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China: ramping up investment in African agriculture



by Helen Castell
As China’s government pledges to help funnel more aid, development finance and private-sector capital into African agriculture, what’s motivating the flow and is it having a positive impact?
The flow of Chinese money into Africa is growing fast, with agriculture attracting a sizeable chunk. In 2014, Africa received around 12% of China’s overseas agricultural investment and the proportion continues to grow, according to a 2018 USDA report, which based its calculations on Chinese government data.
Chinese firms investing overseas receive strong financial support from the Chinese government, which sees Africa and agriculture as important to China’s ‘Go Global’ drive
At the 7th Forum on China-Africa Co-operation (FOCAC) held in Beijing September 2018, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged €52 billion in financing for projects across Africa over the following 3 years. This will include €13 billion in grants and interest-free or concessional loans – three times the amount pledged at the previous FOCAC in 2015 – €17 billion in credit lines, a €9 billion development finance fund and €4 billion to finance imports from Africa.
While Jinping did not detail the projects, he said agricultural modernisation would be a key focus, with the investment including funding for 50 agricultural assistance programmes and to send 500 agricultural experts to Africa to train entrepreneurs and agricultural scientists. Chinese firms would also be encouraged to invest at least another €9 billion in Africa over the period, Jinping added.
Public-private partnerships
While the Chinese government is the main driver for investment in African agriculture, it is increasingly seeking to involve private-sector companies through public-private partnerships, notes Cathy Xi Cao, an independent agricultural analyst at the time of writing. She predicts that this will likely accelerate as China’s huge Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – which seeks to build trade routes across Europe and Africa – gains momentum. And, while many BRI investments will focus on hard infrastructure, like roads and ports, these should theoretically support agriculture, improving logistics as well as helping farmers reach domestic and overseas markets.
Agricultural technology demonstration centres, typically operated by private Chinese companies with financial support from China’s Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM), represent China’s most high-profile investment in African agriculture. There are now 23 centres across the continent offering farmers Chinese seeds for rice and other crops, as well as technology and training on cultivating everything from mushrooms to maize and rearing livestock such as cows or poultry.

Proponents of this model include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has partnered with MOFCOM to support two centres in Mozambique and Zambia and says that China has valuable technologies to share with Africa, as well as expertise gained during its own agricultural transformation.

