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Harvard and Vanderbilt Endowments Criticized for Buying African Farmland

June 9, 2011
The Chronicle of Philanthropy

Several major U.S. university endowments are investing heavily in African land, anticipating high returns in deals some critics say displace rural farmers and refugees, according to The Guardian.

Harvard and Vanderbilt are among the universities buying African farmland through European speculators and hedge funds such as London-based Emergent, the British daily writes, citing a new report by the Oakland Institute, an advocacy group.

Researchers at the group say Emergent’s American clients may have put as much as $500-million in some of the most fertile land in seven African countries.

An Emergent spokesman acknowledged university endowment funds are among its “long-term investors” but said its African land fund invests in “agriculture and setting up businesses and employing people. We are doing it in a responsible way.”

But Oakland Institute director Anuradha Mittal said the group’s analysis shows “that many of the deals will provide few jobs and will force many thousands of people off the land.”

The newspaper did not include any responses from the American universities named in the report.