I thought I should go back to the basics for the first of my weekly blog posts on China-Africa literature. As my focus is agriculture, Brautigam and Tang’s 2009 piece from The China Quarterly “China’s Engagement in African Agriculture: “Down to the Countryside”.” is basically required background reading for anyone wanting to understand the context of China’s interest and involvement in African agriculture.
Summary: Brautigam and Tang divide the last fifty+ years of China’s engagement with African agriculture into three periods: diplomatic from the 1960s to the 80s; mixed aid and business from the 1980s-90s; and , the “going global”, agribusiness focused current era from 1995 until present.
Reflections: Recognizing the influence of both China’s own agricultural experience and previous China-Africa projects, to me, is the lasting impact of this article. As it is this same reliance on ‘learning from the past’ that causes difficulties in China-Africa relationships today. Brautigam and Tang call it “one-way training” (p706) where China’s training models highlight how Chinese agricultural succeeded in China but don’t take into account African realities. For example, Brautigam and Tang find little evidence that Chinese experts are aware of cultural ramifications of Chinese investment in African agriculture: increased competition in African markets; cash crops competing with subsistence crops; and, pushing people off their own land.
Reference: Bräutigam, Deborah A., and Tang Xiaoyang. “China’s engagement in African agriculture: “Down to the countryside”.” The China Quarterly 199 (2009): 686-706.