Connect with us


World Bank Group – International Monitory Fund its role in the global land grabs




The World Bank Group between 2006 and 2016, has directly funded at least 14 large land deals spanning at least 900,000 hectares and provided securities financing to over 700,000 more in Africa, Latin America, South and South East Asia.

Most notorious of these are the landgrabs funded by the IFC. In Guinea, IFC has financed resource extraction projects amounting to US$140M in loans, which resulted to the displacement of 150,000 people. Hundreds of thousands more face the risk of cyanide pollution in their water sources. Similarly, IFC has funded mining operations in Myanmar [xvi] that displaced 16,000 farmers and indigenous Karen peoples in 23 communities.

In more than 30 countries – mostly in the Global South – the IFC has been bankrolling landgrabs through financial intermediaries. Private equities and commercial banks fund these lucrative land deals that have adverse social, political, environmental, and humanitarian impacts [xvii].

The IFC has been setting up Climate Funds and ‘green bonds’ to supposedly leverage private sector money towards environmental protection and climate change mitigation. Ironically, almost 70% of these projects are power generation projects such as dams and coal powered power plants in 12 countries including Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ghana, Philippines, and Sierra Leone [xviii]. On the other hand, 46%  of area in land grabs are for extractive mining of metals and oil explorations in 15 countries including the Mekong Delta, Egypt, Zambia, Uganda, South Africa and Colombia. In nine countries, large-scale plantations of palm oil, rubber, cotton, and sugarcane are also a huge part of the land grabs in Indonesia, Mozambique, Ethiopia, and Gabon [xix]. “Green” funds supposedly predicated at mitigating climate impacts are grabbing forest lands, burning them and transforming them into plantations!

Despite peoples’ movements and civil society groups’ condemnation of IFC, it has increased agriculture and land-directed “investments” throughout the years [xx]. The World Bank itself lied through its teeth three years ago when it said that only 2% of IFC’s investment in agriculture and forestry had “any component related to land acquisition” [xxi].

More than the rhetoric of achieving food security, landgrabs are motivated by backing financial instruments and assets of the rentiers of financial oligarchs. Since the global financial meltdown of 2008, financial institutions, led by US-based asset-holding corporations and institutions [xxii], are becoming the largest actors behind global land grabs.

While IFC provides the funding including through direct and indirect equity investments, another for-profit arm of the World Bank Group insures landgrabbing investors – the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA). MIGA provided political risk insurance to several asset-holding corporations and pension funds, including the US$65M it extended to sugar plantation expansion in Mozambique and the US$50 million cover for London-based Chayton Capital in grabbing 20,000 hectares of land in Zambia [xxiii]. MIGA is systematically betting against national interest of host peoples against nationalization, conflict, and acquisition contentions.


While not necessarily exhaustive, much discussion has been done by civil society organizations in the past few years on the role of direct investments and sub-investments of the World Bank Group in landgrabbing. Little have been said on the much larger role it played to facilitate the global land rush – the neoliberal globalization and corporatization of development.

Sowing the seeds of landgrabbing

The IMF-World Bank played a critical historical role in enabling landgrabs in the Global South.

The IMF-World Bank’s neoliberal restructuring of national economies in the late 70’s to early 90s under the structural adjustment program (SAP), and later on the US Treasury-led Washington Consensus, have laid the grounds and sowed the seeds of this massive scale of foreign and foreign-funded landgrabbing.

For decades, the IMF-World Bank Group imposed market colonialism and economic genocide through conditional loans and the IMF shadow program/advisory services as prerequisites of said loans. The triumvirate of market liberalization, deregulation of primary resources and services, and privatization of State assets and facilities forced through so-called adjustment loans have drastically diverted resources away from the domestic economy [xxiv]. On the other hand, it funded export crop production to suit the demand of the innocuous ‘world market’ increasingly dominated by US and EU-based agribusiness monopolies.


