Project Title
The political economy of Chinese engagement in Eastern African tobacco industries

Social Science and Humanities Research Council

Project Team
Dr. Julia Smith (PI) and Jennifer Fang, MPH (Collaborator)


Tobacco is an important agricultural crop in a number of Eastern African economies, such as Malawi where it is the largest export. Tobacco trade is also important to the Chinese economy, where the state-owned tobacco company contributes 7-10% of annual government revenue. Chinese engagement in African tobacco industries, and tobacco exports from African countries to China, are both growing. Through agricultural support initiatives China provides loans, inputs and training to tobacco farmers in Eastern Africa, purchases land for farming, and has invested in the development of manufacturing facilities.

Anecdotal evidence suggests access to loans and inputs through Chinese programs have improved the livelihoods of tobacco farmers in Eastern Africa. However, questions have also been raised about who within the countries benefits most from the tobacco trade, particularly as the majority of farmers continue to live in relative poverty. Tobacco production has been linked to food insecurity, contradicting China’s commitment to strengthen African food security. Consequently, tobacco production raises a number of key development questions, including how increased investment in tobacco impacts other development and health initiatives.

To document Chinese engagement in Eastern African tobacco industries in order to generate further research questions regarding implications for sustainable development.   

    • Gather and assess evidence of Chinese tobacco related trade, investments and aid projects in Eastern Africa
    • Map the political relationships between the Chinese National Tobacco Corporation and Eastern African state actors
    • Explore and document the social, economic and environmental impacts of Chinese engagement in the region’s tobacco industry


Dr. Julia Smith -