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Challenging the Myth of Chinese Land Grabs in Africa


Among the most durable myths surrounding the China-Africa relationship is the fear that the Chinese government and private enterprises are buying vast tracts of African farm land and have plans to transplant millions of Chinese peasants to live and work on the continent.

Over the years, these rumors have been fueled by prominent news publications in the West, politicians and, on occasion, by the Chinese themselves. The fears of Chinese agribusiness effectively colonizing portions of Africa is often well-received by many Africans who are understandably skeptical about the intentions of large foreign powers in light of their historical experience.

In her new book “Will Africa Feed China?“, Johns Hopkins University professor Deborah Brautigam seeks to definitively debunk this narrative. Together with other Sino-African scholars, professor Brautigam traveled across Africa in search of any evidence to support the allegation that the Chinese enterprises are making massive investments in African agriculture.

Not only is there no evidence whatsoever to suggest the Chinese are making any such inroads in the African land market, Dr. Brautigam discovered the entire story is actually upside down. Not only are African governments reaching out to the Chinese to invest more in their agricultural sectors, it’s Chinese agriculture that’s actually feeding Africa! Well, not exactly. However, given that Africa produces only 13% of the food that it consumes, it must rely on imports for the rest, including rice and other processed foods from China among many other countries.

Professor Brautigam structures her book around four tenants that define the Chinese land grab myth in Africa:

1) The Chinese have acquired large areas of farmland in Africa.
2) The Chinese government is leading the effort through state owned companies and the country’s powerful sovereign wealth funds.
3) The Chinese are growing massive amounts of grain in Africa to export back to China.
4) The Chinese have sent (or plan to send) large numbers of Chinese farmers to settle in Africa.

Professor Brautigam joins Eric & Cobus this week to discuss her new book and why the mythology of Chinese land imperialism in Africa is so persuasive.

Show Notes:

About Deborah Brautigam:

brautigam.jpgDr. Deborah Bräutigam has been writing about the fact and fiction of China and Africa; state-building; governance and foreign aid for more than 20 years. Her most recent book, Will Africa Feed China? (Oxford University Press, 2015), sheds light on the contrast between realities, and the conventional wisdom, on Chinese agricultural investment in Africa. She is also author of The Dragon’s Gift: The Real Story of China in Africa (Oxford University Press, 2010).

Currently Bernard L. Schwartz Professor of International Political Economy, Director of the International Development Program and founding director of the China Africa Research Initiative (CARI) at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), she has also held faculty appointments at American University, Columbia University, the University of Bergen, Norway, and been a senior research fellow with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Washington, DC.  Dr. Bräutigam has twice won the Fulbright research award. She is also a recipient of fellowships from the Council on Foreign Relations and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Her research and work with CARI has been funded by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, the Smith Richardson Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the UK Centre for Economic Policy and Research (CEPR), Carnegie Corporation of New York, and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

She has served as a consultant for Transparency International, the United Nations, the World Bank, DFID, GIZ, DANIDA, the African Development Bank, and USAID, and has provided commentary to the Financial Times, the New York Times, the Guardian, CNN, NPR, Al-Jazeera, VOA, CCTV, and MSNBC. Her Ph.D. is from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University.

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