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Working paper 55: Foreign Investments and Livelihoods in Northern Zambia

by Phillan Zamchiya in 2018

How have foreign-based investments affected land-based livelihoods for smallholder farmers in Africa? This article seeks to shift debate from an insular macro-economic perspective to a more diverse livelihoods approach, one that is informed by the day-to-day quotidian concerns of the rural smallholder farmers. The article is informed by a qualitative case study of Mansa Sugar Limited, an Indian-owned company, which acquired 5 000 hectares of state and customary land in Zambia’s newly-created Chembe district.

The land was acquired for irrigated sugar-cane production in order to produce  sugar, ethanol and electricity. Hall (2011) and Scoones (2016) long observed the sugar rush in Southern Africa. We challenge the assumptions that there are vast tracts of vacant and unproductive land readily available for investors in marginalised rural Africa, that smallholder farmers are mere substantivists, that investor-promised multiple and inclusive macro-economic benefits and modernisation projects for the rural sector are a given. In addition, we assert that regulation of investments is more in theory than practice as power relations are heavily skewed in favour of big capital, some state elites and traditional leaders in the context of weak governance. We acknowledge that some jobs are created with differential benefits and some benefits are derived from social corporate responsibility but they are not meaningful enough to support sustainable livelihoods. Consequently, the investments have negatively affected the diverse and multiple land-based livelihoods for the rural farmers including loss of financial income, food, good health and education.  Hence the need for an alternative path to development in contrast to the ahistorical envisioned capitalist transition to large-scale estates. To substantiate our argument, we present this article in seven interrelated parts.

First, we give our theoretical approach and justification for the article. Second, we unpack the agrarian investments in Chembe, analysing the pull factors in line with the state’s pro-market policies. Third, we detail the qualitative methodology and why it is of use in capturing local livelihoods. Fourth, we explore whether the land was vacant and unproductive, how the land was acquired in the context of Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC), then broaden to look at wider livelihoods lost beyond land and land rights. Fifth, we analyse whether the forms of compensation covered wider livelihoods in line with regional and international guidelines for responsible investments. The sixth section motivates for an alternative path before concluding in the last section. In the next section we elaborate on our theoretical perspective.