Land rush in the highest gear

Anna Hajdu 
Institute of Social Studies (ISS)

This paper explores the nature of a land rush within the borders of the EU, through a study of investment companies’ strategies and the financial actors behind them. It does so by investigating the case of Romania, as the EU country with the largest share of farmland owned by foreign investors and the most fleet rise in farmland prices in the world. In investigating the unfolding of this ‘unknown’ farmland boom (as the land rush debate focuses predominantly on the Global South), it analyses why Romania has so rapidly emerged as one of the most attractive countries for farmland investments globally, with an unprecedented rise in land prices.

The paper takes a closer look at the discourses and strategies of the farmland investors, looking at speculation opposed to productive considerations in their operations. We include organizational and property structures (e.g. owner-operator versus ownership-lease out constructions) in the analysis. 
Subsequently, the paper looks at how the types of farmland corporations, and financial institutions behind them, influence farmland investment strategies. We distinguish between Western farmers-cum-investors, large agro-companies, and farmland investment funds operated by banks and private equity firms.

Romania is a particular case in the global land rush, being an emerging economy, and frontier market with considerable areas of abandoned land, as well as a EU country with relatively strong property rights obtaining EU subsidies. As such, this case study questions some common conceptions of the land grab and potentially provides novel insights in farmland investment strategies and the interplay of factors that make a land rush.

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