EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution

(P041)

Farmland as investment in post-Soviet Eurasia: practices, coalitions, moralities

Location M-649
Date and Start Time 02 August, 2014 at 09:00

Convenors

Oane Visser (International Institute of Social Studies (ISS)) email
Jana Lindbloom (Slovak Academy of Sciences) email
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Short Abstract

This panel studies farmland investment by outsiders (foreigners, other 'strangers') investigating coalitions they build and opposition it generates. It analyses morality and justifications, and the creative use of the law and resources in enabling, reshaping or resisting land acquisitions.

Long Abstract

Global acquisitions of farmland, which go by names such as the 'land rush', 'land investment' or 'land grabbing' have been on the rise since the food crisis of 2007 and the financial crisis. While the 'land rush' has been the topic of active debate and research in e.g. Asia and Africa, the issue has been under the radar in post-socialist Europe. Nevertheless, a wide variety of investors ranging from West- European farmers, large national/international financial groups, and Gulf state investors have entered the Eastern European countryside. This panel studies investment in farmland in this region by outsiders (whether foreigners or other outsiders such as from outside the locality or outside agriculture). It will look at the coalitions those outsiders build (who they ally with) and what actors act in opposition when it comes to the practicalities of the investment endeavor, as well as at how these relations (coalitions, asymmetries) dynamically change over time. In addition we seek to analyse how 'investors' and other actors (such as brokers, local villagers) creatively make use of the law and state resources in enabling, mitigating, reshaping or resisting land acquisitions. An important topic constitutes morality and the justifications of investment behavior (and different forms of morality within & across boundaries of kinship, generation, community, nationality).

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Contested meanings: laying the grounds for forest commons grabbing in the Romanian Carpathians

Author: Monica Vasile (Humboldt University/ IRITHESys)  email

Short Abstract

The paper brings in-depth data from the densely forested area of Romanian Carpathians to shed light on processes of changing forestland tenure, and to draw attention to a set of practical and legal mechanisms set up for laying the grounds for forest grabbing by foreign enterprises.

Long Abstract

The paper brings in-depth data from the densely forested area of Romanian Carpathians to shed light on processes of changing forestland tenure, and to draw attention to a set of practical and legal mechanisms set up for laying the grounds for forest grabbing by foreign enterprises. By connecting the working of actors at different levels, such as community-based institutions, logging companies and government officials, the paper sheds light on the postsocialist arena of negotiating the fabrication of legal and practical instruments for possessing, expropriating, or challenging land controls. It delves into the political and legal attempts to liberalize the market of forest commons, by changing laws and denying customary rules, in ways often deemed locally as "corrupt". Emphasis is put on competing meanings of forests for different parties, put forward in narratives and action. In this sense, it is revealed how the forest commons can be framed on the one hand as a commodity, to be produced and marketed in a liberal regime of property; and, on the other hand, they can be framed as a social and "cultural" asset, a reservoir of livelihoods, with both economic and affective significance for local dwellers. Furthermore, the paper focuses the lens on the relation of different actors with "the state" and on different actors acting within "the state", and on domestic grabbing processes.

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Domestic and foreign farmers: (unclear) lines of differentiation

Author: Jana Lindbloom (Slovak Academy of Sciences)  email

Short Abstract

The inflow of foreign investors in Slovak agriculture triggered new ways of categorization among farmers. The paper will analyse strategies employed by the participants to make distinctions and maintain similarities between domestic and foreign actors in order to make sense of the new situation.

Long Abstract

Since 1989, agriculture in Slovakia, similarly to other post-socialist countries, has undergone many consequential changes. When both agricultural production and property relations still seem far from being stabilized, new actors have entered the field. The fertile soil lowlands have especially been flooded by foreign investors - either active farmers or mere financiers. Thus, besides the existing axes of structuration, a new criterion has been added to differentiate actors and practices related to agriculture and farmland, a criterion which perhaps even overrides other perspectives for social categorization. The distinction between domestic and foreign farmer might appear the most outspoken and clear cut, not only in terms of nationality or citizenship but also other characteristics such as attitudes, time-orientation or workplace practices. However, a closer examination reveals that drawing the line between domestic and foreign actors is not so simple. Their strategies often seem comparable and most importantly, the supporting networks for outsiders' action are inevitably rooted in local, insiders' assistance.

Farmland investment in the post-socialist countryside: investment practices and discourses in the Black Sea region

Author: Oane Visser (International Institute of Social Studies (ISS))  email

Short Abstract

This paper analyses land investment discourses, relating them to investment practices in Europe’s emerging ‘global agricultural powerhouse’; Russia, Ukraine, and Romania. It discusses problems in ‘resource making’, export of ‘best practices’ and subsequent shifts in investor strategies.

Long Abstract

This paper analyses (global and regional) investment discourses, and relates them to investment practices in the 'emerging agricultural power' of the Black Sea region; notably Russia and Ukraine, with reference also to Romania. The dominant investor discourse has it that land (and food) is becoming scarce, land prices are bound to rise, and that subsequently acquiring land is highly lucrative. This paper shows that investor evaluations of agricultural potential (and risks) focussed predominantly on land characteristics, and 'land' subsequently was reduced to 'soil'. The prime qualities (and subsequent yield potential) of the fertile black earth soil in the region were stressed, while other factors and risks got much less attention. The idea was that introducing global 'best practices' of agribusiness on the fertile and cheap post-socialist soil, would lead to strong growth of productivity, closing yield gaps with the West and rapid land appreciation.

Building on theoretical research on resource/asset making and commodification (e.g. Li; Richardson & Weszkalnys), it is argued that the current land commoditisation process (and related land appreciation) is often not as pervasive and one-directional as commonly perceived by both investors and researchers. While Romania shows ongoing land prices hikes, the research among land investors and brokers in Russia and Ukraine shows that investors, faced with only short-lived land price hikes, now have to shift from 'land banking' to (more intensive) farming.

Land takeovers, perceived security and rural community resilience in Russia

Author: Tatiana Intigrinova (New Economic School)  email

Short Abstract

Analysing rural response to land claims by outsiders in Russia, this paper focuses on factors contributing to low capacity of rural communities to cooperate against takeovers and factors encouraging individual land titling. It also examines how the perceived security of land is constructed.

Long Abstract

The proposed paper analyses individual and community responses to land claims by outsiders in Russia. In addition, the paper examines how the perceived security or insecurity of land rights is constructed involving issues of trust, morality and rights justified by previous land use. Comparison of four rural communities suggests that land competition and perceived insecurity of land rights encourage individual land titling. However, the sense of insecurity does not provide a ground for community cooperation against takeovers. Weakness of institutions of local participation in self-government significantly contributes to communities' low capacity to stand against outside intervention. The power of making decisions at the community level is strongly associated with the state administration exercising a top-down approach. Rural communities' passive position is further advanced by difficulties local people experience in comprehending the ambiguous and complex legislation. These conditions strengthen the administrative elites' ability to manipulate land issues for their own benefit and the advantage of outside business.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.