happening in Mozambique. The letter demands quite the opposite, i.e., “a wide-ranging review of the process of allocation of land to plantation corporations, ensuring the return of land to the communities that depend on it”.


The letter concludes by saying that ”We reiterate our solidarity on this September 21st with the legitimate and just struggles of communities that resist the advance of plantations all over the world and strive to take back their lost lands. The struggle continues!”


Read full details of the letter here:


Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

farm news

How the Gates Foundation is driving the food system, in the wrong direction



Gates: the new king of the global food system?

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has spent nearly US$6 billion over the past 17 years trying to improve agriculture, mainly in Africa. This is a lot of money for an underfunded sector, and, as such, carries great weight.

To better understand how the Gates Foundation is shaping the global agriculture agenda, GRAIN analysed all the food and agriculture grants the foundation has made up until 2020.

We found that, while the Foundation’s grants focus on African farmers, the vast majority of its funding goes to groups in North America and Europe.

The grants are also heavily skewed to technologies developed by research centres and corporations in the North for poor farmers in the South, completely ignoring the knowledge, technologies and biodiversity that these farmers already possess.

Also, despite the Foundation’s focus on techno-fixes, much of its grants are given to groups that lobby on behalf of industrial farming and undermine alternatives. This is bad for African farmers and bad for the planet. It is time to pull the plug on the Gates’ outsized influence over global agriculture.

In 2014 GRAIN published a detailed breakdown of the grants made by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to promote agricultural development in Africa and other parts of the world.1 Our main conclusion then was that the vast majority of those grants were channelled to groups in the US and Europe, not Africa nor other parts of the global South.

The funding overwhelmingly went to research institutes rather than farmers. They were also mainly directed at shaping policies to support industrial farming, not smallholders.

Much has happened since then. For starters, Bill and Melinda Gates announced their divorce in May this year, leaving the future of the Foundation and its grant-making in doubt. The news came as Bill Gates himself came under fire for supporting Big Pharma’s patent monopoly on COVID-19 vaccines, for effectively preventing people’s access across much of the world, and for how he treats – or mistreats – women.2 The Foundation’s agenda with agriculture has also been coming under increased scrutiny.

A 2020 report from Tufts University concluded that its work in Africa completely failed to meet the objectives that it had set itself.3 The African Centre for Biodiversity published a string of reports denouncing the Gates Foundation for pushing GMOs and other harmful technologies onto Africa.4

Amongst all this, the US Right to Know collective started a “Bill Gates Food Tracker” to monitor the multiple initiatives that Gates is involved in to reshape the global food system.5

GRAIN wondered whether the Gates Foundation had been receptive to the criticism of its food and agriculture funding. So we set out to update our 2014 report, downloaded the Foundation’s publicly available grant records and created a database of all of the Foundation’s grants in the area of food and agriculture from 2003 to 2020 – almost two decades worth of grant-making.6

The results are sobering. From 2003 to 2020 the Foundation dished out a total of 1130 grants for food and agriculture, worth nearly $US6 billion of which almost US$5 billion is supposed to service Africa.

There was no shift to try and reach groups in Africa directly, no refocusing away from the narrow technological approach, and no moves to embrace a more holistic and inclusive policy agenda.

Of course, the Gates Foundation is about much more than just making grants. The Foundation’s Trust Fund, which manages the Foundation’s endowment, has big investments in food and agribusiness companies, buys up farmland, and has equity investments in many financial companies around the world.7

These, and other activities of Gates in the area of food and agriculture, are illustrated in the infographic that accompanies this report.8



Infographic by A Growing Culture . For a more in-depth look at each category, visit our Instagram page
The Gates Foundation fights hunger in the South by giving money to the North

Graph 1 and Table 1 provide an overall picture of GRAIN’s research results. Almost half of the Foundation’s grants for agriculture went to four big groupings: the global agriculture research network of the Consortium Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA – set up in 2006 by the Gates Foundation itself together with the Rockefeller Foundation), the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF – another technology centre pushing Green Revolution technology and GMOs into Africa) and a number of international organisations (World Bank, UN agencies, etc.).

The other half ended up with hundreds of research, development and policy organisations across the world. The Gates Foundation claims that 80% of their grants are meant to serve African farmers. But of the funding to these hundreds of organisations a staggering 82% was channelled to groups based in North America and Europe while less than 10% went to Africa-based groups.

