Speculating with our Food

In 2011, “food derivative” speculation replaced financial derivatives as the hot new investment promoted by major investment banks like Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan. According to numerous studies, food speculation rather than shortages, are the main reason for skyrocketing food costs.

The really scary news is that in addition to speculating heavily on food commodities, these same private equity funds are also buying up huge tracts of land in the third world.

The Great Land Grab

A 2009 research project by the Oakland Institute (The Great Land Grab) reveals startling facts about the corporate land grab in the third world – another major factor in skyrocketing food prices.

According to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), foreign investors have secured more than 50 million acres of African farmland to develop factory farms for export crops. In addition to investment banks and private equity funds, multilateral agencies, such as the International Financial Corporation (the private sector branch of the World Bank), are also major players in the “corporatization” of global agriculture.

The IFC plays a dual role in increasing private investment in the third world – via direct investment and by pressuring developing countries to create “business enabling environments.” Another World Bank agency, The Foreign Investment Advisory Service (FIAS ), also plays a role by pressuring third world governments to improve their “investment climate,” by relaxing environmental, tenant rights and food security laws and abolishing tax and duties on foreign investments.

Africa is the major target, both for western investment banks and booming Asian economies, driving tens of thousands of subsistence farmers off land they have farmed for generations.

Corporatizing the Global Food Supply

A UK company started in 1997, called  Emergent Asset Management, claims to be the largest speculative fund investing in African industrial agriculture. It uses private equity to take control of large tracts of African farm land. Their prospectus attracts investors by predicting a armed conflict between the West and China will trigger mass food shortages – accompanied by price spikes that guarantee a handsome return to investors. Emergent’s founders, Susan Payne and David Murrin are former high level traders for Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan – well-known as the architects of food derivative speculation.

Emergent’s direct control of large amounts of agricultural land – combined with its ability to attract investors through its equity fund – puts unprecedented control of the global food supply in private hands. It does so by creating a new type of vertical integration, in which a single company controls vast amounts of land, food production and processing — while simultaneously inflating global food prices due to the speculative nature of the fund. As you can see in the video Emergent uses in their pitch to investors:

The Perp Walk – the 1% Have Names

In 2011, the Oakland Institute fingered other millionaires and billionaires grabbing African land via unscrupulous deals with corrupt village leaders (who sign away communal land rights without community consultation) – and by helping to orchestrate armed attacks on families who refuse to leave their land. At the top of the list are

Bruce Rastetter — CEO of Pharos Ag, which has bought more than 300,000 hectares in Tanzania for large-scale food crop, beef, poultry, and biofuel production. This project will displace tens of thousands of civil war refugees awaiting Tanzanian citizenship.

Leonard Henry Thatcher and David Neiman — runs Nile Trading and Development (NTD), which has bought 600,000 hectares in South Sudan through a secret agreement with influential locals who went behind the backs of other community members.

Kevin Godlington — (close associate of former prime minister Tony Blair) CEO of Crad-l and Director of Sierra Leone Agriculture (SLA) and its parent company, the UK-based CAPARO Renewable Agriculture Developments. SLA has bought 43,000 hectares in Sierra Leone to plant palm oil plantations.

Enter the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

The March 31 Guardian reports that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (along with USAID and the Dutch and Danish governments) are backing a new World Bank scheme to further industrial agriculture at the expense of the smallholder farmers who produce 80% of the food consumed in the developing world. The new program is a ranking system called the Benchmarking the Business of Agriculture (BBA).

Here’s what the Our Land is Our Business campaign, organized by the Oakland Institute and like-minded food rights groups, has to say about the BBA:

“Despite a language that claims concerns for small farmers, the goal of this new agriculture-focused ranking system is far too clear: [to] further open up countries’ agriculture sectors to foreign corporations. The doing business [rankings] give points to countries when they act in favor of ‘ease of doing business’. This consists of smoothing the way for corporations’ activity in the country by, for instance, cutting administrative procedures, lowering corporate taxes, removing environmental and social regulations or suppressing trade barriers.”

People can sign on at Our Land is Our Business to send a message to the World Bank about looking after people rather than corporations.

 

8 thoughts on “Speculating with our Food

  1. This is an alarming situation, Stuart. It is beyond my ability to even imagine how anyone would propose such blatantly genocidal and totalitarian ways to make money! It certainly underscores the urgency for communities worldwide to organize to protect their land, create their own seed banks, and grow their own food.

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  2. This kind of genocide has been going on for centuries, starting with the Enclosure Acts in the 17th and 18th century that drove my European ancestors off the communal lands they had used to graze animals and grow subsistence crops for 1,000. Some of the families driven off the land went to work in squalid factories in the city. Most went to the jail or poor house or simply starved to death.

    You are absolutely right, however, about learning to produce our own food.

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  3. Africa is the next big battle ground. China is investing billions and sends in advisers. America is waking up and now and they are sending in advisers too and, as you point out, money grabbers. So, those people betting on conflict and even war? What a horror vision. Thank you for telling us.

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    • I’m not sure which is more upsetting, the immense potential for war – or the fact that the biggest threat to food security isn’t extreme weather events, but investment bankers and equity brokers. Like the defense contractors who profit off of war, these people are misery merchants – in my mind the scum of the earth.

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      • Your statement says it all, Stuart. These are bottom feeders profiting off of people’s basic needs and misery due to lack of.

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  4. Reblogged this on auntyuta and commented:
    To read this post, to listen to the video from Emergent Asset Ltd. and to send a message to the World Bank about looking after people rather than corporations. All I can think of is reblogging this post in the hope that maybe a few more bloggers might look at it and think about it.

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