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The cost of a US Harvard education: global land exploitation

Written By: - Date published: 8:15 am, May 7th, 2013 - 51 comments
Categories: farming, national/act government, nz first, overseas investment, sustainability, trade, winston peters, workers' rights - Tags:

US publicly funded universities struggle to get the funds they need to maintain their educational programmes (CNN 05/05/13).  Many resort to endowment investments to raise some necessary funds.  The “Ivy League” Harvard University stands out for it’s aggressive endowment enterprises, some of which exploit the people, communities, inadequate regulations and environment in relatively poor countries.

Harvard University has also bought a significant amount of productive land in NZ, in order to support the education of its students.

The endowment activities are managed by the university’s non-profit entity, the Harvard Management Company (HMC). It engages in investment-focused, profit-making fund-raising enterprises in regions like Latin America and Africa.  There, some of the HMC’s damaging practices contradict other Harvard initiatives aimed at fostering environmental sustainability, and training African farmers to be self-sufficient.  HMC activities undermine its aim to provide support for students lacking sufficient funding.  HMC also aims to support the university’s educational and research objectives, especially in the sciences.

The Guardian reported in 2011, on the African “land grab” by US university endowment funds, with Harvard being one of the leading culprits, causing many people to be pushed off the land. According to a study by the Californian, Oakland Institute, some US universities were raising funds through the use of British hedge funds and European financial speculators.

Researchers say foreign investors are profiting from “land grabs” that often fail to deliver the promised benefits of jobs and economic development, and can lead to environmental and social problems in the poorest countries in the world. …

Much of the money is said to be channelled through London-based Emergent asset management, which runs one of Africa’s largest land acquisition funds, run by former JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs currency dealers.

Harvard african land grab Farmers-work-in-thhe-Saha-007

Image accompanying the Guardian article

Operating through “complex layers of companies and subsidiaries“, the universities were investing large endowment funds.  They were criticised for taking advantage of weak regulations in poor regions of the world and over-stating the benefits to the local communities.

The HMC to be secretive, often masking the extent and impact of the its global activities.  About a week ago, Krishna Dasartha and Sandra Y.L. Korn, published a post on the Harvard Crimson (newspaper for the university) highly critical of the recently revealed activities of the HMC logging company Agrícola Brinzal in Chile.  They conclude that Harvard University should not be involved in such damaging enterprises, and that they should, at the very least, operate within local laws.

Chilean investigative journalists Paulette Desormeaux and Josefina Court have recently revealed that, since 2004 Harvard University has created eleven companies that exploit the Chilean forestry industry.

One of these is Agrícola Brinzal, which faces two lawsuits in Ancud. The National Forest Corporation (CONAF) pressed charges against the company for the illegal clearfelling of 189 acres of native forest, and also for breaching the forest management plan – they reforested 181 acres of land with eucalyptus instead of native plant species.

The eucalyptus trees are considered more profitable for the wood market because they grow faster than native species.

Harvard accused of illegal logging in Chile

Image accompanying the Chilean article

It has only recently become known that Agrícola Brinzal is managed by the Harvard’s HMC. This company had received significant subsidies from the Chilean government.

Strongly implicated in Brinzal’s activities in Latin America, is New Zealander Andrew G. Wiltshire. Earlier in his career, Wiltshire was in charge of forest planning and management at the New Zealand Forest Service.  He has worked for HMC since 2001, and is now its “managing director and head of alternative assets“.

A Sunday Star Times article of July 2012 by Charles Anderson, reports that Wiltshire played a key role in HMC’s land purchases and related enterprises in NZ.  The article begins,

Forget movie mogul James Cameron or China’s Shanghai Pinxin, America’s Harvard University is among the largest foreign-owned landholders in New Zealand.

The big question is why the Harvard Management Company has bought almost 200,000 hectares at an estimated cost of almost $1 billion?

Wiltshire won’t talk about such buy-ups, in keeping with the HMC managers’ “veil of secrecy”.  However, the HMC chief executive has stated that they rely on expert staff, such as those with forestry backgrounds (like Wiltshire), when analysing their investments. Harvard benefited from Wiltshire’s insider knowledge, and went on to make some significant (though somewhat erratic) profits from its Kaingaroa enterprise, as well as from the Maniototo Big Sky Farm that it bought a couple of years ago.  According to Anderson,

In 2003 the company bought 162,000ha of Kaingaroa forestry estate from the Central North Island Forestry Partnership after it went into receivership.

