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LANDGRABRU Report Summary

Project ID: 313871
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: Netherlands

Final Report Summary - LANDGRABRU (‘Land grabbing’ in Russia: Large-scale investors and post-Soviet rural communities)

By investigating large-scale land acquisitions in Russia and Ukraine, this project extends the study of so-called the global 'land grab' or 'land rush', and the financialisation of agriculture, to the previously ignored vast rural spaces of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Russia and Ukraine quickly re-emerged as the global breadbasket, saw the fastest expansion of corporate megafarms in the world, and account for half of all the stock-listed farm companies globally. As such, these countries constitute a fruitful entry point for studying the rise of large-scale farmland investors, with agriculture in emerging economies conceptualised as the latest frontier in the financialisation of the global economy. Next to understanding the rise of finance-driven farmland investment (including its prospects and tensions) the project aimed to understand the responses and/or resistance of rural society in face of these far-reaching changes.
In face of the global challenges of rising demand for food, climate change, and reduced state support for agriculture, numerous states and international agencies have promoted large-scale investor-led agriculture as a solution. This project shows that the entrance of large-scale investors has led to the entrance of international finance and best practices in agriculture and a scaling-up of farm operations as proponents predicted. However, the rapid enlargement of farm operations, also led to a series of tensions, which investors’ best practices have struggled to overcome or, sometimes made worse. A key tension is that between the traditional production-oriented strategies and the speculative motives that entered the sector with the entrance of financial firms. The studied investments in Russia and Ukraine show that productive and speculative aims are not easy to align. Another key tension is between the short-termism and speed of finance and the longer-term horizon of farming. A third tension is between the globalist outlook of investors versus the local nature of agriculture. The practices of standardization introduced into farming by financial investors clash with the volatility and unpredictability of local agro-environmental circumstances.
How rural society in Russia has responded to the large-scale investment, especially in those cases where land deals have led to dispossession of rural dwellers was the second main question of the project. To what extent is social mobilisation and resistance possible in societies characterized by a legacy or renewal of authoritarianism? What shape do such societal responses take? These questions increasingly have international relevance, with the global rise of (semi)authoritarian leaders. The research shows that theories on civil society and social movements within Western academia meet their limits in such post-socialist, (semi)authoritarian settings. The widespread view of social movements as primarily a counterforce to the state hampers research. Drawing on post-soviet urban movements’ studies, this first study on rural social movements in Russia shows how these movements often have close relations with the state, but nevertheless are sometimes able to generate alternative positions. Further, situating these movements within global food movements, such as food sovereignty, the study demonstrates that Russian food movements while having a low organisational capacity, are unexpectedly strong in terms of the tacit commitment to local, environmentally sound and healthy agriculture. Once we look beyond Western concepts such as ‘organic agriculture’ or ‘community supported agriculture’, we find that localized food production with a low fossil fuel footprint is actually much stronger developed than in the West. As this astonishing fact remains largely unrecognized by states and society, we refer to it as ‘quiet sustainability’ following Smith and Jehlička (2013) or ‘quiet food sovereignty’.

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