Bill Gates, the third richest man in the world depending on the vagaries of stock-market priced, is also the largest private owner of farmland in the USA. Gates owns approximately 242,000 acres of farmland with assets totaling more than $690m. Wealth accumulation always goes hand-in-hand with exploitation and dispossession. Land is power, land is wealth. Like wealth, land ownership is becoming concentrated into fewer and fewer hands, resulting in a greater push for monocultures and more intensive industrial farming techniques to generate greater returns. One per cent of the world’s farms control 70% of the world’s farmlands, one report found. The biggest shift in recent years from small to big farms was in the US.
When pressed about why he’s acquired so much farmland, Gates claimed, the decision, he said, came from his “investment group.” Cascade Investment, the firm making these acquisitions, is controlled by Gates. There’s a more cynical calculation. Investment firms are making the argument farmlands will meet “carbon-neutral” targets for sustainable investment portfolios while anticipating an increase of agricultural productivity and revenue.
The principal danger of private farmland owners like Bill Gates is the monopolistic role they play in determining our food systems and land use patterns.
Small farmers and Indigenous people are more cautious with the use of land. For Indigenous caretakers, land use isn’t premised on a return of investments; it’s about maintaining the land for the next generation, meeting the needs of the present, and a respect for the diversity of life. That’s why lands still managed by Indigenous peoples worldwide protect and sustain 80% of the world’s biodiversity, practices anathema to industrial agriculture.
The average person has nothing in common with mega-landowners like Bill Gates. The land we all live on should not be the sole property of a few. The extensive tax avoidance by these titans of industry will always far exceed their supposed charitable donations to the public. The “billionaire knows best” mentality detracts and ignores those who actually know best how to use and live with the land.