Big private-sector Chinese players in African agriculture that have wrapped technical assistance around their investments include Tian Ze, a subsidiary of China Tobacco Co. Since 2005, it has used a contract farming model to expand across Zimbabwe – where, by 2014, it had 387 tobacco farmers in its network – and also into Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia, according to USDA. Tian Ze’s investments reportedly include the provision of low- or no-interest finance to farmers, although exact figures are not available.
Chinese firms investing overseas receive strong financial support from the Chinese government, which sees Africa and agriculture as important to China’s ‘Go Global’ drive. For example, when the Agriculture Development Bank of China and the country’s Ministry of Agriculture agreed in 2016 to provide €390 billion in agricultural lending, supporting Chinese agricultural companies’ overseas investments was cited as one of 10 targets for the money.
Commercial motives
Beijing’s main motivation for supporting investments in African agriculture is widely assumed to be securing food supplies for China but this is not supported by data. Africa supplied only 2% of China’s agricultural imports during 2010-15, according to Chinese customs figures, the USDA report notes. And, while much of its technical assistance and aid focuses on rice, China does not import rice or any other grains from Africa. Indeed, FOCAC stressed in its action plan the importance of helping Africa to achieve food security by 2030.
Rather, aid flows appear to be designed to build goodwill in African countries, facilitating the entry and profitability of Chinese firms, and building markets for Chinese inputs such as rice seeds. For example, investments by Chinese animal feed supplier New Hope Group, including in Egypt and South Africa, focus on building markets in those countries for its feed.
Indeterminate impact
With multiple media reports accuse Chinese entities of ‘land grabbing’ some 6 million ha of land across the continent, the impact of Chinese investments in African agriculture is a sensitive topic. However, the reports appear to have been greatly exaggerated, with the China Africa Research Initiative at John Hopkins University stating that barely 4% of this figure – 252,901 ha – can be confirmed.
China’s readiness to lend to African governments – Kenya, for example, owes around €4.6 billion to China, equivalent to around a fifth of its total external debt – has also raised concerns, with critics alleging it is a way of China gaining political influence, particularly when borrowers struggle to repay. This may or may not be true, but much of this government-to-government lending is focused on energy or transport infrastructure rather than agriculture, where Chinese development and commercial bank lending is directed at Chinese firms.
On an individual farmer level, the impact of Chinese investment has been mixed. For example, while Zimbabwe’s tobacco board has credited Tian Ze’s contract farming model for helping the sector thrive at a time when international sanctions kept investors from other nations away, the Chinese firm reportedly demanded loan repayments from tobacco farmers in 2016 when they could not deliver the crop due to drought and crop failure. And, while Chinese agricultural technology is cheaper than that from the West, some media reports quote farmers as saying that it is still too expensive and that they have learned little of use at Chinese demonstration centres.
CIDCA: a new era?
In April 2018, it was hoped with the launch of the China International Development Cooperation Agency (CIDCA) that Beijing was ushering in a more transparent and collaborative approach to its aid flows in areas including African agriculture and a willingness to acknowledge mistakes. Less than 6 months later, the publication of a joint report by CIDCA and UNDP assessing the impact and effectiveness of two Chinese projects – the Agricultural Technical Cooperation Project in Guinea-Bissau and the Agricultural Technology Demonstration Center in Mozambique – appeared to represent a step in that direction. The report made several recommendations, including that Chinese technical experts stay in-country for longer and engage more with local partners such as farmer cooperatives and NGOs.
Biggest offer on the table
Nevertheless, within the continent and abroad, China’s investment in African agriculture remains controversial. The unusually strong ties between the state and private sector in China are regularly criticised by western governments and companies, who argue cheap funding gives Chinese firms an unfair advantage in markets, including agriculture, and hands Beijing a worrying level of influence over African leaders. Others argue that African farmers will not gain in the long term from a model that is geared towards Chinese commercial interests. For the moment, however, China’s offer remains, if not always the best, by far the biggest offer on the table for African agriculture. Only when rival governments up their own commitments to the sector will this change.

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Statement: The Energy Sector Strategy 2024–2028 Must Mark the End of the EBRD’s Support to Fossil Fuels



The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is due to publish a new Energy Sector Strategy before the end of 2023. A total of 130 civil society organizations from over 40 countries have released a statement calling on the EBRD to end finance for all fossil fuels, including gas.

From 2018 to 2021, the EBRD invested EUR 2.9 billion in the fossil energy sector, with the majority of this support going to gas. This makes it the third biggest funder of fossil fuels among all multilateral development banks, behind the World Bank Group and the Islamic Development Bank.

The EBRD has already excluded coal and upstream oil and gas fields from its financing. The draft Energy Sector Strategy further excludes oil transportation and oil-fired electricity generation. However, the draft strategy would continue to allow some investment in new fossil gas pipelines and other transportation infrastructure, as well as gas power generation and heating.

In the statement, the civil society organizations point out that any new support to gas risks locking in outdated energy infrastructure in places that need investments in clean energy the most. At the same time, they highlight, ending support to fossil gas is necessary, not only for climate security, but also for ensuring energy security, since continued investment in gas exposes countries of operation to high and volatile energy prices that can have a severe impact on their ability to reach development targets. Moreover, they underscore that supporting new gas transportation infrastructure is not a solution to the current energy crisis, given that new infrastructure would not come online for several years, well after the crisis has passed.

The signatories of the statement call on the EBRD to amend the Energy Sector Strategy to

  • fully exclude new investments in midstream and downstream gas projects;
  • avoid loopholes involving the use of unproven or uneconomic technologies, as well as aspirational but meaningless mitigation measures such as “CCS-readiness”; and
  • strengthen the requirements for financial intermediaries where the intended nature of the sub-transactions is not known to exclude fossil fuel finance across the entire value chain.


