Calling For Further Research Into The 'Impenetrable' Cargill and Russia

By: Chris Lander, DPhil Candidate in Geography and the Environment

Mr. Lander's research will be presented at the third annual Oxford Food Security Forum, taking place Sunday May 4, 2014 at St Antony's College.

With the effects of Global Environmental Change (GEC), the approach of ‘peak water’, and a world population that is increasing at a dramatic rate, the question of how the world is going to feed itself is dominant in the literature of those who are concerned with issues surrounding food security, and food sovereignty. Important to us as researchers, is where this food will come from, and we believe that major developments will continue to occur in the post-Soviet space, specifically Russia.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) statistics, Russia’s arable land total in 2011 stood at a vast 121.5 million ha, with only 37 million ha of cereals, 1.7 million ha of pulses, and 800 thousand ha of vegetables being harvested in 2012. Add to this that Russia is today listed 92nd in the Ease of Doing Business global rankings as calculated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB), and only 127th by Transparency International in the Corruption Perception Index, then it is evident that the agricultural possibilities, expansion potential, and development of agricultural business in this region are together significant, of academic interest, and critical.

Historically underdeveloped, and with enduring difficulties, Russia’s agricultural sector has gained the focus of a number of foreign investors, who have moved in to the market with varying levels of success. The types of investors themselves vary – from small individual farmers, to investment funds, to large agricultural enterprises – and our paper to be presented at the Oxford Annual Food Security Conference focuses on Cargill: the ‘C’ of the world’s leading grain trading corporations, collectively known as the ABCDs. In discourses concerning food security and food sovereignty, much focus has been given to the role of multinational agro-food corporations (MNCs) in the development of global agriculture, the negative effects that they are having both socially, and environmentally, and the effect that their power exerts on geopolitical and governance issues surrounding agriculture.

Interestingly, research concerning Cargill – especially Cargill in Russia – is limited, and the paper attempts to question Cargill on some of the concerns and accusations that are present in the literature surrounding their operations. The paper aims to reserve judgement, and is an initial exploration, aimed at encouraging other researchers to access these largely (perceived) ‘impenetrable’ organisations, and look to analyse the alternative perspective amongst their rhetoric.

A link to the working paper version can be found here.

Photos of Student Fieldwork