Before his move to Boston, Wiltshire worked with Kaingaroa developers the New Zealand Forest Service, then became a partner in GMO Renewable Resources, now an investment adviser for Harvard.

An article on Wealth Daily at the end of last year, claims that “Andy Wiltshire”, is the highest paid employee at Harvard.  This is apparently the result of HMC, “playing the insider game” by rubbing “elbows” with people in the know about the kind of private investment opportunities they pursue.  Certainly, the Harvard Management Company includes people with experience and connections in speculative and investment banking in its Executive Team and its directors.

Given its record of damage and exploitation, it is worrying that the HMC is one of the largest foreign landholders in NZ, and is expanding its operations.  The Otago Daily Times reported on May 1st, that the Overseas Investment Office (OIO) consented to Harvard’s Dairy Farms Partnership buying another farm in the Maniototo:

In its decision, the OIO said Harvard planned to upgrade the property to operate as a dairy and dairy support farm, which would create jobs in the area.

However, HMC’s dubious track record of failed promises in Africa and Latin America should make us cautious.  Their activities result in profits being siphoned off to pay for US education, while universities in the host countries (as in NZ) operate with relatively meagre funds.

We need to ensure that there are regulations to prevent NZ’s land and resources being exploited and damaged by ruthless profit-seeking entities.



51 comments on “The cost of a US Harvard education: global land exploitation”

  1. vto 1

    There is no benefit to having foreign landlords.

    • tinfoilhat 1.1

      There is no benefit in having landlords.

      • vto 1.1.1


        A community that is owned by the people that live and work in that community is the strongest community.

        This should guide policy on foreign ownership of our land. This is where we should be aiming. Let the Harvard money spend it all in the US. That is where it is printed so they should keep it there – we don’t want their dunny paper.

      • Bill 1.1.2

        Hallelujah – consistency! Both foreign landlords and domestic landlords are private landlords content to have us remain as landless ‘others’ with no effective sovereignty.

        • karol

          Note, the final line of my post didn’t specify that the “ruthless profit seeking entities” were foreign. I stated it that way on purpose. ie:

          We need to ensure that there are regulations to prevent NZ’s land and resources being exploited and damaged by ruthless profit-seeking entities.

          There are several angles to the issues raised by Harvard’s global activities.

          But there is also an element of Harvard siphoning off profits to help pay for the education of, largely middle and upper-class Americans.

  2. Peter 2

    Most these assumptions are incorrect Karol. I deal with Harvard employees and managers most weeks in my day job, and from my experience, their environmental and people management is definitely a cut above what they replaced. That’s the view from most of the community too.

    • karol 2.1

      If that’s so, Peter, is that the result of the government’s regulations, or the Harvard managers? Can we trust the Harvard managers in the long term and in all their NZ enterprises? Note, not all their activities in relatively poor countries have been damaging, but some have.

      There are a couple of other angles to my post as well:

      the fact that the profits are being siphoned off overseas to help pay for the higher education of Americans;

      the actual numbers of productive jobs and opportunities available to Kiwis under the Harvard management.

      • Peter 2.1.1

        Mostly the responsibility of the Harvard managers, who have direct KPIs based on environmental performance of their properties.

        One or two of the good things are regulations imposed by the OIC, which actually exceed anything put in place by local councils.

      • Peter 2.1.2

        Employment has also increased on their farms, from what I know of, as has pay, and conditions.

      • Populuxe1 2.1.3

        “the fact that the profits are being siphoned off overseas to help pay for the higher education of Americans;”

        Which would be you selectively ignoring that there is nothing to prevent, for example, New Zealanders (and people from many other countries) studying at Harvard provided they meet the academic standards. Here, for example, is a Harvard scholarship for Commonwealth students. http://www.frankknox.harvard.edu/newzealand.html
        There are other more general scholarships for US study as well, like the Fulbright.

        Indeed the Ivy League universities have expressed surprise that so many New Zealand postgrads choose Oxbridge over American equivalents, mainly for reasons of snobbery rather than excelence of tuition and resources.

        “the actual numbers of productive jobs and opportunities available to Kiwis under the Harvard management.”

        I believe Harvard’s New Zealand farms are administered by a New Zealand manager and staff – I’m not entirely sure what you’re getting at?

        • karol

          Yes I know about the scholarships. It’s only a minority of NZ individuals that benefit from them. I know people who applied for Fullbrights. Many want them – few get them.

          It’s all part of the international competitive “free market” that has taken over the unis. The US unis benefit at the expense of the unis in smaller countries like NZ.