The breakdown of the NGOs that the Gates Foundation funds is even worse. Almost 90% of this funding goes to groups in North American and Europe whilst just 5% is directly channelled to African NGOs. The Gates Foundation seems to have very little trust in African organisations serving African farmers.

Not that we would want the Gates Foundation to just send more of its grants directly to Africa if it comes with the same corporate industrial farming agenda. But it illustrates the point of where the priorities of the Foundation lie.

For contrast, Oxfam spends over half of all its funding directly in Africa, and over a third in Asia and Latin America, a lot of it through local NGOs in these regions.9

The Gates Foundation gives to scientists, not farmers

As can be seen in Graph 2, the single biggest recipient of grants from the Gates Foundation is the CGIAR- a consortium of 15 international research centres launched in the 1960s and 70s to promote the Green Revolution with new seeds, fertilisers and chemical inputs.

The Gates Foundation has given CGIAR centres US$1.4 billion since 2003. Another priority for the Gates Foundation in its funding is to support research at universities and national research centres. Again, the vast majority of the Gates’ grants go to universities and research centres in North America and Europe. Together, all this research gets almost half (47%) of the Gates Foundation’s funding.

The Gates Foundation’s support for Green Revolution-style research extends beyond the scientists. One of the most significant recipients of Gates Foundation funding is a high-profile advocacy organisation called the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). The Gates and Rockefeller Foundations launched AGRA in 2006 as a “farmer-centered” and “African-led” institution.

The reality is anything but. AGRA implements a top-down Green Revolution agenda with the main focus being to get new seeds and chemicals developed by Gates funded research centres and corporations into the hands of African farmers.

AGRA establishes, funds, coordinates and promotes networks of pesticide and seed companies and public agencies to sell and supply agriculture inputs to farmers across Africa. It also actively lobbies African governments to implement policies that favour seed and pesticide companies, such as patents on seeds or regulations that allow for GMOs.

The Gates Foundation has given AGRA a whopping US$638 million since 2006, covering almost two thirds of its overall budget. But AGRA’s results are underwhelming to say the least.

In the countries where AGRA is active, yields of staple crops increased only 18% over the past 12 years- far short of AGRA’s goal of doubling yields. Meanwhile, undernourishment (as measured by the FAO) increased by 30% in those countries.10

Instead of acknowledging that their data shows a complete failure to achieve their objectives and changing their approach accordingly, Bill and Melinda are doubling down. In early 2020 they launched their own new research institute called “Gates Ag One”.

This enterprise claims to speed up the development of new seeds and chemicals and get them to farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia more quickly.11 Where will the institute be based? Not in Ethiopia or Sri Lanka but in St. Louis, USA, home of Monsanto and other GMO and pesticide giants.

The Gates Foundation buys political influence

In many subtle and not so subtle ways the Gates Foundation grants are used to push policy makers to implement its top-down industrial farming agenda.


Gates at the 2006 World Economic Forum advising policy makers.

One recent example is the 2021 “High-Level Dialogue on Feeding Africa” that was held on 29-30 April this year.12 This forum, funded by the Gates Foundation, and organised by a number of Gates Foundation grantees such as the African Development Bank, CGIAR and AGRA, was meant to launch a policy and funding agenda to further push the Green Revolution into Africa.

The event attracted no less than 18 African heads of state and several other high-profile personalities. But, most remarkable of all, is that of all the international organisations with activities in Africa on the long speakers list of the dialogue, virtually all are Gates grantees.

The forum concluded with a commitment to double agricultural productivity, something AGRA and the Gates Foundation have been promising and failing to deliver for the last decade and a half.

Of course, AGRA itself is also actively pushing the African policy agenda. AGRA is among the key conveners of the annual Africa Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) which calls itself the world’s premier forum for African agriculture and has been convening annual meetings for the past decade.

Partners include some of the main global agrochemical corporations, such as Bayer, Corteva and Yara, and of course the Gates Foundation itself. Unsurprisingly, its agenda is clearly oriented to push government policies towards more chemical inputs, fertilisers and hybrid seeds.

