Research Activities

Dr. Hisano, Shuji
  • Professor, International Political Economy of Food and Agriculture
  • Graduate School of Economics, Kyoto University
  • Yoshida-hommachi, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 606-8501, Japan
  • Tel: 075-753-3451, Fax: 075-753-3492
Granted Research Projects, On-going
  • 2013-2015: An International Comparative Study on Foreign Agricultural Investment and the Responsibility of Investing Countries under the Reorganization/Restructuring of Agri-food Regime (JSPS Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research (C))

    Purpose of the Research Project
    • Outline: In the midst of global food insecurity that is expected to continue in the medium and long terms, this project aims to outline the trends in the increasing foreign agricultural investment through problematic large-scale land grabbing, and to clarify the involvement and responsibility of Japanese actors in these foreign agricultural investments whether through the official development assistance or private finance. The project first comprehensively reviews the literature in international academic associations and their achievement. Then the project develops the frameworks for future theoretical and empirical research by combining those international academic achievements with domestic scholars' knowledge and expertise on the structure and policy of agriculture in each targeted country or region. Second, the project aims to investigate the actual cases in which Japanese official and/or private funding and investment fund by interviewing related institutions and conducting additional field research. Finally, our findings and outcomes of the project will be published at home and abroad, so that we can raise public and academic awareness and make policy recommendations domestically and internationally.
    • 1. Scientific Background for the Research
    • 1-1. Background of Problems: The On-going Situation of Large-Scale Agricultural Investment
      The global concern has been rising on so-called "land rush" or "land grabbing", which means foreign agricultural investment through large-scale acquisitions of farmland. Such investments likely accompany the displacement of small-scale producers in the invested country, damage their foundation for making livelihood or producing food, and significantly affect rural society and the natural environment. The survey data from the World Bank, the International Land Coalition and some other organisations suggest that 50 to 80 million ha of land have been acquired mainly in low-and-middle income countries, mostly after 2008. Foreign agricultural investment through large-scale farmland acquisitions is not necessarily a new phenomenon. Still, recent trends of land grabbing have several particular characteristics: they are mostly large-scale with involvement of transnational agribusiness corporations, and increasing involvement of nation-states like China, South Korea, and Gulf countries, who have increasing concern on their domestic food supply capacity; their purpose has expanded to produce biofuel crops and/or to secure and use natural resources like water or forest; and they are promoted by capital flooding in by investment funds and speculative funds, who seek stable opportunities for fund management.

