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WWF apologises for human rights abuse allegations and commits to an indigenous-led approach to global conservation



Gland, 26 May 2021 – IN LIGHT OF EVIDENCE OF SERIOUS HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES, WWF commits to reparations for victims and to a long-term strategy which, for the first time, prioritizes indigenous people’s land rights and promotes community-led conservation across WWF-supported areas.

In January 2021, the WWF International Board began an internal revision of the remedial action taken by the organisation following the findings and recommendations of the Embedding Human Rights in Nature Conservation: From Intent to Action report. This process, supported by all 35 boards of WWF’s constituent members, has determined that WWF’s initial response to the Independent Panel’s investigation on alleged human rights abuses in and around WWF-supported areas failed to adequately compensate victims or deal with the shortcomings within WWF as well as partner organisations, that enabled these abuses. The widespread harm caused to local communities by WWF-supported conservation efforts suggests an ambitious project of reform is necessary to ensure WWF is able to protect Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs) rights everywhere we work.

“We need to radically transform the way we envision and approach conservation, moving away from “easy-fix” climate and environmental solutions that continue to harm indigenous people and frontline communities. This redesigning process must prioritize community-led conservation, placing IPLCs at the centre of conservation and land management initiatives. Indigenous people are the most effective environmental custodians which should make securing their rights over their customary lands our number one priority. It is not simply a matter of human rights and international law, but about supporting the best solution we have against this climate and ecological crisis” said Marco Lambertini, Director General, WWF International.

Conservation works best when local communities are put at the heart of it. Working to secure the community tenure of indigenous peoples and local communities will empower those best equipped to look after their local environment and is the best way to conserve all our planet’s natural wonders.

Acknowledging and apologising for The Independent Panel’s findings:

In April 2019 the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) commissioned a panel of global human rights and conservation experts to conduct a systemic review of WWF practices and provide recommendations in regards to alleged human rights abuses in and around protected areas supported by WWF in Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo, Nepal and India.

The report’s key findings:

  •  Allegations across the protected ares in question include multiple instances of murder, rape, torture, unlawful arrest and detention, physical beatings, corruption, complicity in poaching, and destruction and theft of personal property committed by WWF-supported ecoguards against IPLCs.
  • WWF had knowledge of alleged human rights abuses in every protected area under review and failed to investigate credible allegations of abuse in half of those protected areas.
  • WWF continued to fund, train and equip eco-guards alleged to have committed human rights abuses despite knowledge of those allegations and without taking adequate steps to operationalize safeguarding and human rights protection protocols designed to protect IPLCS.
  • Where WWF did conduct investigations into these abuses they came several years after allegations were first made and only following pressure from the media and/or civil society.
  • Where WWF was involved in the creation of protected areas, it failed to ensure the effective participation of IPLCs and thus violated their right to free,prior and informed consent.
  • The Panel found no agreement in place between WWF and the local authorities responsible for park administration to ensure the upholding of the human rights and FPIC rights of IPLCS.

An official apology

In light of these findings, we unreservedly apologise to the indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs) of the areas under review, and to any other individual or community that has been subject to similar abuses in and around other WWF-supported protected areas.

Moreover, we want to take responsibility for the violent evictions of IPLCs carried out by WWF-supported ecoguards and for the impacts that their eviction from their lands has had on these IPLCs, including loss of culture and livelihoods, and increased malnutrition.

We also want to apologise to our supporters, donors, volunteers and readers for not having immediately disclosed allegations of human rights abuses in WWF affiliated parks. We have a responsibility of full transparency to all those who support and believe in our work.


To adequately compensate victims of human-rights abuses carried out by WWF supported projects in the seven countries originally investigated in the Panel’s report, WWF have set aside $2 million dollars. The processing of reparations claims will be overseen by indigenous leaders and representatives from the communities affected.

We fear that the inadequate nature of our previous grievance procedures has prevented many other victims of human rights abuses from reporting injustices. Since we cannot at this stage be certain of the scale of abuses WWF programmes are implicated in we are setting aside a further $5 million for future claims.

