Harvard billion dollar global farmland investment under fire from activists

Adrián Obregón, Guarani farmer and community leader of Argentina, met with students, employees and administrators at the Harvard campus in April 2014 on the impact of the Harvard endowment fund investments to its community.

(Responsible investment at Harvard Coalition)

Harvard’s billion dollar investment arm, has come under fire for “land of conflict” and “destruction of the environment” in developing countries all over the world, a damning new report has concluded.

The Ivy League school of Harvard Management Company (HMC) has spent around $1 billion to accumulate more than 2 million hectares of farmland around the world.

The diverse portfolio built up by the group included the vineyards in California, the dairy industry in New Zealand and activities the production of cotton, soybeans and sugar cane in countries including Brazil, South Africa, Australia, Russia and Ukraine.

A deforested area near Novo Progresso in Brazil’s northern state of Para of 2009.

(AP Photo/Andre Penner)

But the report, released by the action groups of GRAIN, located in Barcelona, and Sao Paulo-based Network for Social Justice and human rights, against that HMC farmland purchases “were undertaken without due diligence and have contributed to the displacement and the harassment of the traditional communities destroying the environment and conflicts over water.”

The report claims that the aggressive acquisitions are “especially urgent in Brazil, where the fund has purchased more than 700,000 acres of land in the Cerrado region, which contains 5 percent of global biodiversity.

One of Harvard University’s massive industrial soy plantations destroyed a small Brazilian village – used to be known for the lush savannas, and plenty of water – are now faced with new health problems of pesticides is air being sprayed on the farms and in blown to homes with contaminated water sources drying up from deforestation and irrigation.

Palmerina Lima Ferreira outside her home in the village of Melancias, Piauí, Brazil.

(Rosilene Miliotti / PHASE)


“Here We are, afraid to die of thirst. If only these projects were to stop, water would come back. But they do not stop. No,” said Palmerina Lima Ferreira, a 77-year-old woman from the village Melancias. “She’ll probably stop at the river is all dried up.”

Harvard University, investments have been the subject of controversy – from fossil fuels, private prisons, and businesses connected to Israel – but this time it is the little-known agricultural investments that extend over the whole world, that the groups that say “cautionary tale” to other settings.

A crop plane is spraying of pesticides on a soy plantation in Piauí, Brazil.

(José Cícero Silva/Agência Pública)

“The risks of Harvard’s fund managers did not have paid off financially for the university and have instead left it with a legacy of land and water conflicts to deal with,” the activists write in the report, including a year-long study of the tax and the local property data, as well as on-the-ground interviews.


A steward of the fund, Kat Taylor, resigned in protest in May, call HMC, the endowment “opaque financial resources,” and say that the Ivy League school failed to lead in comparison with his colleagues because of “land purchases, that may not respect the rights of the indigenous population, water holdings that constitute a threat to the human right to water, and investments in conflict with the safety of children and workers.”

Activist groups released a report critical of Harvard University’s billion dollar investment in farmland around the world.


The report calls on the Harvard endowment fund to quit its investments in agricultural land, immediately take action to resolve all land conflicts, and adequately compensate communities for the damage.

HMC CEO Narv Navekar, in a letter of a year ago, wrote that the university is in the direction of a generalist investment model suggests that a part of the natural resources program’s “grand challenges” and will be changed gradually in a multi-year process.

HMC spokesman Patrick McKiernan, told Fox News that Harvard is in the midst of repositioning their investment portfolio with a focus on environmental, social and governance issues.

“We have sold a number of assets and is considering the sale of the others,” he said. “The team has also suggested a more proactive approach to working with the managers of the new and the remaining assets of a partnership, that gives a better overview and ensures that we are able to leave the country and the community better than when we first invested.”

Caleb Parke is an associate editor for You can follow him on Twitter @calebparke

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