    • 1-2. Scientific Background for the Research Project: Research Trends and Positioning of the Project
      • [Overseas Research Trends]In addition to various reports issued by international organisations and development NGOs, the Journal of Peasant Studies, one of the prominent academic journals in the agrarian political economy, featured two special issues on large-scale agricultural investment in 2012. These are based on the international research project initiated since 2009 by academic scholars with the background in Development Sociology and Political Economy, who often contribute to the Journal of Peasant Studies, as well as the outcomes of the international conference, which was organised by the same group of researchers in April 2011 at the University of Sussex, UK. The second international conference is planned (as of September 2012) in October 2012 at Cornell University, USA. Some other academic journals like Water Alternative, Globalizations, Development & Change, Geoplitics, Canadian Journal of Development Studies featured similar special issues, and their research results were shared and exchanged in the meeting in June 2012 at the International Institute of Social Sciences (ISS), Den Haag, the Netherlands
      • [Domestic Research Trends]Contrarily to the active engagement of overseas researchers, there has been very little systematic academic research on the “land-grabbing” issue in Japan or by Japanese scholars. In Japan, public awareness on the issue has been raised, though very limited, by the TV program and its spin-off book entitled “Land Rush: the Global Battle for Farmland” produced and broadcasted by NHK in February 2010. The special issues of semi-academic journal Agriculture and Economics (extra issue in April 2010 and general issue in November 2011) partially discussed the problem. Although the awareness is still limited, Japan's recent foreign agricultural investments through ODA, private capital or investment fund are related to the global trend of large-scale acquisition of farmland. Japanese scholars should therefore fulfil their international responsibility as academics by quickly catching up the international level of research on the issue, and by publishing their research achievement at home and abroad as well as making policy recommendations. This project consists of Japanese scholars who have conducted research on structural analysis of agriculture or policy trends of various countries, and have ample and accumulated experiences with in-depth field research in rural villages in some developing countries. The member scholars are capable of achieving the objective of this project as discussed above.
      • [Achievements of Past Research and Positioning of the Research Project]
        • a. Review and Systematic Classification of Previous Case Studies
          There have been accumulation of many case studies, and some research have outlined key issues of argument [White et al. 2012] or classified them [Hall 2011]. However, the relationship has not been elucidated between emerging “land-grabbing type” agricultural investment and production and existing methods for agricultural investment and production such as through direct operation or contract farming, and therefore it is required to complement with agribusiness studies. Although past research covers huge variety of “land-grabbing type” large-scale agricultural investment in terms of investors, purpose and region, few has studied logics and background of investors in/from East Asia, where Western scholars lack easy access to relevant information. On the other hand, Japan has the history of "develop-and-import" scheme, which became active in the 1970s, and the history and experience of official development assistance in agriculture in many developing countries like Brazil. Therefore, it is necessary to identify emerging problems, enrich typologies for further empirical analysis, and develop new frameworks and perspectives to address the issues by combining and/or comparing today's large-scale agricultural investment with these historical and international experiences.
        • b. Historical and Structural Analysis, and Criticism on Justification Discourses
          Large-scale agricultural investment in recent years is often justified by food-crises discourse (saying that we need to increase production and efficiency to secure food in the era of global food insecurity as shown in the on-going food price crises), and the energy and environmental crises discourse (saying that it is necessary to produce and use biomass to address peak oil and climate change). These discourses are distorted from the fundamental cause of the problem; behind the global insecurity of food supply lies the weakened foundation of food production and unstabilised agricultural market in many countries, as a result of the post-WW2 Agri-food Regime (i.e. the production and distribution system under the U.S. regime with aid and dumping export of surplus agricultural products), the neo-liberal reform of agricultural and food policies in many countries since the 1980s (i.e. structural adjustment policies imposed by IMF and World Bank and free trade policies negotiated under the WTO and FTAs), and today's Agri-food Regime which can be characterised as the global networks of food production and distribution led by transnational corporations. It is necessary to apply analytical frameworks and perspectives to understand recent year's large-scale agricultural investment as a symptom of the conflict within the Agri-food Regime and/or the process of its restructuring and transformation [McMichael 2012] and to critically examine justification discourses with elaborated empirical research.
        • c. Critical Investigation of Agricultural Development Model
          Even if it would be necessary to increase food production in developing countries, there is no guarantee that the so-called industrial agricultural model, on which the large-scale agricultural investment is based, will stabilise agricultural production, generate employment in rural areas, secure food and reduce poverty, and realise environment conservation. It is essential to critically investigate existing and alternative agricultural development models based on multifaceted analytical approaches and perspectives. For example, anthropological or sociological approaches, as commonly applied in overseas field research, can be effective to analyse traditional land ownership and use relationship and the process of micro-politics in rural communities of developing countries, and to evaluate the effectiveness of small-scale alternative agriculture model [Ikegami 2012]. However, these approaches need to be complemented with agribusiness studies with a focus on agricultural structure and agricultural market [Isoda 2002; Hisano 2008], given that “capitalist appropriation of agriculture” is not only meant for direct acquisition of production processes, but also meant for control over the upstream (agricultural material input) and the downstream (distribution, processing, and export) of the agri-food system.
        • d. How the International Regulation Should Be
          The international community has a common understanding that large-scale agricultural investment could negatively affect rural communities in their livelihood, employment, and environment. However, they disagree in how actually to solve these problems. On the one hand, it is recognised that the large-scale agricultural investment has the role to play in increasing food security and the self-regulation of transnational corporations and investors can work effectively as the governance mechanism. This position is typified by the Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment (PRAI), which is promoted by the Japanese government. On the other hand, it is argued that the access to farmland should be regarded as one of the basic human rights, and the large-scale agricultural investment, often involving forceful evacuations of local people from their land, is a serious human rights violation; therefore it is urgently required to have more comprehensive international legal frameworks and legally-binding regulations to hold transnational corporations accountable for their human rights violations [FIAN 2011]. The latter human rights approach argues that it is important to clarify and question the responsibility of investing countries’ governments and international organizations [Hisano 2011], and aims to make policy recommendations to national governments, including Japan, and international organizations.

