On Monday afternoon, the Dornsife Center for International Studies hosted Professor Deborah Braütigam of Johns Hopkins University to lead a seminar on the role that China played in acquiring land in Africa.
Braütigam, who currently teaches international development and comparative politics at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins, discussed how, despite conventional wisdom, which holds that the Chinese government and companies have played a large role in African land acquisition, research actually suggests the opposite.
One of the main points that Braütigam made was that even though there is Chinese interest in acquiring land in Africa, it is often challenging for the Chinese to capitalize upon that interest.
“There is interest, but it’s not as intense as is supposed. It’s not as though the Chinese really want to secure Africa for their food supply,” Braütigam said. “There are a lot of difficulties in implementing that interest, which is what many investors have found. That doesn’t come into the media, nobody’s reported that or it hasn’t been reported in a very big way.”
In describing how and why Chinese agricultural interests might have manifested in Africa, Braütigam referenced a familiar American biotechnology company, Monsanto, and the role it play in African agriculture.
“Monsanto in Africa has captured a lot of the hybrid maize market, and Monsanto seeds are sold all over southern Africa,” Braütigam said. “The Chinese would like to do this with rice because they’ve developed hybrid rice. And so they would like to be the Monsanto of rice. Global brands are part of the interest in Africa as a market and a place that’s a global testing ground.”
Attendees of the seminar included undergraduate students, graduate students, faculty members from various schools outside of Dornsife departments and members of the public. Many were fascinated by Braütigam’s presentation and asked detailed questions in the Q&A session following the talk.
Roshni Ashok, a junior majoring in international relations and economics, was interested in how the land grabbing relates to globalization.
“The most important thing that I took away [from the talk] is how it’s private versus public investment in Africa,” Ashok said. “When people say that investments are being made by a certain state, they could actually mean by a private investor. It’s really entrepreneurial energy and how globalization has kind of thinly veiled states’ actions in terms of what people do.”
Braütigam was invited to USC by Professor Carol Wise. Before joining the School of International Relations at USC in 2002, Wise was a colleague of Braütigam’s at Johns Hopkins. Wise heard that Braütigam was speaking at the RAND Corporation, a global policy think tank in Santa Monica, Calif., and invited her to share the same presentation with USC students.
“I think that in terms of our students, there are so many images of China and its activities in the world,” Wise said. “I think it’s really important for them to be exposed to all points of view with regard to A) the rise of China and its influence in the developing countries, and B) its influence in very specific countries in different issue areas.”
Wise believes that it’s important for Americans to learn about China because it is such a fast-growing nation.
“We’re supposedly looking at the next hegemonic state,” Wise said. “China is going to really outpace the U.S. in the size of its economy very soon, and I think we just need to know so much more about it.”
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