On its website, AGRF has a special section it calls the Agribusiness deal room, which “has directly facilitated over 400 companies with targeted investor matchmaking and hosted more than 800 companies to explore networking opportunities”.13 This is clearly market matchmaking serving corporate interests, not farmers.

While most of the Gates grants are aimed at pushing technological solutions, many are also oriented towards policy change. A total of 45 grants address policy or policy makers. For example, Iowa State University got a grant to support implementation of policy changes aimed at increasing the supply of new seeds to farmers in Africa.

The World Economic Forum received a grant to support a “policy platform for ag innovation and value chain development”, whilst the African Centre for Economic Transformation got a grant to promote agricultural transformation in Africa aimed at policy reforms. In addition, the Foundation is actively involved in bankrolling the “Enabling the Business of Agriculture” project, implemented by the World Bank, amongst many other initiatives.14

Gates’ enthusiasm for GMOs is made clear through its grant database. Michigan State University received US$13 million to create a centre in Africa that provides training for African policy makers on how to use and promote biotechnology. The African Seed Trade Association got a grant to increase farmers’ awareness “of the benefits of replacing their older varieties of crops with newer seed”.

AATF got US$32 million to increase awareness on the benefits of agricultural biotechnology and another US$27 million to fund the approval and commercialization GMO maize in at least four African countries.

So the Gates Foundation is not only funding public acceptance of GMOs, it is also directly funding the approval and commercialisation of GMOs in Africa.

Gates grantees are clearly carrying the Gates agenda and influencing global agricultural policy. In just over a decade, the Gates brainchild in Africa, AGRA, has managed to manoeuvre itself from nowhere right into the centre of agricultural policy discussions across the continent.

Similarly, while resistance to GMOs in Africa remains high, the AATF is managing to get legislation adopted to accept GMOs, as seen most recently in Ghana.

It’s just as important to look at who the Gates Foundation is supporting as who they are not supporting; African farmers.

The Foundation provides zero funding to support farmer seed systems, which supply 80 to 90% of all the seeds used in Africa. Instead, it provides a lot of funds to initiatives that destroy them.

Furthermore, the Gates Foundation props up biofortification as a solution to malnutrition, taking funds and attention away from much more practical and culturally appropriate efforts to improve nutrition by enhancing on-farm biodiversity and people’s access to it.15 Over the last decade or so, the Gates Foundation has given US$73 million to biofortification initiatives that essentially seek to artificially pack nutrients into single crop commodities.

Then, of course, there is Bill Gates himself. Sitting down with heads of state, policy makers and business leaders, Gates tries to convince them that his view of the world is the one to go after. The world has gotten used to pictures of him shaking hands or sitting shoulder to shoulder with the leaders of the world.

Indeed, many of those leaders seem very eager to be in these pictures and heed his advice. The most recent display of this was at Joe Biden’s virtual “Leaders Summit on Climate” where Gates shared his vision on how to fight the climate crisis.16

His recipe to tackle the climate crisis is very similar and equally dangerous to how he wants to feed the world: develop new technologies, trust the market, and put in place policies so that corporations can make it all happen faster.17

Gates clearly isn’t listening to or learning from the people on the ground. So why should anyone listen to him? Rather than being listened to, Gates and his top down corporate technology agenda must be resisted and stopped in its tracks.

GRAIN wishes to thank Camila Oda and María Teresa Montecinos for their help in compiling the database and to ‘A Growing Culture’ for their feedback on the draft and their work on the infographic.

Click here and here to consult all the food and agriculture grants of the Gates Foundation

