Why Is China Investing in Agriculture in Africa?
Due to considerable experience of international cooperation, China is known as one of the primary investors in the development of foreign countries. For decades, Chinese specialists have been demonstrating high efficiency and diligence establishing a reputation as a strict and reliable ally in farming development. In fact, lack of land urged the country to use the farmland wisely and cautiously. In order to supply the country with necessary agricultural products, China started to consider fertile and unattended lands of Africa. However, Chinese have to withstand a variety of difficulties related to revolutions and neglected state of the African farms. Despite major impediments to sustainable progress in Africa, both government and private workers have retained a positive vision of the probable cooperation between China and Africa because it can improve the development of both parties.
The decision to increase investments in African agricultural sector is rooted in the necessity to balance country’s food supplies. China is a small and overcrowded country which goes through a complex industrialization process. Currently, it should divert more and more resources into the maintenance of country’s healthy development. Lester Brown compares Chinese development with the growth processes in the other Asian countries and presumes that the world will not be able to easily provide China with the required provision (Brautigam, 2015, p. 4). Undoubtedly, industrial growth influences the people’s prosperity. However, it also challenges the life of citizens, especially when grain diversity growth is high and meat consumption becomes more common. Consequently, a need for animal feeding grains becomes visible (Brautigam, 2015, p. 21-22).
Nevertheless, industrial progress and increase of the life level are not the only reasons for the investments in African agriculture. Being inspired by Brown’s ideas, the Chinese government put “grain self-sufficiency benchmark at 95 percent” (Brautigam, 2015, p. 24), thus aiming to fully cover own grain requirements. In spite of the fact that import will stabilize approximately in the 2030s, the area of arable lands and the investment in grain production continue to develop constantly. The situation will improve due to the balance between the gradual transfers of people from farms to factories.
Historical events shaped the direction of Chinese investment process. As many other countries, China also suffered from famines. The Great Leap Forward that lasted from 1958 to 1962 aided by imbalanced precipitation resulted in the starvation of 30 million citizens (Brautigam, 2015, p. 23). Reforms transformed a suffering land to an important exporter of rice, vegetables, and fruits. China became a producer of wheat and pork (Brautigam, 2015, pp. 5, 23). Having about nine percent of arable soils of the world and the greatest grain reserve in the world, China prefers to carefully balance own food supplies. In 1980, the country still majorly relied on the hand labor “with 77 tractors per 100 square kilometers and 30 percent of gross domestic product” (Brautigam, 2015, p. 23). The situation resulted in the sharp rise in food prices and infamous “massacre at Tiananmen Square” (Brautigam, 2015, p. 23).
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The first mutual farming project between China and African countries happened in 1962 when the parties were equally underdeveloped. The cooperation unilaterally revolved around the farming issues. For example, after having achieved the freedom from France, the land of Mali was equipped with irrigation, but it was only half-cultivated. Thus, it was crucial to support the country in gradual agricultural development. Chinese planning and investment initiated sugar and tea farming. The projects also included cattle ranch in Tanzania and rice farm with adjacent hydropower plant in Mbarali (Brautigam, 2015, p. 38). However, the majority of projects related mainly to the development of agriculture in China. In fact, the country did not want to open the borders to external influence initially making China a cautious player in the market.
Having received a valuable experience from the primary partnership, China gradually boosted its involvement in international cooperation. Not only did China start to influence agricultural development, but also it could aid and fund various projects abroad. With the loans from Japan in 1970 and World Bank’s investigations in 1980, the international development had steadily started to rise. In the 1950s, the Soviet Union assisted in building “Youyi, the largest Heilongjiang” farm (Brautigam, 2015, p. 42). Moreover, “Heilongjiang province” became the developing land thanks to the efforts of local military men. “Junken,” who prioritized the soldiers and deprived the peasants of the necessity to provide for the army, created a basis for a fighting motivation in farming (Brautigam, 2015, p. 40-42). Furthermore, cooperation with the USA gave a possibility to introduce new technologies. New business relations changed the development of Chinese agricultural sector.
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The international aid was not limited to certain projects. China adopted foreign technologies in order to develop own system and to ensure production growth. The country focused on the accumulation of important experience. Mutual cooperation and cultural exchange became for Chinese the way to improve immensely. Open borders to the foreign investors made it possible to grow new types of potato and rice, to use modern technologies, and to employ long-term strategies (Brautigam, 2015, p. 46). Firstly unskilled, China reached a level when it could easily correspond to the production processes introduced by foreign allies.
Having experienced the process of positive farming development, China became interested in the situation of agricultural conditions in Africa. The basic interest of cooperation represented the long-time investment in the country development. For China, import of required grains in the foreseeable future meant that the part of the land would be used more efficiently. However, the development in Africa has to be stable. It is senseless to use it as the food source right now as the underdeveloped production level creates high prices. Nowadays, transporting African food to China is expensive (Brautigam, 2015, p. 96).
In fact, low level of African development makes it necessary to provide actual humanitarian aid. Africa is rich with lands that are majorly wild. The farms belong to people who legally have no right to own it or have no knowledge how to work on them (Brautigam, 2015, p. 6). Modern working farms are the remnants of colonization. For example, in Tanzania, the production was socialized and consequently neglected (Brautigam, 2015, p. 102). The attempts to supply a continent with food eventually made the situation worse (Brautigam, 2015, p. 29). The intentions of cooperation can be assumed as “land grabbing.”
The current situation in Africa requires drastic measures. The majority of projects failed because the infrastructure is poor. Other reasons which prevent Africa from gradual development include revolutions, unstable political situations (Brautigam, 2015, p. 101), wars, robberies (Brautigam, 2015, p. 108), and revolts. Particularly, legal issues in landowning processes make the international cooperation troublesome. In fact, the current level of African production is low on the world arena.
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Despite the unstable situation in Africa, China remains interested. The government realizes that it will take time to recoup investments. However, food is not only the main focus of cooperation. The production of biofuel can be positively influenced by the agricultural matters (Brautigam, 2015, p. 114). Moreover, Africa provides a great amount of working power. The cooperation between Africa and China is not as efficient as it was previously. However, Chinese specialists believe that the further development will be achieved.
Nowadays, Africa has a great potential for growth. Unfortunately, current level makes it nearly impossible for the majority of the African countries to represent themselves equally. However, they remain the exporters of various product and materials. The possibility to reshape the initial process of African development in the agricultural sector makes China interested in the expansion of investments policies. The country wants to contribute because it will receive a chance to influence global agriculture in the future. The government believes that the progress in Africa is inevitable. Thus, the continent will gradually open new import sources and allow China to focus on other policies of future development.