This paper introduces a Special Section on Chinese and Brazilian engagements in African agriculture. The paper asks if a new paradigm for development cooperation is emerging, and argues that we must move beyond the simplistic narratives of either ‘South–South’ collaboration or ‘neo-imperial’ expansion of ‘rising powers’ to look at the dynamic and contested politics of engagement, as new forms of capital and technology enter African contexts.
Historical experiences in Brazil and China, as well as domestic political and economic debates, affect how interventions are framed, and by whom, and so influence what technologies are chosen, which investments are funded, and who gets trained. There are both political and economic drivers at the heart of these choices, but these are not uniform or uncontested, either in Brazil and China or in Africa.
The Special Section argues for a focus on the encounters on the ground, moving beyond the broader rhetoric and generic policy statements. A key feature of Brazilian and Chinese engagements in African agriculture is the role of state–business relations in shaping and steering development, suggesting new forms of developmentalism.
The paper concludes that there is a growing opportunity for learning from the Brazilian and Chinese experience, as this will be a long-run feature of African agricultural development.