CBS News wrote in January 2018 that “China recently purchased half the farmland under cultivation in the Congo.”
The line was from an article on Chinese investment in Africa. The Congo anecdote, it turned out, was bogus.
Experts at the China Africa Research Initiative at Johns Hopkins University studied the Congo claim and other stories about Chinese land grabs in Africa.
The researchers looked at 57 media reports of Chinese companies buying land in Africa. If all true, it would have amounted to 15 million acres of farmland. The actual number was much smaller.
“We spent three years tracking down every single case…. We confirmed that nearly a third of these stories … were literally false,” Deborah Brautigam, director of the China Africa Research Initiative, wrote in the Washington Post.
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“In the remaining cases we found real Chinese investments, but the total amount of land actually acquired by Chinese firms was only about 240,000 hectares (593,000 acres).”
For about a decade, there have been rumours and reports of Chinese companies buying up farmland around the globe.
A study published last year by two U.S. Department of Agriculture economists confirmed what Brautigam said in the Washington Post.
The study determined that China is pouring billions into agriculture outside its borders, but the money isn’t being spent on farmland and isn’t focused on Africa.
“Agricultural investment is now closely tied to China’s One Belt One Road initiative, which targets countries between China and Western Europe,” wrote Fred Gale and Elizabeth Gooch of the USDA’s Economic Research Service.
The two economists studied hundreds of Chinese information sources, including political speeches, reports and news media stories, to understand China’s outward investment in agriculture.
They learned that China doesn’t want to own farmland. It wants to dominate agricultural supply chains.
“Chinese foreign investment (is) shifting away from land purchases toward mergers and acquisitions. For example, COFCO — a state-owned agribusiness — embodies new tactics aimed at gaining more control over commodity trading, processing, and logistics,” they wrote.
Another example is Shuanghui International’s purchase of Smithfield Foods, a U.S. pork company. Through the acquisition, China gains more “control” of the pork imported into the country, Gale and Gooch said.
“As Chinese authorities have loosened national food self-sufficiency objectives, they have encouraged companies to gain greater control over the supply chain for imported agricultural products,” Gooch and Gale wrote.
“The strategy encourages Chinese companies to engage in each link of the supply chain for imported commodities, to earn profits and gain influence over prices.”
In other words, it seems China wants all agricultural roads to lead back to Beijing.