          Basically those scholarships are one of the means by which top US and European unis try to attract the most capable high flyers from overseas. Its part of the way they aim to maintain their internationally competitive edge. And the US government supports it to enable them to maintain their economic edge.

          Note that the Harvard endowment investments (the HMC) aims, not just to give grants/scholarships to students, but also to fund research and especially science research – that’s what the US wants to have as an edge for science and technology innovations. Unis international kudos comes largely from their research profile. And in the sciences, that feeds into business.

          So, Harvard uses it’s significant wealth and funds to make even more money out of NZ through its agricultural investments here – this so that it can continue to maintain its global competitive edge.

          Meanwhile, the most capable Kiwis scholars get drawn into the US/European unis – part of the brain and skills drain from NZ.

          And NZ unis then have to struggle to maintain a competitive international profile, on less funds (bigger classes etc). NZ uni researchers need to publish in major international journals to keep their competitive edge. But, I know some Uni academics who have complained about how they have to conduct research on topics of interest to the leading Uni countries – research on specific NZ issues can get marginalised.

          etc, etc…. I could continue on with more points in this direction, but I’m tired.

          it’s all part of the global neoliberalisation of Universities, and US neocolonialism.

          • Populuxe1

            Oh FFS, why shouldn’t New Zealanders study overseas? Suprisingly enough, not all gifted scholars born in this country give a flying fuck about New Zealand subjects. Really hard to do nuclear physics or study obscure Renaissance artists here. The parochialism is making my head hurt. I know people who applied for Fullbrights and got them – so the fuck what? Does it possibly occur to you that there might have been better candidates? Quelle horreur! As it is there are almost too many universities in New Zealand – I doubt we would need more than two, and academic entry standards are too low anyway… etc, etc….. but I’m bored. My academic successes must be blinding me to the whole injustice of only a small portion of the population being academically outstanding.

            • karol

              Mate. I’m happy for you for your success and others. I have nothing against them/you getting a good education.

              It’s not about you and them.

              It’s about NZ and what’s best for the country.

              But, I guess you just don’t give a fuck about NZ and having NZ universities delivering a quality education for as many Kiwis as possible, and then being able to keep as many of the most productive and capable people as possible.

              • Populuxe1

                Your assumptions that every New Zealander wants, needs, or is capabable of the academic rigor of a university education is astounding. It was that reasoning that brought about the collapse of academic standards in the first place, a rot that eventually spread to high schools and the introduction of NCEA. What we need is higher university standards, not the devolution of universities into glorified trade schools with diplomas in eating lunch.

  3. KAROL says.

    “We need to ensure that there are regulations to prevent NZ’s land and resources being exploited and damaged by ruthless profit-seeking entities.”

    This will never happen while John Key is Prime Minister.

    • Colonial Viper 3.1

      But is there a potential PM in Parliament from any party which would be different in this regard.

      • Peter 3.1.1

        No one I can see. Shearer wouldn’t be any better.

        • Peter

          There is also this weird assumption that somehow Kiwi owners will run the land better. That isn’t backed up by past experience. What we want is an environmental ethic amongst farmers, and for people to realise that pissing nutrients off land into rivers isn’t good for either the bank balance nor the environment. That applies regardless of who owns or manages the land.

          • DH

            Well personally I want an end to the internationalising of NZ land so Kiwi residents who have to earn $NZ incomes can afford to buy it.

            The only way a foreigner can buy NZ assets is by paying more than a Kiwi buyer. The Kiwi buyer who loses out to the foreigner looks at the next cheapest land and pushes the price of that up. The Kiwi who loses on that deal goes to the next cheapest, pushes that price up… and so on.

            The more foreign buyers there are the higher the prices go. It’s schoolboy economics; when demand for a finite resource increases the price must go up. Land is a finite resource and foreign buyers add to the existing domestic demand. Add up 1+1.

            By world standards NZ is a medium-income nation and we’re facing high-income prices for land because of foreign buyers. Just who is the Goverment working for?

            Harvard can fuck off along with the rest of the foreign parasites who contribute nothing to this country.

  4. FFS Karol, get the chip of your shoulder, you couldnt give a sh*t about what you copied and paste, you just hate Harvard because its American.

    • karol 4.1

      Ah, Brett – the old “anti-American” aggressive defense.

      And yet, even some Harvard staff and students are concerned about, and disapproving of, the secretive activities, and sometimes damaging impacts of the university’s Harvard Management Company.

      Do you have anything of substance to contribute?

