Sweden’s SEK227.3bn (€26.7bn) state buffer fund Andra AP-fonden (AP2) has been accused of a lack of transparency and snapping up cheap agricultural land in Brazil by campaign group Swedwatch, an NGO which monitors Swedish business relations in developing countries. AP2 denies the allegations.
Swedwatch, however, claims that AP2’s unwillingness to pinpoint the exact location of its landholdings in Brazil, where its investments are estimated at $54m, has less to do with claimed commercial confidentiality and more to do with buying up more land in surrounding areas while it is still cheap.
“AP2 has chosen not to disclose information about the location of the acquired land. This has made it impossible for Swedwatch to undertake field studies in Brazil and examine whether AP2’s land investments follow international guidelines on ethics and the environment,” said Swedwatch researcher and report author Malena Wahlin.
It’s not the first time that AP2, a founder member of the Principles for Responsible Investment in Farmland, has had to deal with unease about its investments in farmland. In 2011 it responded to campaign group GRAIN by saying that it only invests in farmland in countries where there are stable and transparent land governance framework and legal system of property rights in land.
But Swedwatch says AP2 has an insufficient monitoring system in place for its landholdings based in a country affected by reports of toxic pesticides, poor working conditions, threats to biodiversity and agriculturalencroachment (including soybean and sugar cane plantations) on indigenous land.
AP2 has invested a total of $450m in TIAA–CREF Global Agriculture (TCGA), a company established in 2011 which looks to invest $2bn in farmland in major grain-exporting nations, primarily in Brazil, Australia and the US. TCGA has acquired 60,000 hectares in Brazil divided into 11 farms across four states.
In a statement in response to Swedwatch’s report, AP2 said it ‘took on board’ the NGO’s transparency concerns and that it plans to organise a trip for NGOs to Brazil.
A spokesperson told Responsible Investor: “For AP2 it is important that sustainability issues are addressed both when evaluating new agricultural real estate and when ensuring that the land is farmed in a sustainable manner,” However, the spokesperson reiterated its commercial defence on the farmland location: “The exact location of TIAA–CREF Global Agricultures’ properties is competitive information and is not disclosed publicly.”
The spokesperson added: “AP2 does not consider the acquisition of agricultural real estate from equal parties in countries with clearly defined ownership rights to be ‘land grabbing’. “TCGA only invests in well-established areas and large-scale farmland and buys nothing from family farms.” The fund said it had visited the farms in Brazil at least once every six months.
The Principles for Responsible Investment in Farmland currently have 20 signatories and investors signing up to the code must require their investment managers and operators to adhere to them.