Cargill FAQ: Responding to Oxfam reports on Colombia land purchases

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You may have questions about how Cargill is portrayed in Oxfam’s report “Smallholders at Risk” published in April 2014 or “Divide and Purchase” published in September 2013. We hope you find your answer here. You can also

What do the reports say?

Oxfam’s reports criticize a Cargill subsidiary’s investment in farm land in Colombia, inaccurately implying that it was improper and contending that companies should not make such investments. We strongly refute that the investments violated the law or the spirit of the law. We also respectfully disagree with Oxfam’s views about how to promote responsible farming there. 

Why did the company buy farmland in Colombia?

Cargill’s subsidiary, Black River Asset Management, looks for opportunities to invest in rural land where crops and food production can be improved. About 22 million hectares of land in Colombia could be farmed, but only 5 million are cultivated today. Colombia is also a country that imports 80 percent of its staple food crops such as corn and soybeans.

What was the land like before?

Black River saw that a sustainable farm could be built in an area that had been sparsely used for cattle grazing. Poor soil and other problems kept the area from being used for crops. No smallholders were displaced when Cargill’s subsidiary bought this land.

What was the size of Black River’s land purchases?

In much of the world, a small farmer works 1 to 3 hectares. The average parcel Black River bought from landowners in Colombia was 1,500 hectares – nearly 10 times larger than the average farm in the United States. 

What is Cargill’s subsidiary doing with the land?

Growing food. 100 percent of the food produced on the farm stays in Colombia, improving the country’s food security and reducing its dependence on imports. Oxfam turned down our invitations to visit for their report. But you can see the farm in this slide show and this video.

How were the purchases made?

It took two years to find parcels that people wanted to sell and to confirm the legality of each title. Then a fair price had to be set for each parcel. As required by law, each purchase was publicly recorded. Oxfam was readily able to find these transactions because they were all public and aboveboard. Oxfam has tried to find fault with the fact that Black River’s purchases are owned by several companies rather than one. This kind of structure is a standard way of doing business in the real estate industry around the world, because it provides the flexibility to sell off smaller parcels at a later date. 

Why does Cargill believe it’s OK for a corporation to own land in Colombia?

Vichada lacked good soil, storage facilities, farm equipment and reliable roads when Black River invested there. Since then, more than 200 jobs have been created. Nearby towns are growing. We generate electricity. The roads we built and maintain benefit anyone trying to get crops to market and also allow daily bus service for people who used to be stranded during the rainy season. Cargill believes that responsible private investment in agriculture helps rural communities and farmers of all sizes. We invite you to read about and see the farm for yourself here.  

How do Oxfam and Cargill differ in their views on farming in Colombia?

The reports highlight a fundamental difference in Oxfam’s and Cargill’s beliefs about responsible agricultural development. Governments around the world, not just in Colombia, are struggling to pay for needed infrastructure like roads, ports and utilities, especially in remote areas like Vichada. Private investment can help speed up rural improvements and take some of the burden off of limited public funds. Our experience around the world has shown that a mix of large and small-scale farming succeeds in increasing people’s incomes and growing more food. 

What are the company’s next steps in Colombia?

Cargill and Black River Asset Management are focused on practical solutions to the bigger issue of improving agriculture and food security where it is needed most. Our investments in Colombia already are yielding benefits for the community and the domestic food supply. We’re working to get the rest of the land ready to grow more food.

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