Download the statement:

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Complaint against unprofessional conduct of the DPC Kiryandongo district for aiding and abetting land grabbing in kiryandongo district.



The Commandant,

Professional Standards Unit, Uganda Police-Kampala.

Dear Sir/Madam;


We act for and behalf of the Lawful and bonafide occupants of Land described as LRV MAS 2 FOLIO 8 BLOCK 8 PLOT 22 (FORMERLY KNOWN AS RANCH 22).

Our Clients are residents of Nyamutende Village, Kitwara Parish in Kiryandongo District where they have lived for more than 30 years and sometime in 2017, they applied for a lease of the said Land to Kiryandongo District Land Board through the Directorate of Land Matters State House.

As they were still awaiting their Application to be processed, they were shocked to establish that the said land had been instead leased to and registered in the names of Isingoma Julius, Mwesige Simon, John Musokota William, Tumusiime Gerald, Wabwire Messener Gabriel, Ocema Richard and Wilson Shikhama, some of whom were not known to the Complainants. A copy of the Search is attached hereto

Our clients protested the above action and appealed to relevant offices, but were shocked to discover that the above persons had gone ahead and sold the same to a one Maseruka Robert.

Aggrieved by these actions, the Complainants appealed to the RDC who advised them to institute proceedings against the said persons, and assigned them a one Mbabazi Samuel to assist them to that effect. The said Mbabazi accordingly filed Civil Suit Noa 46 of 2019 against tne said registered proprietors at Masindi High Court challenging the illegal and fraudulent registration, sale and transfer of the subject land to Maseruka Robert.

While awaiting the progress of the case mentioned hereinabove, the Complainants were surprised to find that the said Mbabazi, instead of assisting them, he went into a consent settling the said suit on their behalf without their knowledge or consent. A copy of the Consent is attached hereto.

Among the terms of the said consent Judgment was that the residents would be compensated without specifying how much and would in return vacate the Land.

As if that was not enough, Maseruka Robert and Mbabazi Samuel are going ahead to execute the said Consent Judgment by forcefully evicting the occupants without compensation which has prompted the complainants to challenge the said Consent by applying for its review and setting aside at Masindi High Court which is coming up for hearing on the 29th March 2023. A copy of the Application is attached hereto.

Sensing the imminent threat of eviction, we also filed an application for interim stay of execution of the said consent to avoid rendering their application for review nugatory but unfortunately the same could not be heard on the date it was fixed for hearing (6th February 2023). A copy of the Application is attached hereto

On Thursday last week, three tractors being operated by 6 workers of a one Mbabazi Samuel [the very person who had been entrusted to represent our Clients to secure their Land through Civil Suit No.46 of 2019] encroached close to 50 acres of our Clients’ land and started ploughing it but our Client’s protested and chased them away.

We have however been shocked to receive information from our Clients that on Sunday at Mid night, 3 police patrols invaded the community in the night and arrested community members; Mulenje Jack, Steven Kagyenji, Mulekwa David, Ntambala Geoffrey, Tumukunde Isaac 15 years, Kanunu Innocent, Mukombozi Frank, Kuzara, Rwamunyankole Enock, and took them to Kiryandongo Police Station where they are currently detained.

We strongly protest the illegal arrests and detention of our Clients as this is a carefully orchestrated land grabbing scheme by Maseruka Robert and Mbabazi Samuel who are  receiving support from the DPC Kiryandongo.

The purpose of this Letter therefore is to request your good office to investigate the misconduct, abuse of office and unprofessionalism of the said DPC Kiryandongo District and all his involvement in the land grabbing schemes on land formerly known as Ranch 22.

Looking forward to your urgent intervention,

C.C The Head Police Land Protection Unit Police Head Quarters Naguru

CC The RDC Kiryandongo District

CC The Chairman LCVKityadongo District

CC The Regional Police CommanderAlbertine Region

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The Executive Director of Witness Radio Uganda talks about the role played by Witness Radio in protecting communities affected by large-scale agribusinesses in Kiryandongo district in an interview with the ILC.



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