The Role of Agriculture in China's Development: Performance, policy determinants of success, and lessons for Africa

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Center on Food Security and the Environment, Stanford University

April 17, 2013

The lost decades for China in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s look remarkably like the lost decades of Africa in the 1980s and 1990s. Poor land rights, weak incentives, incomplete markets and inappropriate investment portfolios. However, China burst out of its stagnation in the 1980s and has enjoyed three decades of remarkable growth. In this paper we examine the record of the development of China’s food economy and identify the policies that helped generate the growth and transformation of agriculture. Incentives, markets and strategic investments by the state were key. Equally important, however, is what the state did not do. Policies that worked and those that failed (or those that were ignored) are addressed. Most importantly, we try to take an objective, nuanced look at the lessons that might be learned and those that are not relevant for Africa. Many parts of Africa have experienced positive growth during the past decade. We examine if there are any lessons that might be helpful in turning ten positive years into several more decades of transformation.

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