Another friend may learn this lesson soon. He's planted thousands of coconut trees in Panama because coconuts have become a hot commodity for both their oil and their water. He made the investment in the plantings, though, before he had pinned down a sales outlet, and now he's scrambling to find a buyer. Probably he'll be able to sell his crops locally, but the local price won't get him the profits he projected based on international market values. I'm in the process of planting timber and fruit trees on 10 acres I own in Belize. My first question to the agriculture guy who's going to manage the work was, What can we sell easily locally? I know that the volume of production from the mixed trees I plant on my relatively small piece of land won't be enough to sell for export. Therefore, I want to grow things that the locals need and buy. The guy I'm working with recommended a couple of hardwood trees that few outside Belize have heard of but that are sought-after for local home building and wood working. It will be 15 to 25 years before these trees are ready for harvest, though, so I've got to bet that current demand won't shift over the next couple of decades. If it does, the trees still will have value as hardwoods, but the returns will be less than we're projecting now. For the fruit trees, again I'm going with what can be easily sold locally—avocados, bread fruit, bananas, and a few others. Once you're sure you have an outlet for where to sell your produce, then, unless you're interested in doing the farming yourself, you need an "operator," as one colleague with many agricultural undertakings calls the guys who do the work on the ground. Finding an operator can be easy enough in countries with an agricultural base. When this is the case, you'll find many companies in the business of running farms for people. Your challenge will be to identify one who has experience with your planned crop who you can also trust. My 10 acres in Belize won't throw off the same annual yields as a focused farm, but that's not the point with this land. This is more a personal experiment than a serious investment, and we intend to build a house here, too. Still, I'd say that planting trees is a good idea under any circumstances. As a friend who shares this perspective likes to say, if you need the income in 10 or 15 years, you'll be happy you planted the trees...and if you don't ever need the income, you'll be happy you planted the trees. Meanwhile, I'm researching pecans. Lief Simon
Our friend who took Lief to see King's Children's Home, as it's called, has been helping the group out. Crew from his development project nearby has built a playground, and now they're creating aero-ponic and hydro-ponic growing systems. They're going to train the older kids on farming techniques so the children can grow food for the orphanage and also to give them skills they can hopefully use to get jobs when they leave and go off on their own. The orphanage has 40 acres to work with, which our friends think is enough, once the systems are in place and fully operational, to make the facility self-sufficient for food. The monthly operating expenses are $18,000, and the group receives no financial support from the government or any organized charity. The facility is run by volunteers. All donations go toward food, clothing, and medical care for the kids. Making the place food-independent will mean a lot more money for other things, including education. Lief was so impressed with what's going on here that I thought I'd share it with you in case you have any interest in becoming involved. The orphanage has a website, here, with information on volunteering and making a donation. Kathleen Peddicord
We didn't buy the property with the intention of turning it into a self-sufficient farmstead, and, in truth, if we'd had to survive off our 6 acres, we would have starved to death. Mostly because we were busy working. We didn't have the time to keep up with the gardens or the chickens, and we never figured out the cows, as the government, we discovered, regulated livestock to the point that we would have needed a permit to raise even a couple of cows if our intent was to sell them to a butcher.
Today I own various bits of land in different countries, but most of it either isn't suitable for farming or is owned with partners. I'm getting serious now about changing this, about expanding my flag planting efforts to include a farm somewhere, something bigger than 6 acres.
At the tail end of the last time it made real sense to buy a farm in Argentina (about 2006), I found a 1,000-acre property in Tucuman province. The property was fertile and lush and, with a price tag of US$600,000, a bargain for productive land in that country at that time. You could still buy ranch land in Argentina back then for as little as US$50 an acre, but productive land was going for US$1,000 an acre or more. Alas, the timing wasn't right for me, and I had to pass on the purchase.
Today, with Argentine politics more complicated even than is typical for this country, I'm looking instead at farmland in Uruguay, Chile, and Belize. Remembering the difficulties we faced in Ireland trying to cultivate a half-acre garden and a bunch of chickens, I'm assessing options from a house in a "resilient" community like the one friend Phil Hahn is developing on the banks of the Belize River to the purchase of a few hundred acres in Uruguay that could be leased to a real farmer to generate cash flow and maybe part of the crop as annual payment.
Another friend is at the beginning stages of a self-sufficient community in Chile. He's identified the land, about 125 acres with 500 feet of riverfront, and is working up the numbers. I'll have more details on how to get in on this opportunity at the investment level for my Marketwatch members as soon as the plan is finalized. Right now, my friend is looking to develop a community of large lots (about 1 acre), each with enough room for a house and a private garden. About half of the total property will be kept as fields that could either be leased out to a farmer or worked by the residents in the community or both.
The idea of becoming a part of a community like this, of like-minded individuals, takes some of the work out of being self-sufficient. As Phil likes to say about his Carmelita community in Belize, he's creating a place where people can be "independent together." I think that the answer for me might be an independent farm in Uruguay, but I see the appeal of what Phil and my friend in Chile are creating.
Whether you see farmland as a straight investment opportunity or a backup plan in case of global crisis, I see having a piece of land, whether it's within a communal setting or 1,000 acres all your own, as an important flag to plant right now.
Editor's Note: Today's essay from Lief Simon is reprinted from his "Offshore Living Letter," Lief's twice-weekly dispatch on all aspects of diversifying your assets and your life offshore. If you're not yet receiving the "Offshore Living Letter," you can sign yourself up here now. It's free.Continue Reading:
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Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 25 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter.
Her book, How To Retire Overseas—Everything You Need To Know To Live Well Abroad For Less, was recently released by Penguin Books.
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