Graph 1

Graph 2
Table 1: Gates Foundation agricultural grants by type of grantee, 2003-2021
$US million
Main recipients
The CGIAR is a consortium of 15 international research centres set up to promote the Green Revolution across the world. Gates is now amongst its major donors. Main recipients include: IFPRI ($223 million), CIMMYT ($346m), IRRI ($197m), ICRISAT ($151m), IITA ($166m), ILRI ($74m), CIP ($91m), and others. Most of the grants are in the form of project support to each of the centres, and many of them are focusing on developing new crop varieties.
A total of 20 grants for core support and AGRA’s main issue areas: seeds, soils, markets, and lobbying African governments to change policies and legislation.
Int’l orgs (UN, World Bank, etc.)
World Bank – IBRD ($192m); World Food Programme (WFP) ($99m); UNDP ($54m.); FAO ($88m.) UN Foundation ($76m). The lion’s share of the grants to the World Bank are to promote public and private sector investment in agriculture ($70m), WFP is supported to improve market opportunities for small farmers, UNDP to establish rural agro-enterprises in West Africa, and the support to FAO is mostly for statistical and policy work.
AATF (African Agricultural Technology Foundation) is a blatantly pro-GMO pro-corporate research outfit based in Nairobi. The bulk of the Gates’ support is to develop GMO drought-resistant maize, a project that has already miserably failed according to many. But it also gets support to raise “awareness on agricultural biotechnology for improved understanding and appreciation”, and to get legislation approved for allowing GMOs in African countries.
Universities & National Research Centres
Over three quarters of all Gates’ funding to universities and research centres goes to institutions in the US and Europe, such as Cornell, Michigan and Harvard in the US, and Cambridge and Greenwich Universities in the UK, amongst many others. The work supported is a mix of basic agronomic, breeding and molecular research, as well as policy research. A lot of it includes genetic engineering. Michigan State University, for example, got $13m to help African policy-makers “to make informed decisions on how to use biotechnology”.
Although most of the Foundation’s grants are supposed to benefit Africa, barely 11% of its grants to universities and research centres go directly to African universities and research institutions ($147m in total, of which $30m for the Uganda based Regional University Forum set up by the Rockefeller Foundation).
Service delivery NGOs
The Gates Foundation sees these as agents to implement its work on the ground. They include both large development NGOs and foundations, and the activities supported tend to have a strong technology development angle or focus on policy and education work in line with the Foundation’s philosophy. A whopping 70% of these grants end up with US-based beneficiaries, and another 19% in Europe. African NGOs get 4% of the NGO grants ($73m total, $36m of which goes to groups in South Africa, and another $13m for “Farm Concern International”- an NGO based in Nairobi with the mission of building “market-led business models” for small farmers).
A relatively minor share of Gates’ funding goes directly to the corporate sector. Most of the grants are for specific technologies developed by the corporations in question. Major grantees include the World Cocoa Foundation ($31m), a corporate outfit representing the world’s major food and cocoa processors, for improving marketing and production efficiency, and Zoetis (a Belgium based veterinary transnational – $14m) for getting veterinary products to farmers.
Table 2: Gates Foundation agricultural grant recipients, top 10 countries 2003-2021
(Excludes grants to CGIAR, AGRA, AATF and International organisations)
$US million
Main recipients
The USA is by far the largest recipient country of Gates agricultural grants meant to benefit farmers in poor countries: $1,657 million dished out in over 400 grants. Recipients include US universities and research institutions to produce crop varieties and biotechnology research for farmers in Africa (e.g. Cornell University, a whopping $212m in 26 grants), big NGO projects mostly oriented to develop technology and markets (e.g. Heifer, $51m, to increase cow productivity and Technoserve Inc., $51m, to push new technologies), and several policy and capacity building projects to push the foundation’s agenda in Africa and elsewhere.
A total of 81 grants with a focus on research such as for the University of Greenwich to work on pests and diseases in cassava and other crops (10 grants totalling $73m), and for the Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines (9 grants totalling $169m) to produce livestock medicines and vaccines sold by the private sector to African farmers.
8 grants for the German Federal Enterprise for International Cooperation (GIZ) to develop supply chains for African cashew and rice farmers and other projects ($57m), and another three grants for the German Investment Corporation to work on African cotton and coffee farming ($47m), amongst others.
Total of 33 grants to a variety of grantees including three grants to PRADAN ($34m for women farmers training), and three grants to BAIF ($16m) to give farmers access to the latest livestock breeding technologies.
Mostly for five grants to the Wageningen University for agronomic research on grain legumes, supporting digital farming and other projects ($57m).
A total of 20 grants mostly towards universities to ensure adoption of new technologies, develop commercial cassava seed supply chains in Tanzania, and to produce vaccines for livestock diseases, amongst other programmes.
A total of 24 grants mostly to universities and research centres (including $30 million for the University of Queensland) to develop sorghum and cowpea hybrids for Africa, and provide genetically improved cattle, amongst other programmes.
Mostly for the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (two grants totalling $33 million) to develop new rice varieties for farmers across the world.
Mostly for RUFORUM (two grants totalling over $30 million to support agricultural research universities in the region). RUFORUM was established as a programme of the Rockefeller Foundation in 1992 and became an independent Regional University Forum in 2004.
Grants for Farm Concern International to create market-oriented value chains for a number of crops, and to a number of agribusiness companies active in the region to do the same.
Total top 10
$US2.7 billion, or almost half of all agriculture funding from Gates went to grantees in these 10 countries: over 90% to countries in the North.
1 GRAIN, “How does the Gates Foundation spend its money to feed the world?”, Nov 2014.
2 See: Luke Savage “Bill Gates Chooses Corporate Patent Rights Over Human Lives” In Jacobin, 2021., and: Tim Schwab, “The Fall of the House of Gates?”, in The Nation, May 2021,
3 Timothy A. Wise, “Failing Africa’s Farmers: An Impact Assessment of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa”, Tufts University, July 2020.
6 The original Gates database is available from their website: The GRAIN database which includes a grouping of different types of grantees can be downloaded from and
7 See also: GRAIN, “Barbarians at the barn: private equity sinks its teeth into agriculture”, 2020,
8 For a more in-depth look at each category, visit GRAIN’s Instagram page
10 Timothy A. Wise, “Failing Africa’s Farmers: An Impact Assessment of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa” Tufts University, July 2020.
11 See: “Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Statement on Creation of Nonprofit Agricultural Research Institute”, Seattle, January 21, 2020.
15 GRAIN, “Biofortified crops or biodiversity? The fight for genuine solutions to malnutrition is on,” 4 June 2019:

Original Source:

Continue Reading

Special Projects

NEMA, Hoima Sugar sued yet again over Bugoma forest giveaway



Kampala, Uganda. The Uganda Law Society and two Civil Society Organisations have filed another petition challenging the planned giveaway of part of Bugoma forest reserve in Kikuube district.

Bugoma, a tropical forest gazzeted in 1932, comprises 410 square kilometres of a protected area, and a stretch of forest measuring 40 kilometers. The forest is endowed with unique species of mammals, trees, birds, butterflies and moths. It is also a migratory route for wild animals and a catchment for rivers that drain into Lake Albert.

Recently, Bunyoro-Kitara kingdom offered a 99-year lease to Hoima Sugar Limited, to grow sugarcane on an area covering 22 square miles. But the National Environment Management Authority-NEMA found 13 square miles out of the 22 square miles were unfit for sugar plantation. They were in a wetland and forest reserve which should be conserved.

As a result, Hoima sugar was allowed to cultivate sugarcane on 9.24 square miles, covering an area that was entirely grassland and establish an eco-tourism centre on 1.97 square miles of the land. Under the same Memorandum of Understanding, the sugar company was tasked to restore 3.13 square miles of the forest reserve, preserve 0.156 hectares for the cultural site and 6.17 square miles as a natural forest.

But the plan was challenged by conservationists comprising the Water and Environment Media Network, the National Association of Professional Environmentalists and the African Institute for Energy Governance-AFIEGO, who described the giveaway as a threat to the ecosystem and endangered species in the forest reserve. However, their suit which was filed before the Civil Division of the High Court was dismissed by Justice Musa Ssekaana on grounds that it contained distorted facts.

But now, Uganda Law Society has teamed up with Environment Shield Limited- a civic organisation specializing in climate, natural resources and environmental justice and Resource Rights Africa, a research and advocacy organization that advocates for the promotion and protection of people’s rights to challenge the same. Together, they are suing Hoima Sugar Ltd, Martin Aryagaruka, National Environment Management Authority-NEMA and the Attorney General.

They want the court to declare that NEMA omitted and didn’t adhere to the mandatory principles of environment management before approving an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment by the sugar firm. Their lawyer Salmat Mutale says that NEMA did not do enough research on the impact of clearing part of the forest for sugarcane growing, a reason they have kept their report out of public scrutiny.

The applicants also want the court to declare that the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment report by Hoima Sugar Ltd was shallow, inaccurate and misleading hence threatening the right of Ugandans to a decent, clean and healthy environment. According to lawyer Eron Kiiza, NEMA has failed on its mandate adding that when the environment is destroyed, the right to a clean environment, fresh breathing air and livelihood are affected.