      And please don’t try to tell my what I give a shit about.

      • Brett Dale 4.1.1

        How come you never write about about negative items about universities or organizations outside the USA. No, its always big bad America with you, isnt it?

        Your bigorty is quite clear.

        • Peter

          I wouldn’t attack her personally, just focus on the facts. On the whole, the Harvard properties I know are better managed than when they were kiwi-owned, largely due to the fact that Harvard have invested in them in order to improve their enviromental performance, instead of the capital starved kiwi owners.

        • karol

          Sigh: if you care to check, most of my posts are against the “neoliberal” revolution, corporate power, social inequalities, the war on the poor – mainly focused on NZ.

          The US wealthy and powerful do tend to play a major role in pushing corporate power eg Obama through the TPPA, etc.

          But I also have also been critical of Ian Fletcher’s role in the false info provided by his UK boss, MP Andrew Turnbull in falsifying the reasons for the UK going to war in Iraq.

          Margaret Thatcher

          Aussie Banks

          Kiwis and Aussies involved in the global money maze.

          I was also critical of Chinese companies buying land in NZ.

          Now do you have anything of substance to offer on the topic, other than your hypersensitivity to any criticism of powerful US entities?

  5. Leopold the Viper 5

    ‘I was also critical of Chinese companies buying land in NZ.’

    He’ll accuse you of being racist now….

  6. Sosoo 6

    Harvard is basically a hedge fund with a small university attached to it (not original claim).

    • Populuxe1 6.1

      Nor an accurate one.

      • Colonial Viper 6.1.1

        It’s like Apple is a hedge fund with a medium sized technology company attached to it.

        • Populuxe1


          • Colonial Viper

            Well, I was being serious.

            • Populuxe1

              Christ, I hope not.

              • Colonial Viper

                Yep. Apple has more hard cash and convertible assets on hand than the reserve banks of most countries.

                • Populuxe1

                  I would still say the company has had a greater impact on the world through its products, however.

                  • Colonial Viper

                    However that’s the past IMO; now that Jobs is gone I think the Apple revolution is going to give way to incremental product revisions and playing it safe. Conservative hedge fund behaviour.

                    Also check out their latest financial engineering – borrowing billions of dollars to distribute to shareholders. See what I mean.

  7. Binders full of viper- women 7

    I was thinking about the Harvard set up as I drove past the Kaingaroa Forest recently.. Said to my pal ‘I reckon they’ll be good owners… I imagine they’re like Maori tribes .. in to it for the long hall .. and pretty conservative’. And I don’t like isolationist ideas. I must be happily neo-liberal (whatever that means).

  8. Colonial Viper 8

    Basically, Harvard are smarter and more enterprising than most NZers are, who seem to just want to sit back and bank consistent annual returns every year doing fuck all.

  9. RedLogix 9

    Another example of New Zealand losing more of it’s economic sovereignty.

    We are constantly told that “we don’t pay our way in the world”; yet in term of goods and services alone our current account deficit is modestly positive over the long-term. It’s only when you include “investment income”, ie overseas owners extracting their profits back overseas… that our deficit tumbles to something in the range of 7-9% of GDP pa.

    That is one of the things that is hurting this country as much as anything else; we’re at the wrong end of a giant global wealth pump, constantly sucking off the cream of our productivity every year. And so far no government has dared mention it, much less attempt to fix it.

    • Populuxe1 9.1

      Ok, and how did the Cullen Fund work again?

      • Colonial Viper 9.1.1

        How is that relevant?

        • Populuxe1

          So it wasn’t investing in foreign assets, then?

          • Colonial Viper

            Yes it was. So…?

            • Populuxe1

              So you don’t see a slight hypocrisy in praising one and condemning the other?

              • Colonial Viper

                Uh, no, I think it’s an entirely consistent position…

                To be clearer, I’m only interested in the direction of the wealth pumps located in NZ.

                • Populuxe1

                  How quaintly parochial.

                  • Colonial Viper

                    yes, I’m very parochial about being a New Zealander. Major wealth pumps need to point into the nation, not out of it.

                    • Populuxe1

                      Just so long as it isn’t other people’s countries thinking the same thing, eh? Why that’s entirely fair and logical… Yeah, right.

              • RedLogix

                Pop. It is the gross imbalance that is the problem. The Cullen fund returns are a small fraction of the net investment flows in/out of this country.

                As long as that imbalance persists we need more Cullen funds and fewer Harvards. Nothing hypocritical at all.

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