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Are Pension Funds Driving Food and Social Disorder?

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Touch the Soil News #678 (feature photo – protestors at TIAA, New York -Brandon Wu, ActionAid) TIAA, one of the world’s largest pension fund companies is trying to find an investment home for almost $900 billion dollars. Popularly known as the “teacher” pension company, TIAA is being accused of keeping its books closed to outsiders on its farmland investments. Last week (April 20, 2017) protestors outside of TIAA’s New York Offices delivered a letter to the company with over 100,000 signatures. TIAA is being accused of financing farm acquisitions in third-world nations (such as Brazil). Allegations are that the farmlands being purchased by TIAA were taken by local officials who…

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The Cyclops of Farms Rears Its Head

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Touch the Soil News #538 (feature photo a Cyclops statue in the Natural History Museum of London by Deror Avi) It is difficult to grasp the magnitude of a secretive farm project for which details are often lacking. The size, scope and potential disruption of this project brings to mind the Cyclops of antiquity. The project between the governments of Japan, Brazil and Mozambique – called the ProSavane – has been in the works since 2011. The project plans to mimic a large project in Brazil in which Brazilian agribusinesses will replicate industrial mono-culture farming in Mozambique. Mozambique is one of the poorest and most underdeveloped countries in the world…

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Chinese Investors Pursue Food of the Gods (Chocolate)

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Touch the Soil News #508 (Feature Photo – Aztec sculpture with cocoa pod) The cocoa bean (or cacao bean) grows on the trunks of the cacao tree. It grows in tropical zones and is processed after harvesting to make cocoa solids and cocoa butter – the basis of chocolate. The cacao tree is native to the Americas and has been cultivated for its bean for almost 5,000 years. Today, 75 percent of the cacao beans are produced in Africa, 15 percent in the Americas and about 10 percent in Oceania. Cocoa beans drying in the sun (photo courtesy of Irene Scott/AusAID). In order to assure a reliable supply of this…

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What Can Be Done About the 90 million Acres?

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Touch the Soil News #505 In the global rush to own farmland, Oxfam recently reported that more than 1,500 land deals sought over the last 16 years now have contracts and their intended projects are getting up and running. The problem is that these land deals cover about 90 million acres and up to 59 percent of the land is claimed by indigenous peoples. Tractors, bulldozers and corrupt local officials are pushing these indigenous people off the land and often into desperation. Local people in East Africa perform a drama illustrating the perils facing many Africans due to foreign land grabs aided by corrupt local officials (photo courtesy of Oxfam).…

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Retirement Funds – Chasing Farmland – Implicated in Corruption and Violence.

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Touch the Soil News #491 Imagine going to the poorer parts of Brazil, a nation unfortunately gripped by corruption (see video below) with million dollar checkbooks to buy farmland. The story regularly repeats itself around the globe as local indigenous officials – intoxicated with the vision of large money – move to deliver the land for which millions of dollars are lined up. As we all know, land is not free and every bit of farmland in the world is occupied by farms or indigenous people. Getting the farmland out of the clutches of the locals has a name in Brazil – “grilagem.” Grilagem denotes using falsification of documents and…

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Investors and the Growing Food Demand

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Touch the Soil News #488 (feature photo CC 2.0) Milltrust International is a global investment management company with headquarters in London and Singapore. They have a special division that deals in agricultural (farmland) investments. The CEO of Milltrust, Simon Hopkins, recently participated in a revealing interview about the growing investments in agricultural assets. Following are some of the highlights of Hopkins’ remarks: This past year saw the birth of the 7th billion person on the planet and the global population is generally expected to exceed 9 billion people by 2050. According to the scientists, the world is currently sustainable with a population of somewhere between 300 million and 2 billion, depending…

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Is Demand for Food Creating a Financial Frenzy over Farmland?

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Touch the Soil News #484 (feature photo cc-by-sa-2.0) In 2008, while the focus was on the unfolding real estate crisis, another crisis was simultaneously unfolding. Through price shocks on basic grains, about 100 million people (bringing the total to over 900 million) were relegated to the ranks of the hungry almost overnight. Today, with the multitude of global trade agreements in place, one thing about the future cost of food is certain – food will go to the highest bidder in the world. There were shortages of wheat in 2008 in the U.S., as higher international bidders cleaned out the nation’s stocks. The volume of investor dollars looking for farmland,…

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European Union – Our Farm is Not Big Enough

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Touch the Soil News #453 Many nations around the world (and some continents) do not have enough farmland to feed themselves. So whether they import food or try to own farmland overseas, the realization is the same – the homeland farm is not big enough. Friends of the Earth (Europe) recently released a watershed report: The True Cost of Consumption – The EU’s Land Footprint. They wanted to know how much farmland the European Union is short of when it comes to providing food for all of its citizens. Cover of the report. The True Cost of Consumption – The EU’s Land Footprint is the first of its kind in…

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Community Land Rights (food) – The Global Powder Keg (Part 1 of 2)

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Touch the Soil News #423 (Feature photo courtesy of HELVETAS) Here in the United States, we have title companies that document land ownership and enforceable liens on land. Seventy percent of all bank loans are collateralized by land – real estate. It is these loans that stand behind the dollars that banks invoke and are the backbone of the nation’s economic activities. Documentable ownership of land is also the backbone of access to land. Much of the land in Asia, Africa and South America lack the ownership / lien documentation here in the United States. This also limits the use of credit for economic development in third-world nations – creating…

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U.S. Treasury – Protector of 100,000 Indigenous African Farmers?

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Touch the Soil News #420 Virtually every day there are stories of indigenous African small farmers being removed from their small farms. While each story is different, the themes are similar: 1) Large investment and farming interests say African small farmers produce low yields. Greater yields can lead to exports and cash for cash-strapped nations. 2) Taking their land, employing them as farm labor, or helping them transition to mono-crops for export, the small farmers switch from self-sustenance to more expensive debt – mono-crop farming. The kind of farming that has eliminated 70 percent of American family farms. 3) Often times the “cash” piece provides incentives for corruption in which…

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