"There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with
power to endanger the public liberty." - - - - John Adams

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Road to Serfdom, Part III

U.S. universities including Harvard and Vanderbilt reportedly use hedge funds to buy land
 that may force thousands from their land in Africa.

"We have seen cases of speculators taking over agricultural land while small farmers are forcibly removed with no compensation."

This is another article in our continuing series on the rise of modern Neo-Serfdom in the world.  Last month in "The Federalist"  we reported on massive farmland and mineral purchases around the world. 

The natural resources and farmland of the earth are being bought up by shadowy private "wealth funds" that do not have to disclose to the public their ownership or business plans.  Other investments have been made by so-called "private" firms that have close ties to dictatorships or have members of the authoritarian ruling parties on the boards of the corporations.

The wealth funds and multi-national investment groups are now looking at the media.  The Los Angeles Times just reported last week how the Chinese Communist government and a wealth fund from the Middle East are looking to buy a huge interest in Facebook. 

Control the flow of information and you can keep the modern Serfs ignorant.

FREEDOM IS VANISHING:   What happens when the major employers are owned by government backed investment groups, or your food comes from government owned farms, or your news is delivered by so-called "private" corporations but are in reality connected and interconnected to governments?

George Orwell had a name for it:  Big Brother.

Harvard and other major American universities are working through British hedge funds and European financial speculators to buy or lease vast areas of African farmland in deals, some of which may force many thousands of people off their land, according to a new study.

In many African nations the land that villages sit on is "owned" by the government.  Never mind that these villages may have been there for centuries.  So the corrupt government cut deals with investment groups to give away land they do not own.  Property rights do not exist in many places.

Researchers say foreign investors are profiting from "land grabs" that often fail to deliver the promised benefits of jobs and economic development, and can lead to environmental and social problems in the poorest countries in the world reports the UK Guardian.

The new report on land acquisitions in seven African countries suggests that Harvard, Vanderbilt and many other US colleges with large endowment funds have invested heavily in African land in the past few years. Much of the money is said to be channeled through London-based Emergent asset management, which runs one of Africa's largest land acquisition funds, run by former JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs currency dealers.

Researchers at the California-based Oakland Institute think that Emergent's clients in the US may have invested up to $500m in some of the most fertile land in the expectation of making 25% returns.

"Worked harder, our Masters in Beijing need more profits."
Modern Serfs will labor on farms or in businesses that are owned by
"wealth funds" of dictatorships like China or Saudi Arabia.

Chinese and Middle Eastern firms have previously been identified as "grabbing" large tracts of land in developing countries to grow cheap food for home populations, but western funds are behind many of the biggest deals, says the Oakland institute, an advocacy research group.

The company that manages Harvard's investment funds declined to comment. "It is Harvard management company policy not to discuss investments or investment strategy and therefore I cannot confirm the report," said a spokesman. Vanderbilt also declined to comment.

Oakland said investors overstated the benefits of the deals for the communities involved. "Companies have been able to create complex layers of companies and subsidiaries to avert the gaze of weak regulatory authorities. Analysis of the contracts reveal that many of the deals will provide few jobs and will force many thousands of people off the land," said Anuradha Mittal, Oakland's director.
"Privately" owned factories backed
by Communist or Fascist state
power are becoming a large part
of the world economy.

In Tanzania, the memorandum of understanding between the local government and US-based farm development corporation AgriSol Energy, which is working with Iowa University, stipulates that the two main locations – Katumba and Mishamo – for their project are refugee settlements holding as many as 162,000 people that will have to be closed before the $700m project can start. The refugees have been farming this land for 40 years.

In Ethiopia, a process of "villagisation" by the government is moving tens of thousands of people from traditional lands into new centres while big land deals are being struck with international companies.

The largest land deal in South Sudan, where as much as 9% of the land is said by Norwegian analysts to have been bought in the last few years, was negotiated between a Texas-based firm, Nile Trading and Development and a local co-operative run by absent chiefs. The 49-year lease of 400,000 hectares of central Equatoria for around $25,000 (£15,000) allows the company to exploit all natural resources including oil and timber. The company, headed by former US Ambassador Howard Eugene Douglas, says it intends to apply for UN-backed carbon credits that could provide it with millions of pounds a year in revenues

In Mozambique, where up to 7m hectares of land is potentially available for investors, western hedge funds are said in the report to be working with South Africans businesses to buy vast tracts of forest and farmland for investors in Europe and the US. The contracts show the government will waive taxes for up to 25 years, but few jobs will be created.

Residents of the Boeung Kak lakeside during a protest in Phnom Penh, Cambodia against eviction.
A local developer and a Chinese investment company have been given a 99-year lease from
the Cambodian government to develop the lake.

"No one should believe that these investors are there to feed starving Africans, create jobs or improve food security," said Obang Metho of Solidarity Movement for New Ethiopia. "These agreements – many of which could be in place for 99 years – do not mean progress for local people and will not lead to food in their stomachs. These deals lead only to dollars in the pockets of corrupt leaders and foreign investors."

"The scale of the land deals being struck is shocking", said Mittal. "The conversion of African small farms and forests into a natural-asset-based, high-return investment strategy can drive up food prices and increase the risks of climate change.

Research by the World Bank and others suggests that nearly 60m hectares – an area the size of France – has been bought or leased by foreign companies in Africa in the past three years.

"Most of these deals are characterized by a lack of transparency, despite the profound implications posed by the consolidation of control over global food markets and agricultural resources by financial firms," says the report.

"We have seen cases of speculators taking over agricultural land while small farmers, viewed as squatters, are forcibly removed with no compensation," said Frederic Mousseau, policy director at Oakland, said: "This is creating insecurity in the global food system that could be a much bigger threat to global security than terrorism. More than one billion people around the world are living with hunger. The majority of the world's poor still depend on small farms for their livelihoods, and speculators are taking these away while promising progress that never happens."

About 2.6 million hectares in soon-to-be-independent southern Sudan has been leased or acquired by international investors. An additional 2.5m hectares has been acquired in Ethiopia, Ghana, Madagascar, Mali and Sudan. Some nations, including Madagascar and Mozambique, have received requests from investors for more than half of their cultivable land area.

These land deals often require the involuntary displacement of huge numbers of small farmers. The displacement common in these arrangements leads to increased poverty and potentially to social unrest, which can spoil the investment and even destabilize the government.

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