Access to and control over land is essential to produce healthy food sustainably and to support strong, local food systems. The financial takeover of farmland, treating it as only a financial asset, will make transitioning to an ecological model of farming much more difficult, which we must do in order to address the climate crisis.
We are working to support national policies that would protect farmland for farmers and workers and make more land available to farmers, especially farmers that have historically been denied access to land, like Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) farmers.
We are also working to support fair and just trade policy that would bar imported goods produced through land grabs and deforestation, as well as increased oversight and regulation of financial companies’ activities abroad, especially when they violate human rights.
In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, endowments, pension funds, and other institutional investors started to acquire farmland. In the past decade, millions of acres of land have been bought up, and that number is continuing to grow as new investment companies, from state pension funds to massive hedge funds, buy up farmland as a new speculative investment.
These land grabs in areas like the Brazilian Cerrado are violating the land rights of and displacing Indigenous, Quilombola (Afro-Brazilian), and peasant communities. Financial companies are buying up farmland in the U.S. South for huge amounts of money, making it even harder for Black farmers, not to mention new and beginning farmers, to access land.
These land deals devastate the environment and drive the climate crisis through the expansion of industrial agribusiness, leading to widespread deforestation, chemical contamination, and heavy use of fossil fuels.
And these deals put workers’ savings at risk by engaging in real estate speculation and through buying land from land grabbers who acquire the land illegally and unethically.
Colleges and universities are major investors through their endowments and pension funds — and are also places where we have the power to expose and challenge these destructive land grabs. The Coalition bridges grassroots organizing among communities in Brazil and family farmers in the U.S. with research on investment flows, activism by students and faculty at U.S. universities who are clients of TIAA, and advocacy by environmental, social justice and human rights NGOs (connecting as well with efforts in Canada and Europe).
Our strategy seeks to secure land rights for frontline communities and hold financial actors accountable for the impacts of their investments in farmland by exposing their role in land grabs and pressuring investors through the collective advocacy of their clients; while supporting communities in building sustainable alternatives for healthy livelihoods and protection of the environment. With this strategy, we have achieved concrete advancements, such as winning legal recognition of land for Indigenous and traditional communities in Piauí Brazil, passing five faculty resolutions calling on TIAA to provide transparency and accountability in its land grabbing and deforestation investments, and working with farmer organizations to analyze the impact of corporate land grabs on farmers of color in the Mississippi Delta. We build on our collective strengths to employ diverse tactics including research, advocacy, organizing, public education, and communications.