Transforming our approach

The WFF international board has concluded that the scale and severity of the problems identified by the Panel in the protected areas reviewed demonstrate endemic flaws in WWF’s operational approach. These have resulted in the systematic eviction of indigenous people from their customary lands, their exclusion from leadership positions in local conservation projects and the militarisation of protected areas’ security forces.

Following the Panel’s recommendations and in compliance with our human rights commitments we have already started to take remedial action. The Management Response and initial measures taken can be found here. Below is a list of further measures we are committed to implement across all protected areas WWF supports, in order to turn the page and build a conservation model that safeguards local communities’ human rights and actively supports indigenous people’s claims to their customary lands.

In protected areas where rights abuses have been alleged we will:

  • Commission independent indigenous peoples’ committees to review the original investigations.
  • Work alongside indigenous leaders to ensure the resolution of allegations by compensating victims and working with local authorities to prosecute the perpetrators.
  • Establish externally supervised safeguards to prevent further abuses.

In all WWF- supported protected areas and conservation initiatives we commit to:

  • Initiate independent reviews of the effects of protected areas on local communities’ rights.
  • Freeze all funding towards protected areas and other conservation initiatives where human rights abuses have been reported until allegations have been resolved, externally supervised safeguard mechanisms established, and all victims adequately compensated.
  • Adopt concrete measures to identify and hold accountable all members of the organization that have been responsible for WWF negligence, ineffective response and direct involvement in alleged human rights abuses, including staff members in individual countries, the WWF senior management team and board members.
  • Work with local and indigenous communities to co-design accessible and inclusive pathways to submit complaints and report any issues with ongoing conservation initiatives through.
  • Carry out new independent free, prior and Informed consent processes with impacted local communities in all current and proposed protected areas; empowering communities to decide how and whether they wish to work with WWF to support their own conservation efforts.
  • Use WWF influence to actively support, at local, national and international levels indigenous people’s claims over their customary lands and their efforts to secure legal ownership rights and conservation responsibilities over such territories.
  • Withdraw financial and practical support to partners and collaborators who fail to support indigenous people’s rights and claims to customary land.

Commenting on the internal revision, Pavan Sukhdev, President of WWF International, said:

“From the report’s findings it is clear that for decades our negligence, and in some instances direct involvement with episodes of violence and abuse, have caused serious emotional, physical and psychological harm to individuals and entire communities across the world. We need to acknowledge that and take responsibility for our role in these allegations. There is no excuse and a formal apology is not enough. We can and need to do better. We need to ensure that the measures that we commit to take forward go beyond minor changes and embody our first step towards a real transformation of our work and ethos.”

Open Letter to WWF

WWF, you are the most well-known environmental organisations in the world: you have great power and an even greater responsibility. However, time and again your projects have dispossessed and abused Indigenous and local communities. You claim that they endanger the ecosystems they have cared for long before you entered their lands. On the other hand, you collaborate with the very same corporations that actually destroy biodiversity, greenwashing their destructive practices. For the sake of justice and the survival of ecosystems worldwide, stop legitimising violence and human rights abuses in the name of conservation. Instead, become an ally to Indigenous people, local communities, and the Global Majority.

For too long you have been dividing humans from nature by building walls; imposing a colonial model called ‘Fortress conservation’, which places conservation in direct conflict with human rights.

You dictate who is “unauthorised” in the lands you enter. You fund, train and legitimise militarised eco-guards who violently evict local communities from their homes. You act on the dangerous and false colonial ideology that perceives human presence as a threat to the ecosystem, except if they are wealthy, predominantly white tourists. You demonise and prevent indigenous and local people from hunting sustainably to feed themselves, but have encouraged trophy hunting for super-rich tourists. This model, based on separation and colonial values, is a violent lie that supports white supremacy – it is, to put it simply, ecofascism.

Fortress conservation is putting us all in danger, as it is further destroying the connection between land and people. It is destroying the cultures who have taken care of and regenerated that land for hundreds of years. This makes you complicit in the historic colonial violence against local and indigenous communities. Their cultures hold rich and powerful counterstories that teach the interdependence and deep connection between humans, the earth and all beings, which so many of us need to rediscover.

