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Publication
28 May 2012
Author: Marie Olsson

Chinese “land grabs” in Africa – the reality behind the news

China and African agriculture

China’s engagement in Africa has become a hot topic since it significantly accelerated its rate of investment in African countries in the early 2000s. Recent analyses of Sino-African relations – made in the context of China’s growing global footprint – assume that China is on an exploitative hunt for natural resources to sustain its domestic development needs. The mainstream Western media tends to portray China not so much as a development partner, but rather as a “neo-coloniser” that cooperates with African countries through unequal exchanges. /…/

However, there has been little effort to examine evidence behind such dramatic statements, raising questions about the how reliably these headlines describe reality. This policy brief offers a more factual picture of the situation. It first gives a brief overview of the available evidence of large-scale Chinese investment in agriculture, then discusses the extent to which the purpose of such investment is to export produce back to China.

Key findings:

  • Since the 2007/2008 food crises, there has been a surge in news stories about China searching for arable land in Africa – often referred to as “land grabbing”. However, there is little reliable evidence that Chinese companies are investing in such land on a large-scale.
  • Sino-African cooperation on agriculture dates back to the early 1960s, most commonly in the form of foreign aid and development cooperation projects rather than as agricultural land investments.
  • Where Chinese companies are buying and leasing land, there is little evidence to support claims that crops are being grown for large-scale export to China. For example, the Chinese agriculture technological demonstration farms produce mostly for the local market.
  • There is widespread misreporting on Chinese agricultural land acquisitions in Africa, hence there is a pressing need for reliable data and for claims of “land-grabbing” to be verified by authoritative sources.
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