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Chinese investments and Africa’s small-scale producers: disruptions and opportunities

The report aims to understand Chinese trade and investments in Africa’s rural economy in the agriculture, forestry and mining sectors. Based on data collected from over 700 surveys, 130 interviews and 100 focus groups. We find that Chinese and other newcomer investors employ a variety of business strategies that contrast with those employed by established players. The impacts on rural producers are generally positive as they gain cash incomes to purchase food, education and assets, and are able to integrate into the global commodity trade with better financial returns. However, positive socio-economic gains were accompanied by high environmental risks.

Despite the cross-sector similarities, we tell a cautionary tale about development research or interventions focused solely on Chinese actors. The heterogeneous nature of China-Africa commercial relationships highlights the need to identify leverage points with the role of all stakeholders in mind. Indeed, we highlight the agency of both Chinese and African actors in co-creating the new commercial landscape. In contrast, improving local governance – through increased capacity, aligned incentive structures, and better coordination across government agencies – appears to be universally useful to achieve better socioeconomic and environmental outcomes.

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