Chinese Farms in Zambia: From Socialist to “Agro-Imperialist” Engagement?

in African and Asian Studies
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Participation by Chinese in Zambia’s agriculture has involved three modes of engagement. Two of these, agro-socialist cooperation until the late 1980s and agro-capitalist “win-win,” since the 1990s, can be examined. The third one, an “agro-imperialist” mode, is not an experience, but a speculation, one possible future based on the Chinese state’s potential to allow firms from China to join in the large-scale, export-oriented “land grabs” by big transnational firms that have occurred since food crises in the developing world in the late 2000s. This paper analyzes all three modes of Chinese engagement, but necessarily concentrates on the second, present-day mode, agro-capitalism. We argue that the present Chinese engagement with Zambian agriculture makes small-scale positive contributions to the domestic food market in Zambia. At the same time, its agro-capitalist production involves the exploitation of farm workers that is typically at the core of commercial farming regardless of the national origins of farm owners. We also contend that while Chinese in Zambia and Africa are not carrying out agro-imperialism, they will likely do so if Chinese leaders decide that this practice represents an international standard.



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