    • 2. What will be elucidated and to what extent will it be pursued during the research period
    • 2-1. We will review the previous research and build a network of scholars inside and outside of Japan, in order to catch up with the level of international research on the issue, while integrating the domestic accumulation of related studies to this research project.
    • 2-2. As part of the above, we will organize study meetings among project members as well as international academic conferences by inviting domestic and overseas researchers.
    • 2-3. We will study and outline the trend and policies of public fund, private foreign direct investment, and investment fund of major countries including Japan, and prepare and accumulate the materials for international comparative study and conduct additional field research when required.
    • 2-4. We will publish the achievement and outcomes of the research project at related academic conferences and in domestic and international journals, while also making the relevant information available to the wider public by holding public symposiums.

    • 3. Academic characteristics, originality, and expected results and significance of the research
    • 3-1. This research project is unique by itself given that there is so little collective and comprehensive research in Japan on this crucial issue, in spite of the fact that Japanese public and private funds have been involved in “land-grabbing type” large-scale agricultural investment. The research project is also academically significance, since we believe Japanese scholars have responsibility for revealing and solving the issue and are expected to contribute to the international academic society.
    • 3-2. The project is expected to make academic contributions in this new challenge, by taking advantage of the project members' accumulated research on agricultural structure and policy analysis of concerned countries, and the accumulated wealth of knowledge in historical-structural approaches to agri-food regime and transnational agribusiness studies, which are not sufficiently referred to in the existing research.
    • 3-3. Not just analysing the current state of the issue, the research project is also intended to make social contributions by raising questions to be solved and giving policy recommendations to Japanese government, related organizations and private corporations, from the perspectives of the international human rights frameworks and the discourse of investing countries’ responsibility, while paying attention to the trend in international regulatory governance as often discussed in the international society these days.
    • 3-4. This research project is expected to enable more comprehensive empirical research projects in future by building up analytical frameworks and methods for the international comparative research, conducting in-depth literature reviews and preliminary field surveys, as well as establishing international networks among researchers, practitioners and activists across the globe.