Hussein Kato, the Executive Director of Earth and Rights Initiative, an NGO that seeks to protect the natural environment and the people and wildlife that depend upon it has called upon the government, the private sector and all Ugandans to stand up and protect forests. He says forests are key in reversing the effects of climate change, pollution and poor waste management.

Kato notes that forests are already under threat by illegal loggers. He proposed to the government to take possession of any private land with big environmental importance and maintain them.

On April 25, 2019, High Court Judge Wilson Musalu Musene dismissed a case in which the National Forestry Authority had sued the Omukama of Bunyoro Kitara, Hoima Sugar Limited and Uganda Land Commission over the same land. In his judgement, Justice Musene indicated that the Bunyoro Kingdom acquired freehold interest and legally leased land to Hoima Sugar Limited. NFA subsequently appealed the High Court ruling but lost the case in another judgement by Justice Fredrick Egonda-Ntende on December 3, 2019.


Continue Reading

Special Projects

The global farmland grab goes green



Back in March of this year, Bill Gates was fielding questions on the online platform Reddit, promoting his new book on the climate crisis. Gates had just recently been revealed to be the largest farmland owner in the US, and one of the Reddit participants asked him why he was buying so much agricultural land. Gates replied: “My investment group chose to do this. It is not connected to climate.”
The first part of his answer is typical billionaire-speak. The world’s richest tend to place their money with family offices whose managers are tasked to make as much profit as possible. If they get called out for funding pipelines and factory farms, then the billionaires can feign ignorance and say their “investment group” chose to do it. It’s a similar dynamic with pension funds, where workers entrust their retirement savings to schemes that invest in all kinds of projects that undermine the well-being of working people around the planet.
Today there are 7,000 family offices that collectively manage US$5.9 trillion in assets, while pension funds in just 22 countries control a staggering US$52.5 trillion in assets. An increasing number of these family offices and pension funds are, like Gates’ group, choosing to buy up farmland. This can be done directly, as Gates’s group has done buying farms in the US, or indirectly via private equity funds, as those managing Gates’ trust fund have done to acquire a stake in farms in East Africa and oil palm plantations in the Congo.
Contrary to what Gates’ stated in the second part of his answer to the Reddit participant, this growing interest in farmland is deeply connected with climate. On a straightforward level, food and farming account for up to 37% of global greenhouse gas emissions according to the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change, and the model of industrial agriculture practiced and promoted by Bill Gates’ funded agencies is largely to blame.
But there’s another connection: these days the companies that are in the business of selling farmland to billionaires and pension funds are peddling it as a green, sustainable and socially responsible investment. They are even marketing farmland investing for its potential to generate carbon offsets. And the propaganda is working. Farmland is an increasingly appealing proposition for pension fund managers and billionaires who are under pressure to show some action on the climate crisis– and to hold off regulators that might force them to do more.
“There are some big macro-level trends around why existing institutional investors are becoming interested in land again, or looking to expand their portfolios if they already invest in land,” said Emily Norton, head of rural research at the property agency Savills, to the Financial Times. “There was a post-recessionary flight to safe assets [after the 2008 financial crisis], but the bigger trend is probably factors related to climate mitigation . . . increasingly, climate-positive trends are driving institutions and family offices to say: ‘Yes, that’s the reason we want to be in that asset class’.”
As an example, this year the pension fund of the Dutch postal company PostNL put €200 million into a new farmland fund, bluntly called the SDG Farmland Fund (SDG refers to the sustainable development goals of the United Nations).
“We found farmland interesting as it overlaps with sustainable themes such as climate change, food safety and food security,” said René van der Kieft, president of Pensioenfonds PostNL. “The investment fits with the SDG ‘Climate Action’, but also with ‘Life Below Water, ‘Zero Hunger, ‘Clean Water and ‘Sanitation and ‘Responsible Consumption and Production’. It provides us with an ideal opportunity to combine many SDGs.”
The Dutch pension fund, like most other institutional investors, is, for the time being, focussing on acquiring farmland in the “business secure” geographies of North America, Europe, Oceania and South America. But that could change. Indeed, private equity funds are already channeling important volumes of pension fund money into companies that operate farms in Africa and Asia, often with backing from development banks.
