Political Economy of the Rise of the Contemporary Industrial Tree Plantation Sector in Southern China

19 May 2015
Paper

Industrial tree plantations (ITP), as a newly emerging sector, is expanding quickly and massively in Southern China, involving foreign corporations (including Finnish and Indonesian) tied to a variety of domestic partners, both state and corporate. In some places, the villagers embrace the land deals, while in others these land deals have provoked conflicts.

The commodities produced are mainly for Chinese domestic consumption. The expansion of the ITP sector in southern China in the era of the global land rush, and fuelled by the convergence of food, fuel, environmental crises, is a pattern of land investment worth studying.

Firstly, the ITP sector, despite its relative scale and links with the construction, paper and automobile industries has received much less academic attention compared to other sectors of food, biofuels, and mining in the context of studies about resource grabs today.

Secondly, the foreign capital involved in the ITP case makes this type of land investment even more complicated, because the role of China in the current literature on land grabs is framed either as a key “grabber” or as the main location for the consumption of agro- products, but never as a destination for large-scale transnational land.

For a more comprehensive understanding of the global land rush and the role of China in it, this paper examines the dynamics of the development of the ITP sector in China through a political economy lens. It takes on the province of Guangxi, the key hub of the ITP sector in China, as the regional focus. It will show that four factors, namely, the domestic demand for the products, the agronomic conditions in southern China, the institutional conditions of land control and labour in rural China, and the financial capital from both domestic and international sources all play a significant role in fuelling the development of industrial tree plantations in Southern China.

I hope that the findings of this study will contribute to the understanding of the character and trajectory of the global land rush, especially the role of China in it.