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Recent strong commodity prices have led to rising demand for farmland and this is projected to continue for the medium term because of increasing populations and incomes and growing use of biofuels. Global analysis indicates that about 450 Mha of suitable land may be available to bring into cultivation, much of it in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and Russia. Improved returns in farming and relatively cheap land in some countries have translated into a sharp rise in domestic and foreign investment into farmland, largely focused on these same countries with uncultivated land. Investors have been very heterogeneous, with many from emerging countries and some with little track record in agriculture, but supported by rising portfolio investor interest in agriculture. Despite perceptions, governments and sovereign wealth funds make up a relatively small share of such investments. A surprising development, given the long tradition of family farming almost everywhere, has been the rise of corporate ‘superfarms’ often managing over 100,000 ha of prime cropland. Where land and other markets work well, strong investor interest in agriculture represents an opportunity to tap capital, technology and new markets. However, where land governance is poor and institutional capacity weak, there have been many failures, whether measured in economic, social or environmental terms, especially in Africa and South-East Asia. In Australia, given skilled farmers and strong institutions, there seems little reason for concern about recent reports of foreign investment in farmland. Australia has led the world in arguing for freer agricultural trade and investment and should continue to do so. Increased transparency through a register of such investments could alleviate fears in some circles of a foreign ‘land grab’ in Australia.


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