From the Guardian, writers John Vidal and Claire Provost take a look at the study that followed the money trail from the land grabs to US education.
The new report on land acquisitions in seven African countries suggests that Harvard, Vanderbilt and many other US colleges with large endowment funds have invested heavily in African land in the past few years. Much of the money is said to be channelled through London-based Emergent asset management, which runs one of Africa's largest land acquisition funds, run by former JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs currency dealers.
Researchers at the California-based Oakland Institute think that Emergent's clients in the US may have invested up to $500m in some of the most fertile land in the expectation of making 25% returns.
Emergent said the deals were handled responsibly. "Yes, university endowment funds and pension funds are long-term investors," a spokesman said. "We are investing in African agriculture and setting up businesses and employing people. We are doing it in a responsible way … The amounts are large. They can be hundreds of millions of dollars. This is not landgrabbing. We want to make the land more valuable. Being big makes an impact, economies of scale can be more productive."
In Tanzania, the memorandum of understanding between the local government and US-based farm development corporation AgriSol Energy, which is working with Iowa University, stipulates that the two main locations – Katumba and Mishamo – for their project are refugee settlements holding as many as 162,000 people that will have to be closed before the $700m project can start. The refugees have been farming this land for 40 years.
In Ethiopia, a process of "villagisation" by the government is moving tens of thousands of people from traditional lands into new centres while big land deals are being struck with international companies.
The largest land deal in South Sudan, where as much as 9% of the land is said by Norwegian analysts to have been bought in the last few years, was negotiated between a Texas-based firm, Nile Trading and Development and a local co-operative run by absent chiefs. The 49-year lease of 400,000 hectares of central Equatoria for around $25,000 (£15,000) allows the company to exploit all natural resources including oil and timber. The company, headed by former US Ambassador Howard Eugene Douglas, says it intends to apply for UN-backed carbon credits that could provide it with millions of pounds a year in revenues.