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China not in land grabs in Africa

- Buhle Zuma

It is a myth that China is using Africa as a food farm.

Professor Deborah Brautigam, an expert on China-Africa relations, has dismissed claims that China is engaged in land grabs across Africa.

“The belief that China is acquiring large amounts of land in Africa to grow food to feed the massive Chinese population is a myth,” said Brautigam during a presentation at Wits University.

China’s population is estimated at 1.4 billion.

Drawing on her research and her recently published book entitled: Will Africa Feed China? Brautigam said there is no evidence to support media reports on this issue.

Brautigam and her team from the China Africa Research Initiative at Johns Hopkins University undertook what she terms “forensic internet sleuthing”, digging into highly publicised cases about China acquiring land in Africa.  The researchers also conducted field trips to Angola, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.  

“We looked at sixty different cases … and we were able to find that a number of these cases turned out not to even be Chinese companies,” she said.

Some of the firms were Korean and Indian, but reported as Chinese. She pointed out that some Chinese efforts to buy land had not been successful, and where they were granted land, the amount was nowhere close to the reported millions of hectares.

What are the Chinese doing in Africa?

Brautigam argued that Chinese entrepreneurs are genuinely interested in partnerships and African development.

“They are doing agricultural demonstration projects, but these involve Chinese businesses looking at African food security and agricultural development,” she said.

“It is not that different from what we, as the United States, are doing in addressing food security in Africa. The Chinese are also interested in selling agricultural machinery to Africa, high-tech advanced seed and agri-business high-tech.”

Brautigam said what was happening was “all about globalisation” and not about building a new empire in Africa.

“They are also interested in contracts and building state farms and  new generation state farms in countries such as Angola.”

Brautigam said Brazil, Argentina and the United States were the top three countries feeding China and accounted for the highest imports by China.

“That’s where China’s food is coming from.”

Brautigam said China’s number one food commodity that originates from Africa is high quality sesame seeds.

Brautigam was hosted by the China-Africa Reporting Project at Wits. Her lecture was entitled Feeding Frenzy: Fiction and Facts about China, Africa and the Media.