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Issue paper

Extraterritorial investments in agriculture in Africa: the perspectives of China and South Africa

The 2008 global food price crisis, and the resurgence of food prices in 2010-2011, caused both widespread concern and expectations. On the one hand, countries whose food supply depends on procuring food from international markets saw food price spikes as threats to their national food security. On the other hand, investors saw in these price spikes an opportunity to make profitable investments in agriculture. Either as threat or opportunity, food price spikes raised interest in Africa, whose lands are fertile and have unrealised potential. Concerns of a possible land acquisitions in Africa, and in particular the impacts of Large-Scale Land-Based Investments in Agriculture (LSLBIA) on local communities, became prominent policy and academic themes. Unfortunately, quantifying the phenomenon has proved hard due to the difficulty of finding empirical evidence. As a result, debates are either theoretical or based on anecdotal evidence. This publication thus explores a different path, and explores the reasons why entities from China and South Africa were interested in investing in African agriculture.

This publication examines the reasons why investors were interested in Africa, and the relationship that these bear to The Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (the ‘Voluntary Guidelines’ or ‘VGGT’).

While primarily aimed at governments, the VGGT also contain important provisions that are applicable to the private sector. They focus on helping investors pursue their projects in ways that recognise and respect legitimate tenure rights and human rights. In addition, the VGGT also contain provisions and encourages good practices for responsible investment in land, forests and fisheries. The VGGT are a valuable tool for helping investors minimise risk while also safeguarding the rights of local communities.

China and South Africa represent important sources of LSLBIA in Africa, although the bulk of such investment comes from western countries. Their investment may intensify in the future for a variety of reasons. First, China has the third largest land area in the world but its expansion through additional land use is limited. Second, the dual agricultural economy of South Africa is preventing commercial farming located in well-endowed areas from expanding into remote, resource-poor areas where small-scale subsistence-based production is prevalent.

This publication assesses the extent to which selected investors from China and South Africa and the governments of those countries have adopted the best practices represented by the VGGT in relation to LSLBIA in

Policy Theme