China, Africa and the Global Food Crisis

The June issue of China Monitor, published by the Centre for Chinese Studies (CCS) at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa, focuses on China, Africa and the global food crisis. (PDF)

From the Editorial:

Food inflation in China is currently running at roughly 20% whilst core inflation stands at 1.7%. The last time China faced such a situation was in the mid-tolate 1980′s, a major contributor to social unrest that unfolded in Beijing in mid-1989. But this time it’s different. The Chinese middle class has emerged and can now afford to absorb the rising food prices. This is very unlike the situation two decades ago when food took up a far larger proportion of the Chinese consumer’s salary – perhaps 50%. The purchasing power of the now sizeable Chinese middle class will counteract the fallout of domestic food inflation. However, the seventy-odd million poor urban Chinese are most at risk. The government will most likely respond by providing this group with food subsidies in various forms.

From the article “Can China Help Push for a Green Revolution in Africa?”:

In the past three months, there have been new pledges of money and the World Bank and the United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) are regarded as the likely main lenders. And it is here that China could help make a difference by scaling up the bilateral and multilateral funds available for boosting agricultural production in Africa. 

By tapping into her vast foreign reserves, China could invest in the immense agricultural potentialities in Africa and help push for a new green revolution on the continent that could respond to the needs of the local population. This action could also open opportunities to secure food supplies as China faces pressure to address the changing dietary habits of wealthier Chinese. China has about 40% of the world’s farmers but just 9% of the world’s arable land.

Recent news reports have revealed that for some Chinese scholars the way for the country to guarantee its food security and reduce exposure to a volatile global food market relies on Chinese domestic companies expanding agricultural production abroad. Whether or not this might be a solution, as a responsible nation in the international community, it would be important that whatever investment China bets in Africa’s agriculture would focus on sustainable management of land, soil and water and the respect for the rights and aspirations of poor and indigenous communities, particularly women. The recent decision by China’s US$ 200 billion sovereign wealth fund China Investment Corp to become a socially responsible investor by avoiding industries such as gambling, tobacco and arms manufacturing is a sign that Chinese investors care about their impact in the world.

From the book review of “China’s New Role in Africa and the South – A search for a new perspective”

[T]he chapter by Barry Sautman and Yan Hairong’s provides a compelling argument regarding China’s role as a capable benevolent partner to African countries vis-à-vis traditional Western powers. With particular reference to the United States the authors contextualise the criticism usually directed towards China and argue that a similar amount of critique, if not more, can be directed towards the practices of Western countries on the African continent. At times controversial, the chapter represents a refreshing contribution to the debate.

[...]

The importance of African and Chinese civil society is discussed in several contributions. Ali Askouri discusses African civil society in relation to China’s activities on the continent, Fu Tao assesses the current state of civil society in China and Peter Bosshard concludes by arguing for the necessity of civil society in the era of the global political economy.

In related news, The Weekly Briefing for 27/06/2008, also published by CCS, covers the following topics:

1. China urges parties in Zimbabwe to solve disputes with dialogue.
2. SA a preferred destination for Chinese mining investment.
3. Oil drops as China says it will raise fuel prices.
4. Huawei bags Telkom network deal.
5. Inflation Hinders Growth in Democratic Republic of Congo’s Mining Boom.   
6. China to send rest of engineering team to Darfur in July.