Friday, March 19, 2010

Chinese Telecoms Giant ZTE: Agribusiness in Sudan?

Peter Bosshard just sent me this news story about Chinese telecoms company ZTE's interest in agribusiness in Sudan. The company apparently has been given 10,000 hectares to grow maize and wheat on a commercial basis, and has also signed an MOU for cultivation of industrial fuel oil seeds in White Nile state. A few thoughts:
  •  The size of the project -- 10,000 hectares -- is in line with a careful 2009 study conducted by researchers from the IIED, FAO, and IFAD, which found no confirmed accounts of Chinese "land grabs" above 50,000 hectares in Africa where deals had actually been concluded and implemented.
  • Will the maize and wheat be for local consumption or export? Sudan used to be the breadbasket of Africa, and has potential to resume that role, according to the World Food Program. Yet an earlier NYTimes article on Sudan's agribusiness pointed out how these policies can marginalize local people.
  • The oil seed MOU adds more evidence to the conclusion of my March 12 post:  ZTE -- having set up an agribusiness subsidiary and arranged to build a refinery in the Chinese province of Tianjin -- is clearly interested in industrial bio-fuels. But does the interest in Sudan help explain why the proposed project in the DRC has not moved forward? Or is this additional?
As with any of the many stories on the internet, this one has to be confirmed. To my eyes, however, it looks plausible. The amount of land is relatively modest. ZTE has an agribusiness subsidiary. Sudan used to be the breadbasket of Africa. I just wonder which other folks considered those 10,000 hectares to be theirs, and what kind of compensation, if any, will be arranged for them. Sudan's track record in this regard hardly inspires confidence.

keywords: China and Africa, land grab, Sudan, ZTE, agribusiness, investment

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