    Plans and Methodology of the Project
    • This research project mainly aims to make academic contributions inside and outside of Japan, by catching up with the international level of academic research on the foreign agricultural investment through large-scale acquisitions of farmland, and by integrating this with the accumulation of relevant research already done by Japanese scholars. For that purpose, the research project plans, firstly, to bring together the expertise of 12 member scholars who have conducted research on agricultural structure and policy in various countries in the world, with the specialities in agricultural economics, agricultural sociology, political economy, and others. We plan to make five research modules according to the topics, so that we can work efficiently. Secondly, the project plans to make the overall picture of the issue through in-depth literature review of previous research and network building among domestic and international scholars and experts (by organizing study meeting and international workshops). Thirdly, given that the previous research has not yet covered the situation and policy trend of Japanese and East Asian countries' official development assistance, private direct investment, or investment funds, the research project aims to gather information and conduct interviews to these institutions concerned. Finally, the project plans to publish the achievement and outcomes through domestic and international academic conferences and journals in the relevant fields of social science, while at the same time making policy recommendations and raising public awareness on this crucial issue by various means.
      The Project Organization
      The project consists of 12 scholars with the expertise in agricultural economics, agricultural sociology, and political economy. The member scholars are grouped in four research modules as well as two other modules for networking and outreach activities (Fig. 1) in order to carry out the project efficiently and extensively. We also plan to establish the wider network with domestic and international research partners and collaborators.
    • Module 1: International Organization and Civil Society Organizations
      In order to grasp the overall picture of large-scale agricultural investment issues, and to prepare materials to discuss how the international regulatory governance can and should be formed and implemented, this module plans to study the political and discursive trends in international organizations such as the World Bank and FAO, and the views of international civil society organizations (CSOs) such as FIAN International, who promote the international legal norms including "rights to food", and GRAIN, who initiates investigations of “land-grabbing” in many countries in the world.
    • Module 2: Investing Countries and Transnational Corporations
      This module is meant to outline the actual situation and policy trend of large-scale agricultural investment on the part of investing countries, including transnational agribusiness corporations, government-affiliated corporations, investment funds, and so on, by studying published information of major investing corporations, various industry journals and trade papers, and published information from civil society and peasant organizations. FIAN Germany and Netherlands, which will be invited to be research collaborators and contribute to the project, have conducted detailed investigations into the cases that involve European corporations and investment funds. In the case of South Korea and China, the project plans to study not only the political, economic and discursive conditions of these investing countries, but also the situation in Far East Russia, one of their investment destinations. Through above studies, the module plans to categorize the types of investing countries and investing actors and to come up with the international comparative perspectives for further empirical research.
    • Module 3: Invested Countries and Affected Rural Communities
      Development investments have been increasing in forest development for oil palm and rubber plantations in Southeast Asia, agricultural development for feed/fuel crops like soybeans and sugar canes cultivations and forest development for Eucalyptus in Latin America, and various kind of development projects are proceeding also in Africa for the purpose of growing food and feed crops to be exported or processed (including for non-food purposes), for producing biofuel crops such as jatropha, sugar canes, and sorghum, and for ensuring tourism resources. Investors include not only transnational corporations from developed countries, but also regional capitals also play significant roles (e.g. increasing role of South African capitals in African investments). Traditional land tenure and usage relations and political corruptions make it easier for foreign investors to acquire land. Actual conditions in invested countries and rural communities are easily subjected to justification discourses of large-scale foreign agricultural investment, such as “economic development and poverty reduction is necessary and possible by increasing food production” and “global environment conservation is necessary and possible by developing forest resources”. However, the actual situations of large-scale agricultural development and its effects on national economies, rural communities and the natural environment differ case by case. The project aims to depict the actual conditions of large-scale agricultural investment based on full and detailed understanding and consideration of economic, social, and political structures of the invested countries and affected rural villages, and also aims to categorize their types and outline the international comparative frameworks.
    • Module 4: Collaborative Research Networks and International Workshops
      This module is meant to establish collaborative research networks domestically as well as internationally, by involving internationally well-known scholars on the issue, such as Philip McMichael (Cornell University, the USA) and Saturnino Borras (International Institute of Social Studies, the Netherlands); scholars specialized on agrarian problems in the target areas, such as Ruth Hall (University of the Western Cape, South Africa) and John Wilkinson (University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil); CSOs and peasant organizations that have massive local expertise in the target areas and are coordinating social and advocacy movements against large-scale agricultural investment, such as FIAN, GRAIN, and La Via Campesina. Domestically, the research project plans to collaborate with grassroots researchers and activists, such as Hozue Hatae and Kanna Mitsuda (FoE Japan), Yasuo Aonishi (Centro de Acción para el Desarrollo y el Derecho: CADE), and Naoya Matsudaira (AM Net), who have been working on the issue and have rich knowledge about what takes place on the ground. These project research collaborators will be invited to our research meetings and international workshops to exchange information and ideas.
    • Module 5: Japan's Foreign Agricultural Investment and Responsibility as an Investing Country
      Based on the classifications and international comparison through above research, the research project plans to examine and analyse information gathered through literature reviews, field surveys, and key informant interviews with Japanese government organizations (i.e. the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and the Japan International Cooperation Agency) and major corporations and investing banks, in order to fully understand the actual situation and policy trend of large-scale foreign agricultural investment with the involvement of Japanese ODA, private foreign direct investment, investment funds, and other Japanese actors. For example, the local CSOs and international NGOs have already raised concerns about Japan-related projects, including the ProSAVANA project in Mozambique (a triangular cooperation programme for agricultural development of the African tropical savannah among Japan, Brazil and Mozambique) and the Bioethanol Project in Isabela, the Philippines. With some additional field surveys when it is feasible among project members and research collaborators, the project aims to enrich the categorization and international comparative perspectives that have been developed by past research.
    • Module 6: Academic and Social Contributions through Publishing Research Achievement and Outcomes
      In order to examine the global trend in large-scale foreign agricultural investment and the related policies and share the information and concept ideas with other Japanese scholars, it is important for the project members to publish the achievement and outcomes at domestic academic conferences such as those of the Agricultural Economics Society of Japan, the Association for Regional Agricultural and Forestry Economics, and the Rural Issues Association of Japan. At the same time, when the research results are accumulated on the cases with the involvement of Japanese players, we should prepare publishing articles not only at the domestic academic conferences, but also at international academic conferences such as the International Rural Sociology Association (IRSA), the International Sociological Association’s Research Committee on Sociology of Agriculture and Food (ISA RC40), the European Society for Agricultural and Food Ethics (EurSafe), Asia-Pacific Society for Agricultural and Food Ethics (APSafe), the International Interpretive Policy Analysis Conference (IPA), and other international research meetings specialized on or related to the issue. This module is aimed to gather information about suitable academic journals and presentation opportunities to publish our achievement and outcomes, and support the project members in writing English articles and reports. Because the “land-grabbing” issue is urgent and crucial concern, the project also considers publishing the research outcomes as working papers, while raising awareness among general public by holding open symposiums for students and citizens.

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