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China in Africa: The Real Story

China, Malawi's Fertilizer Subsidies, and Monsanto

Deborah Brautigam

Photo: Intl. Center for Tropical Agriculture
Now that five years have gone by, the success of Malawi in increasing food production through using fertilizer subsidies appears to be pretty well established, and interest in replicating Malawi's experience is growing.

An overview by Yasmine Ryan on the African Agriculture Blog: "Can Fertilizer Subsidies Grow Africa's Green Revolution?" provides interesting insights. What Malawi apparently did was not simply subsidize fertilizer, but hybrid maize seeds. A big beneficiary of this policy turned out to be Monsanto, which had an entree into the hybrid maize markets in Africa. "Is it philanthropy, PR, or simply shrewd business?" asks Ryan.

This made me think of the Chinese effort to boost their own seed companies and their hybrid rice seeds, in part through the 20 agro-technology demonstration centers in Africa that mix China's foreign aid funds and Chinese business incentives. "Is it philanthropy, PR, or simply shrewd business?" Time will tell.