Enviva seeks to end involuntary land loss

Published 6:26 pm Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Enviva Inc., the world’s largest producer of industrial wood pellets, has announced the establishment of the Enviva Heirs Property Fund, an initiative dedicated to ending involuntary land loss across the U.S. Southeast. 

On July 13, Enviva stated in a news release that it was formally committing $250,000 on an annual basis to provide support to landowning families in the U.S. Southeast through direct financial support for professional services, identifying pathways for families to capture sustainable land value, and through public policy advocacy at the state and federal levels. 

EHPF’s efforts will begin in 2022 in Mississippi and North Carolina and will expand to include direct financial aid to landholders incrementally throughout Enviva’s operational footprint in the coming years, in addition to the national policy work currently underway.

The issue of heirs property predominantly affects southern Black landholders and has been a significant driver of Black land loss over the last century. The Federation of Southern Cooperatives, a nonprofit association of Black farmers, landowners and cooperatives, estimates that 60% of African American-owned land in the South is held as heirs property, and from 1910 to 2007, it is estimated that Black farmers lost approximately 80% of their land, from about 20 million acres to about 1.9 million acres today.

“Since our founding, Enviva has been unrelenting in our commitment to make a positive impact in the communities we call home,” Enviva Chairman and CEO John Keppler stated in the release. “Today’s launch of the Enviva Heirs Property Fund is one example of how we plan to make lasting progress across the U.S. Southeast today, tomorrow and for generations to come. As a values-driven company, we care about people first, from our associates and partners to our customers and communities. I am proud Enviva is playing a pivotal role in the journey to end involuntary land loss for disenfranchised families across the United States.” 

To eliminate the systemic hurdles resulting in involuntary land loss, the Enviva Heirs Property Fund will act on the following three functions for landowners:

  • Achieve clear title: Assist landowning families in achieving clear title to their land, thus removing the land from being vulnerable to involuntary loss. EHPF will connect families with the professional services necessary (i.e. legal professionals, tax consultants, professional foresters, surveyors, etc.) to secure clear and marketable title. Through this function, EHPF will assess each family’s needs as well as fund the professional services necessary to secure title.
  • Unlock sustainable value from land: Assist families in receiving value from their land for generations, which they are unable to do until they achieve clear title. Through existing partnerships, EHPF will connect, educate and train families on resources and topics related to best practices for forest/land management, sustainable farming techniques and merchandising. In parallel, EHPF will help families connect with the broad universe of federal and state benefits to landowners that hold acreage in clear title, such as grants for growing crops or building on their land, federal loans and other governmentally bestowed benefits.   
  • Advocate for changes in public policy: Advance policy solutions at the state and federal level to prevent involuntary land loss. EHPF will partner with several organizations that specialize in land loss prevention policy to resolve the ongoing, systemic land loss problem across the American South.

Enviva recognizes there are well-established groups that have been working in this space for decades and therefore will continue to partner with existing regional groups to address involuntary land loss issues. Current partners include the Roanoke Electric Cooperative, of North Carolina; North Carolina Central University, North Carolina A&T University’s Small Farms Resource and Innovation Center; Winston County Self Help Cooperative, of Mississippi; the Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation, of South Carolina; and the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, to name a few.

“More than 100 years of systemic injustice and antiquated property laws have robbed southern families of billions of dollars in generational wealth because of heirs property status,” said Don Calloway, vice president of equity, inclusion and impact at Enviva. “As one of the world’s leading bioenergy and sustainability companies, Enviva has always worked with landowning families to maximize the value of their land. That process starts with helping families secure their land. We are proud to formalize our longtime efforts to marshal resources to reverse that trend and help secure family farms and the generational financial security they provide.”

Launching EHPF is the first step of many that Enviva is taking to address a pertinent problem spanning across the U.S. Southeast. Later this summer, Enviva is hosting the inaugural Heirs Property Policy Forum in Washington, D.C., to bring together legislators, landowners, community partners and relevant organizations to create and deploy a unified policy agenda on heirs property.

To learn more about EHPF, visit www.heirsproperty.com. For landowners in need of assistance, legislators seeking information or professional services offering guidance, contact heirsproperty@envivabiomass.com.