Most devastating of such ‘advisory services’ concern land tenure and governance. National legislations on land rights are often developed under the direct scrutiny and advisory services of the Legal Department of the World Bank. The World Bank advocated a market-assisted land reform program predicated on “comparative advantage” of land use, when in practice, it led to reconcentration of lands and evaded intact land monopolies altogether [xxv]. In almost all cases, privatization of agricultural lands is structured in a way that land sales are diverted to debt servicing [xxvi].

In Peru, where more 80,000 hectares of lands were grabbed in the last decade, the 1991 Land Law pushed by the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) and advisory services of the World Bank required a minimum of 10 hectares as a unit of ownership. This encouraged the centralization of lands to the hands of a few while the parceleros (small farmers) were forced to either sell or give up control of their lands to landlords [xxvii].

In India, the abolition of land ownership ceilings was one of the explicit conditions of World Bank loans.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the World Bank pressured the states in the late 90s to privatize the agricultural lands, which resulted in carbon copy Land Laws that sold the peasant lands – mostly without consent and consultation and often violent — or have leased it out to international agribusinesses for 50-99 years.

Similar laws predicated on a redistributive model have been done in Brazil, Philippines and Colombia where supposedly redistributive land reforms incentivized land monopolies and created conditions for mortgage forfeitures, resulting in a larger landless populace than before. By 1996, the World Bank adopted an aggressive policy of full private ownership of agricultural lands and land market development programs.

The World Bank also facilitated in developing national customary land laws in its “plural land tenure and governance” policy, which privatized the control, if not the ownership, of ancestral lands of Indigenous Peoples and forests, assigning them lease and market value.


The SAP radically eroded the capacity of developing nations to produce staple food domestically. The currency devaluation in combination with the unification of exchange rates and controls have provided an impetus for the growth of commercial farms. This and the deregulation of staple food prices and liberalization of food imports have removed the protection to farmers producing food crops and forced countries to import-substitute crops. In sub-Saharan Africa, privatization of roads and deregulation of oil resulting to high transportation costs crippled farmers selling their food in the local market, which competes with dumped agricultural products from the Northern countries. In other developing countries, irrigation was privatized through World Bank’s policies on water property rights and markets.

Monoculture cropping was also the war cry of the World Bank as heavily subsidized TNCs from the US and EU encroached on privatizing local seed banks, seizing the opportunity of peasant ruin in the countryside. It restructured farming relations from local food production to export-oriented commercial farming.

As a result, the SAP enabled the proliferation of global monopolies that control food production, inputs, and distribution while starving the farmers from the developing world. The establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the World Bank’s brother-in-arms against food sovereignty, has put the denationalization of food systems on overdrive.

Since WTO, profits in the globalized era are sought in increasingly speculative and fraudulent activities [xxviii], and agriculture is specially not exempted. The footprint of speculative activities in the global land rush, especially in 2008 onward, pushed the prices of food staples and led to the food riots and conflicts, which led millions of people in the developing world in a spiral of hunger and poverty [xxix].


In developing countries, the World Bank demanded, the phasing out of agricultural subsidies and the privatization of State seed and fertilizer facilities through the SAPs to “create space for the private sector”. So now, it suffers voluntary amnesia whenever it talks about the “gaps” in agricultural funding supposedly filled in by the private sector, since it created that “gap”.


Maximizing Finance for Development:

Incentivizing Land Grabs and Corporatization of Agricultural Development

The IMF-World Bank in its policy paper “Maximizing Finance in Development in Agriculture Value Chains”, which it hypocritically titled “The Future of Food”, further elaborates the latest installment of IMF-World Bank’s longstanding attack on people’s right to food and food sovereignty, and the offensive advance of greater corporate takeover of agriculture and corporatization of agricultural development.

In the paper, the World Bank describes crowding in funds from the private sector as the all-encompassing key in closing the “gap” in funding for agricultural development. While the paper discusses and hides behind the “alignment” of agricultural development to strategic goals of “poverty reduction” and “providing better jobs and boosting shared prosperity”, it paints a plan to further denationalize food systems and increase financialization in food production, control, and distribution, which divert funds for farmers to incentivizing and de-risking TNC investments and monopoly control.


