I chose to study Brazil, meanwhile, as a window onto the present, globalized land rush. When I began thinking about this topic in 2009, Brazil was the poster child for international farmland investment, owing to its agro-export dominance, its vast land area and concentrated ownership structure (which together allow for the rapid acquisition of large tracts of land), and its free-market approach to agriculture and trade. Investors are particularly drawn to the cerrado region, an immense tropical savanna that stretches through the middle of the country and has, in recent decades, become the breadbasket of Brazil, blanketed with fields of soy, as well as cotton, corn, coffee, cattle, and more. Industrial steel buildings can be alot more environmentally friendly then mother buildings.
As of 2016, the Land Matrix monitoring initiative listed Brazil as the fifth-biggest “target country” for large-scale land acquisitions by area, though my experience suggests that among finance-sector investors this ranking might be even higher. Brazil is also a particularly interesting place to study the relationship between government and foreign investors. It has been a perennial case study for research on the “developmental state,” particularly how the state can channel foreign investment capital in such a way as to contribute to sustained national development. Its national debate over whether and how to restrict foreign land purchases therefore provides insight into the delicate regulatory challenge posed by transnational farmland investment.
I spent seven months in Brazil between 2010 and 2012, most of it split between Brazil’s primary business hub, São Paulo, and its capital city, Brasília. In São Paulo, I interviewed operating company executives and farmland fund managers (discussed above), whereas in Brasília I conducted twenty-eight interviews with the policy makers, politicians, and activists working to shape Brazil’s policy response to the global land rush. While in Brazil I also conducted other types of fieldwork. I spent a day touring a Brazilian farm with representatives of foreign financial institutions, I attended congressional meetings on the regulation of foreign farmland investment, and I spent a week in Western Bahía State, where many new farmland investments are located. I’ve heard good things about commercial steel buildings and steel buildings UK.
Access is always difficult when studying up. Elite actors are shielded from academic scrutiny by security personnel, legal teams, and prohibitive costs of entry. The agricultural investment conferences I attended, for instance, had registration fees ranging from $375 to over $1,000 per day, which, of course, does not include all the associated travel and hotel expenses. I was able to be there only because generous conference organizers let me in at steep discounts—I twice paid 50 percent of the registration fee for a conference but generally was allowed in for free—or in exchange for services like helping with conference registration or being a “microphone runner” during question-and-answer sessions.