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Court Stops Massive Land Grab in Brazil, Rules Against TIAA-CREF and Foreign Investors

With minimal fanfare or notice, Brazil’s social movements just stopped a land grab larger than the area of Los Angeles, California.  The court ruling prevented the eviction of thousands of small-scale farmers and community members who have been living on the more than 306,000 acres of land in the Brazilian state of Piauí.

«This is a very important case,» said Fabio Pitta from the Social Network for Justice and Human Rights, a Sao Paulo-based advocacy group and partner of Grassroots International, which brought the case before the state court.

The article below from our allies at GRAIN outlines the victory, as well as ongoing tensions between foreign investors and those living on the land.

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State court rules that Brazilian businessman who sold lands to US pension fund giant TIAA-CREF acquired lands illegally

A Brazilian businessman involved in the acquisition of farmland by US, Canadian, German and Swedish pension funds could face criminal charges for land grabbing.

The Agrarian Prosecutor for the Court of the Brazilian state of Piauí has issued an order for the cancellation of 124,400 ha of lands illegally acquired by businessman Euclides De Carli in the area of Santa Filomena, in the south of Piauí. The decision was issued on July 5, 2016 by state prosecutor Francisco Santiago, citing land grabbing («grilagem»), and the illegal use of lands assigned to agrarian reform. The prosecution is now considering filing criminal charges.

The TIAA-CREF Global Agriculture LLC fund, which manages funds on behalf of pension funds in the US, Canada, Germany and Sweden, is one of the leading foreign investors in Brazilian farmland. By 2016, the fund had acquired over 250,000 ha of farmland in Brazil, with much of it being recently acquired in the new frontier area for soybean production known as the MATOPIBA region, which stretches across the states of Maranhão, Tocatins, Piauí and Bahia. The fund and its local partner, the sugar company COSAN, admit that it acquired lands in MATOPIBA from Mr. De Carli, but have repeatedly stated that the lands were acquired according to the law, following «exhaustive» due dilligence procedures. [1]

A 2015 report by a coalition of local and international NGOs first revealed the links between Mr. De Carli and the TIAA-CREF fund. [2] The report alleged that TIAA-CREF was violating its own guidelines by acquiring farms in an area of Brazil rife with land conflicts and from a businessman who is well known for his involvement in illegal and violent land grabbing. The report also provided evidence that the TIAA-CREF fund acquired lands in Santa Filomena, Piauí from Mr. De Carli, the area where the State Court has ruled that Mr. De Carli has been illegally grabbing lands.

In response to the report, TIAA-CREF told the Financial Times that the allegations of wrongdoing «are inaccurate and without merit.» Mr de Carli also denied any wrongdoing, dismissing the accusations as part of a smear campaign by a local politician. [3]

«It’s no longer possible for TIAA-CREF and its pension fund investors to deny their connection with land grabbers in Brazil,» says Fabio Pitta of Rede Social de Justiça e Direitos Humanos. «The decision by the Court of the State of Piauí shows that these funds have been working with a known land grabber to acquire lands from local communities.»

Those pension funds investing in the TIAA-CREF farmland fund include AP2 of Sweden, the British Columbia Investment Management Corporation and Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec of Canada, and ÄVWL of Germany.

«TIAA-CREF’s claims to due diligence are a farce,» says Devlin Kuyek of GRAIN. «Not only are they promoting a destructive model of industrial agriculture in the biodiverse Brazilian Cerrado, but they are directly contributing to the displacement of local communites and indigenous peoples who have cared for and lived off these lands for generations.»

Local communities in the MATOPIBA region have voiced their strong opposition to the recent expansion of large-scale soybean farming in the area. On June 23, 2016, traditional communities from the four states took to the streets of Palmas, Tocatins to protest against the government’s promotion of industrial agriculture in the region. In a statement, the community leaders stated: «NO to the MATOPIBA Agricultural Development Plan, which is a project of destruction and death for the Cerrado and its people in the areas of Maranhão, Tocantins, Piauí and Bahia.» [4]

Civil society organisations and pension holders invested in the TIAA-CREF farmland funds are calling on the company to make public the exact locations and details of the farms that its funds are acquiring in Brazil and elsewhere. Given the company’s actions in Brazil and the risks associated with farmland investing, they say that the company’s due diligence procedures cannot be trusted, especially because this information is not public. They are also calling on the States in which the respective pension funds are based to comply with their regulatory obligations, ensuring that the funds do not contribute to human rights infringements abroad.


[1] Simon Romero, «TIAA-CREF, U.S. Investment Giant, Accused of Land Grabs in BrazilNew York Times, November 16, 2015


[2] Rede Social de Justiça e Direitos Humanos, GRAIN, Inter Pares, and Solidarity Sweden-Latin America, «Foreign pension funds and land grabbing in Brazil,» November 2015


[3] Gregory Meyer, «The Great Land Rush: Investors face conflict in quest for farmsFinancial Times, March 2, 2016


[4] Assembly of Indigenous Peoples of Goias and Tocantins, «Matopiba: Killing the Cerrado and its people,» June 23, 2016


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