The Spell of the Lake


In the late 2000s, the term “land grab” rose to prominence to describe large-scale acquisitions of farmland in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Reports of “land grabs” also inspired debates around the specific functions of foreign investment, domestic policies in the global South, and commodity prices in development.

A 2012 article by LORENZO COTULA takes a critical approach towards “land grab” literature and distinguishes contemporary land acquisition patterns from their historical counterparts.

From the article:

“There is nothing new in the acquisition of land in the global South to produce crops for export to the global North, and some crops have a long history in tropical plantations (e.g. rubber). However, the biofuels boom has brought new actors (e.g. constellations of energy, agribusiness and biotech companies) and new crops (e.g. jatropha), or has reinvigorated interest in longstanding crops (e.g. sugar cane, palm oil). Carbon markets are changing the nature of the financial returns at stake and, more fundamentally, the very relationship between humankind and nature. The growing participation of financial players in the global land rush brings to the land arena a new set of players, motivations and investment models. In the words of Peluso and Lund, ‘there is no one grand land grab, but a series of changing contexts, emergent processes and forces, and contestations that are producing new conditions and facilitating shifts in both de jure and de facto land control.’

However one looks at it, the land rush, if sustained over the next few years, will have profound implications for the future of world agriculture, including the roles of states and markets, of agribusiness and family farming, and of the global trading system. For example, as companies increase their degree of vertical integration and as governments acquire land overseas to import agricultural produce, a growing share of world agricultural trade will occur within the ‘closed circuit’ of corporate or country systems – deepening a trend that has emerged over the past few decades. In turn, this trend may have repercussions in multiple directions: to name a few, greater vertical integration of value chains can squeeze local operators; intra-firm transactions may increase opportunities for tax avoidance through transfer pricing; and mercantilist approaches to outsourcing agricultural production for national food security can ultimately undermine the multilateral trading system.”

Link to the text.

  • “The period between 2007 and 2012 is what we can call the ‘making sense period’: media, NGOs, policy experts and academics were grappling with basic questions: how do we define land grab?” Marc Edelman, Carlos Oya, and Saturnino Borras Jr. introduce a 2013 issue of Third World Quarterly dedicated to the subject. Link.
  • “Expulsion by pollution is different from the land dispossession described in most land grab studies as it involves expelling people from their land by reducing its use value, rather than taking the land away.” In a recent article, Hua Li and Lu Pan examine dispossession and the construction of industrial parks in rural China. Link.
  • “In the aftermath of the crisis, agribusiness’s access to credit based on promises of future production was reduced significantly.” Maria Luisa Mendonça and Fábio Teixeira Pitta on speculation and debt in Brazilian land acquisitions. Link.


Tax Havens and Global Capital Flows

PhD candidate in economics at Harvard ANTONIO COPPOLA studies finance and international macroeconomics. A new paper co-authored with Matteo Maggiori, Brent Neiman, and Jesse Schreger examines cross-border financing and tax havens.

From the paper:

“Global firms often access capital markets by issuing securities through cross-border affiliates. Standard economic data associate such offshore securities with the location of the issuing affiliates, rather than the country of their ultimate parents, so they offer a highly distorted view of global portfolios. In this paper, we match foreign subsidiaries located in tax havens to their parents with a security-level dataset on global fund holdings and restate bilateral investment positions to reflect the true financial linkages across countries. The resulting nationality-based statistics paint a vastly different picture of global capital allocation than the original residency-based data. First, the revised positions involve significantly larger bilateral portfolio debt investments from developed markets to large emerging markets including the “BRICS” countries. Firms in those countries disproportionately issue bonds through affiliates that are resident in tax havens in part to minimize the burden of withholding taxes that apply to interest payments on foreign-held bonds. As a result, our revised positions reveal that U.S. investments in Brazilian corporate bonds, for example, equal $50 billion, much larger than the $8 billion position listed in TIC. Second, the revised positions involve a massive increase in the bilateral holdings of Chinese equities by each of the advanced economies. For example, whereas the national statistics for 2017 list the United States as holding $154 billion in Chinese common equities, we find the position to be worth about $700 billion.”

Link to the paper.

Each week we highlight research from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Send us recommendations:

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  • Alejandro De Coss-Corzo on the politics of austerity in the maintenance of water infrastructure in Mexico City. Link.
  • “As the power to certify scientific knowledge diffused out into the marketplace of the press, academies and societies invested journals with functions designed to confer reward and to demarcate true practitioners from others. As journals became not only purveyors of scientific news but also archives of discovery, it became more common to conceive of science as a series of discrete discovery events localized in time and connected with an individual author. This raised other tricky questions about the status of collective knowledge.” Alex Csiszar on the politics of scientific journals in the 19th century. Link.

Each week we highlight research from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Send us recommendations:

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