Chinese Development Assistance and West African Agriculture : A Shifting Approach to Foreign Aid?

Abstract: China's economic rise and its implications for international relations have attracted worldwide attention in recent years. The outcomes of this development are numerous, complex and involve a wide range of issues. In addition to radical consequences for the Chinese society itself they are also affecting the rest of the world. In this context, there is a big uncertainty of what China’s economic development might mean for other developing countries. This study takes its start in this last concern. As a developing country that reached an impressive economic growth in a relatively short period of time, China is becoming a model of economic development for many countries in the South. What is more, China’s successful political networking in the past puts it in a special position to disseminate some ideas and practices of development. Based on its own experience, tainted by pragmatism and focus on basic issues first, China has implemented through the past forty years a wide range of development projects in Africa. The many-sided results of these efforts have been widely ignored and underestimated by western academia. Sub-Saharan Africa’s dependence on food import has grown rapidly since the mid 1980s. Simultaneously, the share of aid directed towards agricultural development has declined significantly. This has left millions of people at the mercy of international production and price fluctuations. Agriculture is still the dorsal spine of the West African economies and in spite of more than fifty years of foreign aid many of the targeted problems still seem to persist. This dissertation evaluates the meaning and consequences of China’s efforts in West Africa through the empirical study of two agricultural projects that have survived for more than thirty years and became imbedded in local economies. The study, which uses a critical realist framework, seeks to understand not only the determinants behind China’s assistance to West Africa but above all its implications for local economies. The study argues that collaboration based on mutual benefit, long-term basis and local needs could represent a sound approach to foreign aid, in general, and agricultural assistance, in particular.

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