Advocating Use-Certificates and Access to Rental and Land Markets in lieu of right to land.  In continuing its role as an enabler of landgrabbing and further absolving itself of culpability, the paper points out that “weak government policies on land tenure and governance” [xxx] cause risks of landgrabs. In the same breath, the IMF-World Bank calls for national policy reforms advocating more secure use-certificates to minimize the risk of agricultural investments for financial actors. This is doublespeak for the further erosion of the already denied rights of farmers and Indigenous Peoples to land and resources.


While it laments that only 10% of lands in sub-Saharan Africa are registered, it advocates the Ethiopian use-certification land reform that led to the land grabbing of between 2.5 to 2.71 million hectares of land in Ethiopia, which is up to 58.2% of total land area suitable and available for agricultural production, between 1992 and 2010 alone. This comes to no one’s surprise as IFC enabled a 110,000-hectare plantation landgrab in Ethiopia last 2010, where it provided US$150 million loan to ICICI Bank, the landgrabber Karuturi Global’s investor. The IMF-WB continues its efforts in eroding policies on peoples’ right to land through the Land Governance Assessment Framework.


Guarantee, award, incentivize TNCs and monopolies while sponsoring neglect of farmers and domestic food production. The paper promotes the rollback of any State support for farmers and national food production. It calls for a “shift in public policies from direct agricultural support towards improving private sector access to risk management instruments for agriculture”. This shift means indiscriminate phasing out of subsidies to farmers, privatization of state assets related to food production, and the “decoupling of subsidies” away from staple foods as these “crowd out” private sector participation. Moreover, it also calls for an exit of State banks and state capital in funding, lending, and insuring small farmer and staple food production to “create spaces” for commercial banks and international private financing.


These deregulation policies in agriculture coupled with further liberalization, redolent of the disastrous SAPs, will further cripple national capacity to produce food and mitigate world food price spikes. As it is, public spending in agriculture in the global south is on a four-decade long decline [xxxi] in relative terms. In fact, in the south of Sahara, where more than 80% of people depend on agriculture, public spending declined by 25% in the last three decades [xxxii]. A more significant decline was also noted in the Latin America and the Caribbean. Financing takes up an increasing amount of public spending in agriculture, while less and less in direct subsidies to farmers [xxxiii]. A World Bank review attributes this shift to “an era of policy reform” towards market liberalization [xxxiv].


On the other hand, the World Bank has no qualms in subsidizing the entry and entrenchments of agribusiness monopolies in the Global South. In 2009, IFC gave a US$75-million equity infusion to the US$625-million investment vehicle Altima One World Agriculture Fund. The Altima Fund owns majority shares of the El Tejar, the soybean monopoly in Argentina. This then enabled El Tajar to position itself, through more than 200,000 hectares in land grabs, as the largest farm operator in Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, and Brazil [xxxv].


Rising prices and trade liberalization also catalyze land grabs. In Cambodia, for example, there is a major uptick in land grabbing due to the “Everything but Arms Treaty” that was signed with the EU. Under the treaty, Cambodia can export sugar duty free.


The paper also prescribes Public-Private-Partnerships (PPP) “wherever possible”, a project funding model worse than privatization. PPPs in agriculture lead to user fees in irrigation and rural infrastructure, opening up land, water extraction, genetic and natural resources to the private sector exploitation; changing national seed laws; lifting plant variety protection, even accommodating the propagation of questionable crops such as those genetically modified; giving up national R&D to the control of agribusiness TNCs and allowing their techno-fixes to low productivity; and changing concepts of land rights and agrarian reform, among others.


In stark contrast to the prescribed neglect to farmers, the paper advocates the diversion of the meager funds to shielding agribusinesses from risks of nationalization, expropriation, disputes, conflict and political risks, even calamities – for countries to bet against their farmers and agricultural workers!


