China ‘is not amass­ing African farm­land’

Lesotho Times - - Africa -

TORONTO — Con­trary to re­ports that Chi­nese firms were buy­ing or leas­ing mil­lions of hectares of prime African farm­land, Chi­nese in­vestors have ac­quired only about 240,000 hectares, ac­cord­ing to a book pub­lished on Mon­day.

Deb­o­rah Brautigam, di­rec­tor of the China Africa Re­search Ini­tia­tive at Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity, an­a­lysed me­dia re­ports that Chi­nese in­vestors had leased up to six mil­lion hectares of farm­land across Africa for her book “Will Africa Feed China?”

Re­ported deals in­cluded one that Chi­nese in­vestors had bought three mil­lion hectares of prime farm­land in the Demo­cratic Re­pub­lic of Congo for palm oil plan­ta­tions, and an­other that Chi­nese firms had leased two mil­lion hectares in Zam­bia for a bio­fu­els project.

Af­ter fol­low­ing up the an­nounce­ments, and vis­it­ing the sites of some of the 60 large-scale deals an­nounced from 1987 to 2014, Brautigam found that only 38 of the ac­qui­si­tions had led to some land be­ing trans­ferred.

“As we looked at th­ese cases, we found that most never hap­pened,” Brautigam told the Thom­son Reuters Foundation. “The orig­i­nal vi­sions (of in­vestors and African gov­ern­ments) were wildly op­ti­mistic.”

Her re­search showed that by the end of 2014, Chi­nese in­vestors had ac­quired about 240,000 ha of farm­land in Africa, Brautigam said.

Deals of­ten stalled be­cause overly am­bi­tious in­vestors saw what they thought was un­oc­cu­pied land, and politi­cians seek­ing eco­nomic growth wel­comed their un­re­al­is­tic plans, she said.

But when com­pa­nies re­al­ized the poor state of in­fras­truc­ture in coun­tries like the Demo­cratic Re­pub­lic of Congo or Ethiopia, and the fact that small farm­ers held cus­tom­ary ten­ure over land they thought they were leas­ing, most firms either mas­sively re­duced their plans or pulled out en­tirely, she said.

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