Saturday, July 02, 2011

American pension funds linked to African land grabs

We often hear of China grabbing land from Africa so they can farm it to feed their own people. Recent research suggests that China is only a minor participant in this practice. A study released last month linked the land grabs to American Universities. Today, we learn of the volume of involvement from American and European pension funds.

From the Guardian, writer Mark Tran details the latest study on who is really grabbing the land.

Grain, a research group that supports small farmers, says pension funds - often managed by private companies on behalf of unions, governments, individuals and employers - are investing US$100bn (£62.4bn) in commodities, with some $5bn-$15bn reportedly going into farmland acquisitions.

"We usually read about Gulf states or China investing in farmland, but some of the biggest investors are much closer to home," said Henk Hobbelink, one of Grain's co-founders. "As a percentage of the total funds they manage it is not large, but in terms of their impact on small farmers it has a tremendous impact."

International investment in farmland in developing countries, such as Sudan and Ethiopia, has sparked accusations from Grain and other NGOs of "land grabs" that often fail to deliver the promised benefits of jobs and economic development, while contributing to environmental and social problems in the poorest countries in the world. Grain also says the new surge of money will push up global food prices that will hit the poor and rural communities the hardest.

Figures from the Grain report shows that the three pension funds with the biggest investment in agriculture are from the Netherlands, the US and Sweden. APG, in the Netherlands, (administering the national civil pension fund) has invested euro 1bn (£904m) - 0.5% of total assets under management - Ascencion Health, in the US has invested $1.1bn and AP2 Second Swedish National Pension Fund has invested $500m in grain farmlands in America, Australia and New Zealand. The other big players, according to Grain, are CalPers (California Public Employees' Retirement System), Dow Chemical, New Zealand Superannuation Fund, PGGM, also from the Netherlands, and PKA, from Denmark.

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