Challenging the Myth of Chinese Land Grabs in Africa

A China in Africa Podcast

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, 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 Bräutigam seeks to definitively debunk this narrative. Together with other Sino-African scholars, professor Bräutigam 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, Bräutigam 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 percent 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 Bräutigam structures her book around four tenets 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 Bräutigam joins Eric and Cobus this week to discuss her new book and why the mythology of Chinese land imperialism in Africa is so persuasive.