This failure of WWF concerns us all because it directly affects both the people and the planet. A recent report by an independent panel of experts shows a shocking history of murder, rape, torture, and violence committed by the eco-guards that WWF funds, equips and manages. This report goes even further in revealing that you have had knowledge of this, yet you continue to fund them. This is simply appalling.

From the Republic of Congo to Nepal, and India to Cameroon, these are not a few ‘bad apples’ but inherent aspects of the oppressive colonial conservation model you employ, and that dominates the conservation sector. Communities are losing their lands, their homes and ways of life, threatening them with starvation, disease and the loss of their human dignity. Dividing communities from their land and livelihoods will always be violent.

Many of the people on your boards are financing, working or lobbying for some of the most environmentally destructive companies on Earth. How can the same people who are destroying the global ecosystem lead and fund its preservation? It’s absurd that we need to say this, but the people leading you should not be those profiting from ecocide.

You invest your supporters’ donations into heavily polluting industries, such as fossil fuels and agribusiness, and partner with them. You receive donations from logging and palm oil companies and let them cut through the same forests you claim to protect.

To put it bluntly, WWF has a profound conflict of interest, and is working with, rather than against, those destroying life on Earth. Rather than challenging those industries, you greenwash them, allowing them to expand their destruction. It is pitiful for an environmental organisation to simply ask companies to slow down their destruction of our home: you must join the global environmental movement in demanding they stop immediately!

WWF, you have betrayed the Global Family. In frontline communities your betrayal means violence. To your supporters your betrayal means broken promises and complicity.

Your organisation has sold us the image of being the ‘good guys’ in an evil world of environmental destruction. From an early age, your iconic panda has playfully filled our cultural consciousness; clambering into our classrooms; filling our shelves with fluffy tokenistic toys, and our minds with idealised imagery of the “pristine wilderness” that serves your marketing strategy.

We entrusted you with the fight for the planet, raising tens of millions of pounds from our pockets as public donors in the UK alone. Yet rather than using this power to support the mobilisation of social and ecological movements of solidarity, you use the power of marketing; you sell us the ridiculous story that simply purchasing, petitioning and running marathons will “save the planet”! You reduce activism to mass consumption – the rotten core of the environmental crisis – making your supporters’ actions hollow and meaningless. You take the struggle for survival of life on earth and make it into a brand. You then use our money, our agency and our validation to make us complicit in outrageous acts of violence and human rights abuses against our brothers and sisters around the world. Through you, we too become tools of fortress conservation and capitalism’s violence.

However, we in the Minority World/Global North are not the real victims of your betrayal. Your failure to serve those with the capacity of preserving the ecosystems you claim to protect is your betrayal to humanity. Those communities are the heart of the resistance to ecocide.

The same people you are persecuting have been caring for the land, their home, for hundreds of years, and are essential to its flourishing. There is increasingly clear evidence on the key role of indigenous communities in already safeguarding 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity, and therefore many conservation bodies call on all organisations to support their land rights. Often Indigenous and community-managed lands have even higher biodiversity and less deforestation than national parks and wildlife reserves. They don’t only slow down degradation, but actually improve the state of the ecosystem. By ignoring these scientific facts you are harming nature – the very thing you claim to be protecting. Why are you oppressing the people who are doing conservation better than you?

WWF, you must advocate for the land and human rights of local and indigenous communities, supporting their cultural, political and ecological work. Even if a community is degrading their ecosystem, any conservation initiative must be led by a dialogue among equals working together. It must support local livelihoods, and enable community-led learning for regeneration that is based on equity and justice. Ultimately, conservation works best when local communities are empowered at the heart of their local environments.

You are already taking steps in this direction in Latin America; so why do you attack communities elsewhere? You must not simply “involve” communities in an imposed neoliberal agenda based on ‘development’ and markets – the very same things that destroy our planet.