US pension fund manager TIAA, a co-founder of the UN’s Principles for Responsible Farmland Investing, has probably done more than any other company to market farmland investing as “green”. Today, TIAA manages a portfolio of nearly one million hectares of farmland around the world, worth about US$8 billion, on behalf of numerous pension funds in Asia, North America and Europe. But it has come under scrutiny, in particular for its land deals in Brazil’s Cerrado region, which have been shown to be linked to land grabs, deforestation and environmental destruction. Several US university unions and faculty associations with pensions managed by TIAA have recently passed or put forward resolutions condemning TIAA for its farmland acquisitions.
TIAA’s responded by going further and further with its green branding. In April 2020, TIAA’s agricultural subsidiary, Westchester, joined about a dozen other major farmland investors in launching Leading Harvest, “the first scalable, industry-wide standard paving the way for universal sustainable farmland management”. This standard is so far only available in the US but, as noted by TIAA, “it may be adapted for use outside of the United States in the future.”
The goal here is to define a global standard for sustainability that is suited to the large-scale, industrialised farming operations that TIAA and other farmland players are buying up and building but that is also good enough to appease most potential investors and downstream buyers of their harvests.
“There was a lot of effort in making sure that this standard meets the needs of the investor as well as of the farmer and the landowner,” says Steve Bruere, president of Peoples Company, another US-based farmland management company that co-founded Leading Harvest.
The big farmland players are also pushing farmland and corporate farmland ownership as a way for corporations to achieve net zero carbon emission targets, and are investing heavily to quantify the emissions that can be reduced or carbon that can be captured in the soil by tweaking their industrial agricultural practices.
“Many [companies] have been coming out with targets to be carbon neutral by a certain date, and one tool to help with that is to invest in timberland and farmland,” says Martin Davies, chief executive of TIAA’s Westchester Group. His company just hired a new head of sustainability to “support Westchester’s response to rising investor demand for carbon neutral portfolios, providing scalable, natural solutions to counter climate change through farmland investments.”
All of this is closely tied to developments in the digitalising of agriculture. The digital land records and massive quantities of data that big tech companies like Microsoft and Amazon are vacuuming up from farmers’ fields make it easier for the farmland companies to scour the planet for profitable farmland deals. They can also use satellite technologies and drones to monitor their farms from a distance, ensuring that those operating their farms are complying with their standards and directives.
Taken together, the advances in digital agriculture and the opportunities for carbon credits and greenwashing have the potential to make transnational, financialised farming operations more profitable, and certainly more appealing to investors.
The world’s farmland, as the farmland fund managers like to repeat, is finite. So, as corporations inhabit more of it, the less there is for small farmers, indigenous peoples and rural communities. Already these people are surviving on a dwindling fraction of the world’s farmlands, and still producing most of the world’s food. In 2014 we estimated that small farms occupied less than a quarter of the world’s farmlands.
The corporate farmland grabbers want people to think that this does not matter.
“I don’t think there’s anything especially notable about who buys farmland, if an institutional buyer buys it or a wealthy individual buys it or a neighboring farmer buys it … It’s still going to be used the same way in the following year and the returns to that asset are not influenced much at all by who happens to own it at a point in time,” says Bruce Sherrick, the director of TIAA Center for Farmland Research and board member of Leading Harvest.
But it absolutely does matter whether farmlands are in the hands of a corporation or a community of small farmers or pastoralists. Small farms have greater biodiversity and tree cover. They feed their communities with healthy foods. They generate and distribute wealth locally and fairly and build dynamic communities. They can and often do practice agroecology without fossil fuels or chemical inputs. And, as a new global study published in Nature concludes, they even produce significantly higher yields than big corporate farms. Small farms do not, however, offer much opportunity for pension fund managers and billionaire family offices to extract profits.
And that is the crux of the problem. Those who presently control the world’s financial flows are not capable of supporting the food producers and food systems that can deal with the climate crisis or the many other crises afflicting food and agriculture. Our challenge is to get both farmland and money out of their hands, as fast as we can.
Original source: GRAIN

Continue Reading

Resource Center

Legal Framework




Subscribe to our newsletter

No spam mail' ever' its a promise