Background

This study addresses the issue of financialisation of Australian agri-food industries. Financialisation broadly refers to the increasing presence of financial actors, and of financial motives, in the operation of national and global economies. In relation to the agri-food chain, financialisation is occurring as entities such as sovereign wealth funds (SWFs), state owned enterprises (SOEs), private equity firms, asset management companies, and merchant and investment banks are purchasing farmlands, agribusiness firms and food retailers. To date, there has been limited research into the ways firms in the finance are transforming Australian agri-food industries. A critical sociological analysis will provide insights to help inform and guide future policy and debate.

The aims of the study are to:

  1. Understand the nature of financial investment in land, farming and agribusiness in Australia, including identifying patterns and emerging trends: which countries - along with both domestic and foreign firms in the finance sector - are investing in Australian food and farming industries? Which agribusinesses and farms are being targeted for investment?
  2. Explore the role that financial intermediaries play in the purchase of Australian farms and agribusiness firms. These are the missing links between those with the capital, and those with the assets for purchase.
  3. Assess the impacts of these investments at the local, community level in Australia, as well as national encouragement for, and/or opposition to, the financialisation of food and farming
  4. Provide conceptual clarity about the reasons for, and impacts of, financial investment in food, farming and agribusiness in Australia.

Research focus

The study will use content analysis of information obtained from company websites, data-bases such as factiva, government reports, and material in the financial press, to compile a database of financial capital flows into food and farming in Australia. We will also conduct semi-structured interviews, face-to-face meetings and attend finance industry events to gather rich data on motivations, drivers and contexts.

Case studies will allow assessment of the (1) motivations and drivers of investment for a range of institutional investors and financial intermediaries; and (2) the reactions of citizens, communities, political parties, and others, to specific investors and their investments. The cases will include:

  • Chinese SOE investment in the Ord River
  • Middle-Eastern SWFs in the Riverina
  • Agribusiness in Nth Queensland
  • Pastoral land ownership and ‘Developing the North’.

Benefits of the research

We believe there will be substantial benefits in conducting this research. First, researchers will be able to assess the extent of investments. Second, it will be possible to understand the types of agriculture (cropping, grazing etc) and the locations being selected for investment, and thereby identify the extent to which the agricultural sector is experiencing change. Third, in terms of future policy and planning for agriculture and food, this research will identify emerging trends in areas for financial investment, and the social, economic and environmental changes resulting from this.

Participants

Participants in this study will be selected from five key groups in Australia: the banking and investment sector; food industry actors; farmers and landowners; community members; and government officials. If you would like to participate, please let us know.

Participation in the research will involve a face-to-face meeting lasting between forty minutes and one hour. The researcher will interview participants about land and agricultural investments, farming, and changes that you have observed or experienced in your industry or community. Participation in this research is entirely voluntary and participants can withdraw from the project at any stage. Confidentiality is ensured, and an ethics clearance has been granted by the University of Queensland. There are no financial reimbursements for participation in this study. No financial (or other) incentives have been provided to industry, government, employers or third party organisations as part of this research.

Results of Project

The results of this study will appear in presentations given at academic conferences, articles published in academic journals, and in summary reports sent to the funding body. Summary reports will be available on the project website and sent to participants who request them.

Project team

Queensland

International

  • Professor Hilde Bjørkhaug, Centre for Rural Research, Norway.
  • Professor Chul-Kyoo Kim, Korea University, Korea.
  • Dr Sarah Ruth Sippel, University of Leipzig, Germany.

Become involved

If you are a financial intermediary working in the agricultural land and/or agribusiness sectors, or can help to answer our research questions, we would love to hear from you. Please contact Dr Kiah Smith on k.smith2@uq.edu.au

Project members

Emeritus Professor Geoffrey Lawrence

Emeritus Professor
School of Social Science

Dr Kiah Smith

Research Fellow & Sessional Lecturer
School of Social Science