Madeleine Fairbairn

Assistant Professor, Environmental StudiesUniversity of California / Santa Cruz

Award Information

2011 IDRF Program

SociologyUniversity of Wisconsin / Madison

Exploring the “Fictitious Commodity Chain” in Farmland: Impacts and Governance of Private Sector Farmland Investment in Brazil and Mozambique

The last two years have seen a rash of extremely large-scale land acquisitions in developing countries as foreign investors rush to acquire land throughout Latin America, Southeast Asia, the former Soviet Union, and Africa. The food price crisis of 2007-2008 ignited latent fears about the future availability of staple crops which, combined with the use of farmland as a hedge against inflation in the wake of the financial crisis, set off a wave of farmland investment which media commentators were quick to dub a “global land grab”. A new class of farmland investors, including private equity funds, hedge funds, and pension funds, are investing in agricultural land in record amounts, a trend whose impact has yet to be studied. My dissertation research will fill this gap by analyzing the constellation of financial actors which is coalescing around this wave of farmland acquisitions and the role of international and national-level land governance in mediating the penetration of these international capital flows. My research revolves around three research questions. 1) What is the emerging structure of the global chain in farmland investment? 2) What are the consequences of changing dynamics in international farmland investment on land use patterns at the national level? 3) What is the role of international and national land governance in mediating this reallocation of land resources? I propose to answer these questions through interview-based research with stakeholders in the farmland investment chain combined with in-depth case studies on the impacts of these investment trends for land use and governance in Brazil and Mozambique, two of the most popular investment locations in Latin America and Africa respectively. My research will contribute to both theoretical understandings of the globalization of land markets and practical knowledge about what policy approaches host countries can use to manage the impacts of this trend on domestic food security and land access.