This paper deals with the centrality of what is called here the ‘celebration’ of black earth soil (fertility) in driving foreign investors’ land rush in the fertile black earth region of Russia and Ukraine. Since the mid-2000s, this region experienced a quick rise of farmland investment in the context of the global farmland rush. This paper aims to investigate, first, how the black earth soil became a prime device to ‘sell’ the business case for global farmland investment in Russia and Ukraine. Second, and importantly, what relevant aspects (and potential risks) regarding farmland investment were sidelined or ignored in both discourses and material farm strategies and operations, as a result of the fixation on the soil. The paper shows that the celebration of the black earth soil and the ignorance of highly relevant factors for cultivation (such as sufficient fertilization and climatic circumstances) have a long history, starting with the expansion of the Russian empire. Thus, the paper responds to the call for a more historical approach to the current land rush (e.g. Ouma 2016). Further, the paper also looks into the much-ignored cultural and symbolic aspects of farmland investment, which is commonly regarded as an exclusively economic and technocratic phenomenon. Finally, the paper suggests that the fixation on soil fertility at the costs of attention for agro-climatic factors observed in the Black earth region, has much wider global relevance, as illustrated by drawing comparisons with similar processes of contemporary and historical farmland investment in other regions.
Agrarian Studies Colloquium,
International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University (ISS)

Visser, O. (2016). Black earth bonanza? : Soil, soul and depth in large-scale farmland investments in Russia and Ukraine. Presented at the Agrarian Studies Colloquium,. Retrieved from