Corporate Farmland Ownership, Land Grabs, and the Vermont Pension Investment Committee


By Graham Unangst-Rufenacht, Rural Vermont policy director

As a member organization to the National Family Farm Coalition, Rural Vermont participates in its Corporate Land Grab working group – which has a particular focus on TIAA and its subsidiaries.  TIAA is one of the most significant global corporate investors in farmland.  There are a number of documented concerns which are important to be aware of related to corporate farmland investment:  human rights abuses, land grabbing, exploitation of particular communities and regions, pitting farmers and peasants against workers whose pensions are invested, impacts on food and resource sovereignty, reduced land access and ownership, application of industrial agriculture resulting in soil depletion, pollution, etc.  See the following articles and resources documenting the impacts of TIAA investments:

– New report about TIAA and Harvard by Rede Social and GRAIN on new findings of illegality:

– Article about it on Bloomberg:

– Article about it by Chain Reaction:

– Earlier report about transnational corporations and land speculation in Brazil:

–  Released last month by FOE and ActionAid:

Despite this, TIAA continues to sell itself, and its subsidiaries such as Nuveen, as “socially responsible investments” (SRI’s).  This past summer, we began working with the National Family Farm Coalition and some members of the working group (Action Aid USA, the Network for Social Justice and Human Rights in Brazil, NOFA VT) to inquire about what turned out to be a $100 million dollar investment the Vermont Pension Investment Committee had made in TIAA’s farmland acquisition subsidiary Nuveen.  We reached out to – and met with – VPIC on separate occasions to inform them about TIAA’s record, concerns about and impacts of corporate farmland investment, the risk of this investment, and to learn more about how they came to invest in Nuveen / TIAA and what that investment looks like.  We are currently waiting to hear back from VPIC about an agreement we’ve drafted and sent to them which commits both parties to longer term discussions about this investment.  As a group with national and global focus, it is our goal to learn what we can in order to prevent more State pension investment committees and other actors from investing in corporate farmland.  In Rural Vermont’s capacity as Chair of the Farmland Access and Stewardship Working Group, we recently had a meeting in which members of the working group presented on this topic.  We are working to expand our coalition locally – from agricultural organizations to organizers in academia and unions. Please be in touch with Graham ( if you’d like to join in and support this effort.