In Ethiopia, Getting to Market on Chinese Roads

photo credit: Bernard Pollack

photo credit: Bernard Pollack

We’ve been reading about how China is investing in African agriculture for a few years now, but this week is the first time we’ve really seen what that means on the ground. As we traveled from Addis to Aksum, it’s impossible not to notice who is building the roads here. Hint–it’s not the Ethiopian government. The Chinese, even though they can’t legally own land in Ethiopia, have brought in bulldozers and trucks to improve already-existing roads and build new ones. Along with building roads, they’ve also built good will with Ethiopian policymakers and farmers because better roads allow farmers to get their goods from farm to market more easily.

But this investment is not entirely altruistic. China, concerned about its ability to feed its own population today, as well as in the future, is buying up Ethiopian-grown cabbage, carrots, onions, and other crops to ship to China. One of our guides/interpreters said that sometimes the Chinese show up to markets near Aksum before they open, buying up everything before Ethiopian customers even arrive. Ironic, to say the least, as news reports warn of impending famine in the country, where more than 6 million people are on the verge of starvation.

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