What Is China Doing in Africa?

As China’s booming foreign-direct-investment promotes stronger Sino-African linkages, the international media continues to focus on China’s exploitation of natural resources and huge financial aid to pariah regimes. In an interview with China Brief, Deborah Brautigam, a researcher on Sino-African relations, gives her opinion on this strategically important relationship. From AmCham China:

Q: What do you think are the most widely held misperceptions of China’s engagement in Africa and what are the actual realities?

I’m currently writing a paper for the International Food Policy Research Institute on the myths and realities of Chinese engagement in agriculture in Africa. It’s widely believed that the Chinese are among the major “land grabbers” in Africa, and that this happens as part of a Chinese government effort to boost China’s own food security. What I’ve seen in all of the cases I’ve investigated is a very consistent pattern that is quite different. The Chinese government is rather supporting African food security through setting up agricultural research, training, and demonstration centers in 20 countries. Some Chinese firms bought state farms that were privatized over the past two decades. Very often these were old Chinese aid projects from the 1970s and 1980s. I visited one of these projects in Sierra Leone, and also in Tanzania. There is a scattering of tiny Chinese farms supplying Chinese vegetables to urban markets, and in one country, Zambia, about 30 Chinese individuals and companies have invested in agriculture. They’re also all supplying local markets: chickens, eggs, vegetables. A handful of Chinese companies have agreements to lease land to grow biofuels. Three companies have done this, one in Ethiopia, one in Zambia, and one in the DRC. But none of these ventures have actually started. In contrast, there are ten large Indian agricultural investments in Ethiopia, but it’s rare to hear anything about Indians leading the land grab in Africa. The reality is that Chinese regard agricultural investment as very challenging in Africa. They’re much more interested in Asia: Cambodia, Indonesia.

 

For more on Chinese engagement in Africa, see China in Africa: Voices of Approval and China in Africa: A “New Colonialism”? via CDT.