As if not enough, the paper advocates a private sector-led and -centered diagnostic systems in agricultural development – adding control over “assessment framework” and “diagnosis” to the arsenal of corporate power. As it is, the “private sector” is simultaneously the plaintiff, the perpetrator, the lawmaker, the lawyer, and the judge in disputes. Of the 855 known ISDS [1]cases, where 542 were filed in the World Bank’s international investment dispute settlement ICSID [2], 61% were decided in favor of the investor and only 39% in favor of the state[3] [xxxvi]. In fact, the IFC and the World Bank have consistently invoked its “absolute immunity” in class action lawsuits directed against them over the past few years[xxxvii].


Unsurprisingly, the paper advocates as well for the “harmonization” of seed laws. These laws, as made clear by farmers in Africa, are violating the rights of people to seed and seed biodiversity — supporting policies for privatization of seeds and criminalization of seed saving and strengthening the position of international seed monopolies like Bayer-Monsanto and DuPont.


Further deepening of financialization of food systems and increasing the speculative nature of land and food markets.Financialization has been pushing prices of food and fueling the landgrabs since 2008. In fact, from 2004, IFC has funded US$4.55 billion in loans and grants to financial intermediaries linked to over hundreds of projects that resulted in landgrabbing, displacement of peoples, ruin of livelihood, and environmental degradation [xxxviii]. These financial intermediaries, which include banks, insurance companies, microfinance institutions, and private equity funds, received the biggest share of World Bank’s investments through the IFC [xxxix].


While the World Bank advocates for the “deepening of financial markets in developing countries” and in agriculture, it leaves out in convenience the fact that global agricultural markets today are already riddled and closely entangled with increasingly speculative funds, bonds, derivatives, and other financial instruments like the commodity index fund which drives agricultural inputs and product prices upward – a double burden for farmers.

As already mentioned above, the IFC has also been setting up of green funds and climate change mitigation funds that has predated on forests and Indigenous Peoples’ rights to land and self-determination. The IFC boasts that its investments in climate financing have reached US$18.3 billion and mobilized $11 billion in private sector funding for climate since 2005 [xl] — including 109 green bonds.


Since 2011, IFC has invested a total of US$246.5 million [xli] in RCBC, a Philippine-based bank, including at least US$22.5 million in IFC’s climate loans [xlii]. RCBC has been funding the construction and operation of 20 coalfired power plants in the Philippines, which have displaced and affected at least 28 communities of farmers and fishers.


Killings amid poverty and landlessness


Growing landlessness and soaring rural poverty are the clear and inevitable effects of IMF-WB neoliberal policies. IMF-WB’s decades of policies of auctioning off agricultural lands to land markets and their promotion of market-led land reforms and speculation have marginalized large portions of already impoverished farmers in the global south in favor of local elites and international investors. [xliii]

Commodification of agricultural and forestlands has led to greater concentration of land in the hands of local elites while systematically excluding small farmers [xliv]. Large haciendas and latifundia in Asia and in Latin America remain intact and have grown and evolved over the last century.


In most of the developing countries today, 95% of farms being tilled by small farmers are below 5 hectares. However, these farms occupy only 66 to 75% of the total arable lands[xlv]. This means that the remaining 5% of farms are large landholdings where 25 to 33% of the total arable lands are concentrated. In the Middle East and North African region, 80% of farms occupy only 20% of total agricultural area. While in Latin America, the largest 10% of farms hold 60% of total agricultural area [xlvi]. In the Philippines, 57% of farms cover only 12% of total agricultural lands [xlvii].


The intense concentration of agricultural lands in the hands of landlords and corporations indicate how massive landlessness is among farmers and agricultural workers. The total of 12 million farmers displaced by reported land grabs in the last decade add to the already high number of landless in the global south. In India alone, 41.63% of rural households are landless, which translate to 307 million people [xlviii].


In addition, neoliberal schemes such as contract growing and other lease-type agreements wrest the control of farms from small farmers and hand it over to agribusiness ventures. Thus, even the landed small farmers end up as agricultural workers in their own land.