You must rethink your role as a supporting one: you are not the protagonist in this story. Right now, in fact, you’re the villain. Effective stories of conservation must be co-written and led by the visions, decisions, knowledge and guidance of indigenous and local communities.

WWF, you know the ecological catastrophe we face: yet its urgency must not be reacted to with your current eco-fascist ‘solutions’. If we do not challenge the crisis appropriately, the suffering and deaths will be devastating. You also know that Indigenous’ and local communities’ land rights and cultures are fundamental to the health of their ecosystems, and to their resistance to the corporations that degrade them. Greenwashing and small technical fixes won’t solve this crisis: we need a transformation of our global consciousness that decolonizes the ways we understand and promote conservation. If you keep attacking Indigenous and local communities, working with polluting industries and the governments who serve them, you will continue to be complicit in the ecological catastrophe and guilty of ecofascism. You will continue to fail to represent or be in solidarity with the global environmental and social justice movement.

The best hope for our survival and flourishing is for conservationists to unite with the Indigenous resistance movement, and fight the environmental destruction of governments and industry. Whose side are you on in this struggle for the survival of life on Earth?

We will not stop challenging the WWF to radically dismantle its colonial approach to conservation, until they join us in enacting the following demands:

Immediately stop dispossessing indigenous and local communities of their land. Cease any collaboration or support to organisations and security forces that evict local communities.

Transition all your fortress conservation projects to the support of genuine indigenous-led and community-led conservation. Projects must actively advocate and be based upon: recognising land rights, local knowledge, local livelihoods, and social justice. Use your platform and financial leverage to advocate these changes across the whole conservation sector.

Be accountable by giving control of project funding to local communities, through their own democratic/collective processes. Be transparent through systems of direct people-to-people communication, such as people’s assemblies, between local communities and your supporters.

Stop the conflict of interests with those destroying ecosystems: cut financial links with large corporations; fire board members from polluting industries; use your platform to mobilize people to take action and demand an end to corporate ecocide.

Signed by:


  • Survival International
  • Centre for the Anthropology of Sustainability, University College London
  • Association Okani
  • Pan-African Living Cultures Alliance (PALCA)
  • Integrated development Initiatives in Ngorongoro (IDINGO)
  • Front Commun pour la Protection de l’Environnement et des Espaces Protégés
  • Ole Siosiomaga Society Incorporated (OLSSI), SAMOA
  • Fondation Internationale pour le Développement l’Education l’Entreprenariat et la Protection de l’Environnement (FIDEPE)
  • Pastoral Peace Reconciliation Initiative (PPRI)
  • XR Anti-Oppression Circle
  • Rogerio Cumbane/MAKOMANE-ADM (Association for Community Development)
  • XR Internationalist Solidarity Network (XRISN)
  • Skogsupproret (Forest Rebellion)


  • Arturo Escobar (Professor of Anthropology)
  • Katy Molloy (Flourishing Diversity)
  • Fe Haslam (Global Justice Forum – GJF)
  • Francis Shomet Olenaingi’sa
  • Fiore Longo – Survival International
  • Cathryn Townsend
  • Fiu Mataese Elisara – Executive Director of OLSSI
  • Romao Xavier – Programme and Advocacy Coordinator
  • SHAPIOM NONINGO – Technical Secretary GTANW
  • Jose Ines Loria Palma – President of the San Crisanto Foundation
  • Elena Kreuzberg – Consultant on Environmental Issues
  • Maurizio Farhan Ferrari – Senior Policy Adviser on Environmental Governance
  • KOAGNE Clovis – Coordinateur Général Fondation Internationale pour le Développement l’Education l’Entreprenariat et la Protection de l’Environnement (FIDEPE)
  • Milka Chepkorir
  • Samuel Nangiria
  • Kofi Mawuli Klu (XRISN)
  • Esther Stanford-Xosei
  • Jerome Lewis

Original Source:

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



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

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

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

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

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

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


Download the statement:

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Will more sovereign wealth funds mean less food sovereignty?



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

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Farmland values hit record highs, pricing out farmers



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

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