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Food inflation, land grabs spur Latin America to restrict foreign ownership

Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay seek to control food security by rebuffing land-buyers from Europe and Asia. Already in Uruguay, an area the size of Denmark sits in foreign hands.

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One of the first things passengers see when disembarking at Cuiaba airport in central Brazil is a real estate advertisement promoting arable land to foreigners.

South America has some of the most productive land on the planet, and buyers have long been drawn to pastureland for cattle; fields for grains, soybeans, and sugar cane; and forests where they can plant eucalyptus for timber and paper. Farms can reach the size of small nations.

Such advertisements may soon be preaching to an empty audience, however, as this and other South American nations that traditionally welcomed foreign investors are now changing land laws to restrict foreign ownership as arable areas worldwide become more sought after, a fact underlined by recent food crises. For lawmakers in Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay, a nation where an estimated 25 percent of all land (an area the size of Denmark) already sits in foreign hands, it isn't a moment too soon to roll back the welcome mat.

These three nations produce much of the world's beef and grains and have been attractive to investors not just because land is available, but also because buying it was relatively straightforward.

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