Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Chinese Farm in Africa

One of the most popular guest posts I've hosted here on the blog was Lila Buckley's "Eating Bitter to Taste Sweetness". Now Lila has written a short update of her continued research on Chinese agricultural engagement, on the website of her employer, the International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED). As can be expected, it's good.

In A Chinese Farm in Africa, Lila reports on her follow up meetings in China, with "Chen", one of the Chinese posted to Senegal in her original research visit, in 2010. Chen
 ... and 14 other Chinese agronomists had spent two years on two separate sites as part of an ongoing collaboration between the Chinese and Senegalese government to promote development of Senegal’s agriculture sector.
But the programme was wrought with difficulties—communication barriers, lack of trust on both sides, project design flaws— that left both the Chinese and their Senegalese collaborators frustrated much of the time. It was a difficult two years for Chen—his first time outside of China, working in an unwelcoming environment, far from his family.
Fluent in Chinese and French, interested in participant observation anthropological methodologies, Lila was an ideal researcher to shed light on the lived experience of Chinese aid workers in Africa. This new posting continues in the careful, well-researched and well-written mode established by Lila's guest post and master's thesis. Back in China, Chen says:
"Here in Hubei farmers appreciate our help, but in reality we can’t have a big impact. In Senegal, a small change in watering technique or soil management can increase yields dramatically, so I can reach more people and work more effectively. It wouldn’t take very much to develop a strong African agricultural sector.” ...
 I especially like one of Lila's final comments, which is confirmed by my own experience.
This is the logic of China’s increasing support of Africa’s agriculture:  introduce Chinese farming techniques to Africa, not to feed China per se, but to increase global food supply in general.
Photo: Chen showing Lila Buckley his innovative method for growing potatoes in straw nests. Credit: Simon Lim


Anonymous said...

My own experience can testify to the myriad of huddles that one has to go through in order to break the ice.

And I am a person who have had plenty of "training" in multiculturalism in countries like USA, UK and Singapore.

The problems that I encountered in Africa stems not mainly from the "race gap" between me, an Asian and the Africans.

The problems stem mainly from the distrust of the Africans towards the foreigners - perhaps it's because of what the colonialists had done to them for the past several hundreds of years.

I have to reckon that the government of China was a little bit too naive when they went into Africa - expressions like that of Mr. Chen (that if the Africans could benefit themselves so much more if they were a little bit more open to him) tells us so much of the Chinese naivete.

I am a Chinese - but unlike most, I had decades of experiences of multiculturalism before I even set foot on Africa - and none of the huddles that I've faced in Africa frustrated me, because I had never set my expectation too high in the first place.

Anonymous said...

I recently came across an article about the start of Chinese volunteers working in foreign countries - I think they copied the idea from the "peace corp" of the US.

The article is at

The article does touch on Chinese volunteers in Liberia, Uganda and Ethiopia, among other countries.