Sustainably securing the future of food: will Chinese investments in the Global South hinder or help?

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bath
Department Name: Social and Policy Sciences


This research proposes to ask the following question: how will China's overseas investments in the agricultural sector impact food security and agrobiodiversity in recipient nations? China's aspirations to improve global food supply and stimulate development could provide paths for safeguarding sustainable agriculture and food security in developing countries. China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) connects the largest emerging economy with the Global South and involves ambitious land infrastructure and maritime routes. China's financial support encompasses infrastructure, energy, mining, and agriculture. Whether China's overseas investments will enhance or dissipate biodiversity and food security in recipient nations remains unresolved. My proposed research seeks to address this puzzle by investigating the sustainability impact of China's agricultural investments in the Global South.

My investigation pursues the following objectives:

1. To identify the state and non-state actors involved in Chinese overseas agricultural projects and their respective agency in promoting sustainable agriculture.

2. To investigate the decision-making processes and systemic drivers behind China's investment projects: what determines the recipient nations selected, the choice of projects and agricultural production systems?

3. To measure the impact of China's overseas agricultural investments on the implementation of the SDGs in the two recipient countries: how do the investments help or hinder the achievement of: Goal 2 (Zero Hunger) and Goal 15(Life on Land)?

Through mixed-methods research involving quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis, the research will begin by quantitatively analysing the relationship between Chinese investments and agrobiodiversity. GIS techniques will be used to create a novel dataset on agrobiodiversity in Cambodia and Laos and build a comprehensive dataset on China's agricultural investment projects in these nations. Upon building original databases of agrobiodiversity and Chinese agricultural investments across the recipient nations, I will use econometric techniques to identify the factors conditioning the impact of investment projects upon agrobiodiversity and food security. The quantitative findings will assist me in formulating hypotheses on the causal processes through which Chinese investment projects impact sustainable development and in identifying projects for in-depth case studies through fieldwork. The qualitative stage will involve in-depth interviews with practitioners involved in the nominated projects in China and the recipient nations. I will select cases based on quantitative results and identify the causal processes through which Chinese investments impact sustainable development in the local context and compare cases of positive against null or negative impact. The qualitative analysis will reveal how Chinese investments affect agrobiodiversity and food security across different contexts.

In detailing an innovative mixed-methodology combining geospatial analysis with econometrics and qualitative methods, my research bridges a qualitative-quantitative divide, contributing a comprehensive, multi-scalar understanding of the sustainability impact of China's overseas agricultural investments. The investigation empirically addresses an important gap by unpacking the lesser understood decision-making processes of China's overseas agricultural investments through investigating the influence of foreign investments on attaining SDGs. In seeking to identify the best environmental and social practices for safeguarding ecosystems and food security, the findings can offer policy implications for Chinese SOEs, national governments and other key stakeholders for improving sustainability in foreign agricultural investments.


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ES/P000630/1 30/09/2017 29/09/2027
2571039 Studentship ES/P000630/1 03/10/2021 03/01/2026 Natalie Page