China’s African Land grab?

Another example of China’s expanding footprint in Africa.  This time about accumulation of land in Africa.

Virtually unnoticed by people outside, Chinese companies have spent the past two years accumulating millions of hectares of African farmland.

Since 2008, when worldwide food shortages and a boom in biofuels suddenly made farming an attractive target for investment again, at least 20 million hectares – and possibly as much as 100 million – have been leased by foreigners (actual buying is rare) in Africa. On one hand, you can see the appeal: Africa has the cheapest arable land in the world, valued at an average of $800 a hectare.

This happens to be exactly what African farms need. Whether someone from another continent can deliver it is an open question, but we shouldn’t be so quick to assume the worst.

Many of these deals are being done by China – how much, we don’t know, because record-keeping is sketchy. Persian Gulf countries and Europeans are also making big agricultural investments in Africa, but China’s getting the attention because it’s moved in with so much money and because it’s a poor and authoritarian developing country whose motives and methods are widely distrusted……

But it’s worth taking a second look. People see the Chinese as moving into Africa, kicking poor farmers off their land, and growing food to be shipped back to China for domestic consumption. This seems unlikely, however. China already produces far more food than it needs, and its agricultural productivity is increasing. What it does have is $2-trillion (U.S.) in foreign-exchange reserves that it realizes it ought to invest more widely. African farms are a great bargain for investors who don’t mind risk; they can be turned into high-output and, therefore, high-profit operations….

The difference between that cited European agricultural revolution and China currently buying/leasing land to farm in Africa is that the profits and produce those Europeans made went to feed Europeans. China is farming African land not to feed Africans, but the Chinese. Increase in farming yield is meaningless so far as Africans are concerned, since China is under zero obligation to feed them with the food it produces on African land.

The system China is building is more like the one in Ireland 150 years ago rather than Europe – the great Irish potato famines ravaging the local population while Ireland itself was a net exporter of food at the time, since the majority of producing farmland was under the control of foreign landowners.

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