Farmland Moves: Black Earth Narratives, Geopolitics and the Symbolical Dimensions of Farmland Investment

Oane Visser
Associate Professor, International Institute for Social Studies, The Hague, Erasmus University Rotterdam

Friday.  07.Oct.2016.
3:00-5:00pm.  SS2125. 100 St. George Street
Tea. Coffee. Cookies. 

Oane Visser is Associate Professor at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in The Hague, of Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands. His research focuses on land deals, financialisation, rural development, labour and social movements particularly in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet countries. He published in journals like J. of Peasant Studies, J. of Agrarian Change, Agriculture & Human Values, Globalizations, European Journal of Sociology. He is principal investigator of a European Research Council (ERC) project on land acquisitions in Russia and an editor of Focaal- Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology.

Since the mid-2000s there has been a sharp rise in global investment in farmland, alternatively called the global land grab or land rush. Numerous studies have been conducted on the drivers and the implications of global farmland deals, but relatively little attention has been given to mechanisms through which (farm)land is turned into an investable asset. Due to land΄s supposedly fixed nature, its very localized features, and the unpredictable effects of weather, plant diseases and other natural factors, it was long considered as an object not prone to financialisation. This lecture will look into how (farm)land is made into an investable asset, and the contradictions of this process. In particular it will look at how farmland is radically separated from its agro-climatical and social dimensions, in order to represent it as a one-dimensional object that is attractive for investors. It will draw theoretically on literature on financialisation, natural resource making and assemblages.  

While earlier studies on farmland investment have stressed fixity as the central feature of land and natural resource, I will complicate this notion. Drawing on empirical examples from contemporary farmland investment in the fertile black earth region of Eastern Europe (Russia, Ukraine, Romania), and examples from other settings through time and place, I will argue that farmland can be rather elastic, not at all lumpy and fixed, in the narratives - and occasionaly practices - of farmland investors and other actors. Notions of ΄farmland being taken away΄ are expressed in relation to shifting national borders, imaginaries of physically moving the farmland, and references to actual historical practices of physical removal of topsoil away from localities or even across national borders. I contend that the process of making natural resources into financial assets cannot fully be understood without taking into account also the discursive, symbolic dimensions (and their historical antecedents). Only in such a way, we can obtain deeper insight in the interplay of economic, socio-cultural and geopolitical factors in global farmland deals. 

Intersections: Lectures, etc. Department of Geography and Planning, University of Toronto

Development Seminar, Faculty of Arts and Science, University of Toronto

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