Author sets the record straight

Updated: 2015-12-23 07:27

By Andrew Moody(China Daily)

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Author sets the record straight

Deborah Brautigam. [Photo by Mujahid Safodien/China Daily]

Deborah Brautigam has that rare distinction of being regarded as the leading expert in her field.

Over the past three decades she has devoted herself to the study of China-Africa relations.

Somewhat fortuitously for her, during this time the subject has grown from something of an academic backwater to one of major international interest with China's economic engagement with the continent growing almost exponentially.

The US academic was therefore in her element in Johannesburg recently ahead of the Second Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation when she launched her latest book, Will Africa Feed China?, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in the Rosebank district of the city.

Brautigam, who is director of the China Africa Research Initiative at John Hopkins University in Washington, says many still misunderstand the relationship, often seeing China as a new colonial power.

"There are still a lot of myths. I think amongst the better publications, The Economist, Financial Times and even The New York Times have got better but you still find quite a lot of fairly poor journalism," she says.

"Even academics just collect a bunch of information from the Internet and don't sift through it very well to figure out what is real and what isn't. If you can't adequately do fact checking and you don't know the difference between good and bad information it becomes very easy to write something that is full of falsehoods."

In her new book, Brautigam aims to debunk one of those falsehoods, that China's agricultural-aid projects in Africa, including various agricultural-demonstration centers, are part of a long-term master-plan to deal with China's own food deficit.

"Anyone who knows about Africa is going to find it difficult to understand how a continent that has itself to import 10 million tons of rice is going to be able to supply the whole of China," she says.

"It is a food-deficit continent that can't feed itself. The proposition looks a little dicey to me."

Brautigam says she got the idea for the book while spending a year as a visiting fellow at the International Food Policy Research Center in Washington in 2012.

"While I was there someone from the African Development Bank made the proclamation that the Chinese were the biggest land grabbers in Africa. I just knew this was not true because I had written a lot about this area," she says.

"Because such views were recycled and went unchallenged, I felt I just had to write this book."

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