Land grabs in the past few years are also becoming more violent and heavily militarized as more and more communities resist forced displacement. The IMF-WB itself is complicit in the piling bodies of farmers and land rights activists in the Global South.


For example, in Honduras, one of the deadliest countries on earth for farmers and land rights activists, the IFC gave a loan of US$15 million to the Dinant Group in 2009. The Dinant Group, owned by the wealthiest man in the country and one of the biggest landlords in the Aguan Valley, killed more than 36 farmers in 2011, in the wake of its way to being Honduras’s biggest oil palm plantation operator – bagging 60% of palm oil exports in the country [xlix]. The World Bank has profited off farmers’ murders.


Agribusiness and mining landgrabs total the greatest number of extrajudicial killings, according to reports. Not only are small farmers neglected in policy making; the human rights of peasants and land rights defenders are also disregarded and even attacked by the state. In fact, in the 207 reported global killings of farmers and land rights defenders in 2017, at least 53 were state-sponsored.


Towards peoples’ right to food and food sovereignty

But amid all these attacks, the farmers, Indigenous Peoples, and other rural peoples’ resistance against landgrabbing is also gaining ground. In fact, there are numerous cases of landgrabs that were delayed, thwarted, and even denied because of the communities’ determined assertion of their right to land and resources. While there are many factors in the relative slowdown of global landgrabs over the last three years [l], rural peoples’ determination to expose, directly confront and challenge the land grabbers has made a significant impact.


In the Philippines, for instance, farmers and Indigenous Peoples are standing their ground in lands that are being grabbed for oil palm plantations, for mining and coal-fired power plants, and for ‘green cities’, among others. In the province of Misamis Oriental in Mindanao, Indigenous Higaonan people continue to keep at bay the state-backed ABERDI [4] company from displacing them in 530 hectares of ancestral lands earmarked for oil palm plantation expansion. Retaking lands from landgrabbers and centuries-old haciendas through what we call “bungkalan” or land occupation and collective cultivation also marks the resistance of farmers and Indigenous Peoples in various provinces of the Philippines like Negros, Bohol, Bukidnon, Tarlac, Batangas, Samar, Sorsogon, and Davao[li].

In West Bengal, India, Singur peasants deployed a combination of legal, on-ground, and political actions against manufacturing giant Tata Motors over 500 hectares of agricultural lands. The historic 2016 decision of the West Bengali court in favor of the farmers and the unwavering resolve of the Singur peasants have swept the region. It catalyzed a wave of peasant struggles and prompted land reform amendments in the region.


In Brazil, land occupation movements led by the Liga de Campesinos Pobres in Pau D’arco, Para, North of Brazil and in the Beirada Farm in Manga remain a bulwark of peasant power against mining and agribusiness landgrabbers. Despite more than 40 farmers and activists already killed and hundreds more arrested in the defense of their lands last year alone, the Brazilian farmers continue to thwart landgrabs and persist in reclaiming their lands. In Santa Elina, poor and landless farmers took over the old Hacienda Sta. Elina and are now collectively cultivating the “blood stained” lands they have for decades been fighting for.

Today as the IMF-World Bank and their client countries unite to find new ways to plunder our lands, exploit and oppress our rural peoples, and take away the peoples’ rights, we raise our clenched fists as one and reaffirm our resolve to defend our land and resources, to stop further corporate takeover of development, and to reclaim our rights to land and food sovereignty.


Stop Land Grabs! Reclaim our rights and future!

Fight for Genuine Agrarian Reform!

Stop killing farmers!

Assert our right to food, land, and food sovereignty!

Junk IMF-World Bank’s neoliberal agenda!

Shut Down the IMF-World Bank!


Rafael Mariano is the Chair Emeritus of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pillipinas. He was the former Secretary of the Philippine Government’s Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).


Notes” style=”font-weight: 600; trans


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:

Continue Reading


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

Continue Reading


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

Continue Reading

Resource Center

Legal Framework




Subscribe to Witness Radio's newsletter


Subscribe to Witness Radio's newsletter