During the spike in global grain prices a decade ago, Chinese officials urged agribusinesses to secure farmland overseas to fill the country’s growing food deficit, writes Fred Gale on the Nikkei Asian Review website.
Now the country has 1,300 companies which have made $11.7 billion in total investments in agriculture, forestry, and fisheries in 85 countries and regions, according to the agriculture ministry. To help propel the Belt and Road Initiative’s infrastructure-building campaign, Chinese leaders have recently rebranded these foreign farm investments as a form of international cooperation.
The strategy described in recent speeches and state news reports envisions giant agro-industrial parks, tractors and irrigation networks spreading out along the “New Silk Road” of railroads, highways and ports being built by Chinese companies to link up the neglected regions en route to Europe. In this vision, new flourishing farms in the deserts, mountains, hillsides and steppes of Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe will promote global food security, end poverty and spread environmentally friendly production methods.
China’s aspirations to play a more active role in global affairs should be taken seriously by business and government leaders in food and agricultural spheres. However, its promises to overhaul agriculture in other countries may be premature in view of the ongoing overhaul of China’s own farming sector that is still in its initial stages. China’s offer of a superior “inclusive” approach to global governance in agriculture should be evaluated by carefully weighing both the successes and shortcomings in China’s experience feeding its people.