Livelihood Implications of Large-Scale Land Concessions in Mozambique : A case of family farmers’ endurance

Abstract: This thesis examines the process and the implications of large-scale land acquisitions (LSLAs) for local livelihoods, especially the livelihoods of those who make a living from farming. These individuals were historically known as peasants and are now more commonly referred to as smallholders, small-scale farmers or family farmers. What happens to their livelihoods as land under their control is allocated to investors?Promoters of LSLAs stress that when land acquisitions are preceded by community consultations, there may be synergism between investors’ activities and local livelihoods. Accordingly, local farmers are expected to gain from, for example, closer ties to the market and new livelihood alternatives such as formal employment. Differently, critical voices contend that despite sound legislation on the matter, in practice LSLAs constitute drivers of dispossession, being therefore disguised land grabs. This research seeks to fill a knowledge gap on the immediate local livelihood implications of LSLAs. By employing a case study design in Mozambique (one of the countries targeted by recent LSLAs), this thesis adds empirical evidence that is crucial to the above-named theoretical debate involving LSLAs.The analyzed case is pivoted by a Chinese company that in 2012 was granted 20,000 hectares in the lower Limpopo region. Despite legislation that asserts the legality of customary land occupation, in practice, land was seized without adequate consultation and compensation. Consequently, local farmers lost the most fertile areas. Nonetheless, farmers were able to regain or maintain access to farmland that was more peripheral and of worse quality. Concomitantly, the company generated a small number of jobs and created a contract farming scheme that, despite bottlenecks, benefited farmers who were able to handle risk. In general, families who lost land and those who entered the contract farming scheme strive to keep a foothold on farmland – a strategy that is partly explained by the economic rationale of seeking to meet the consumption needs of current and future generations. Additionally, family land is embedded with symbolic value (illustrated, for example, by individuals’ relations with ancestors buried in family land). The existence of symbolic and thus immaterial values that land embodies poses insurmountable challenges to the idea that it is possible to achieve fair compensation for the loss of land and the environment in general.This study shows the renewed pressure (now through the hands of private actors backed by public efforts) placed on family farmers, derived livelihood trends (i.e., the overall precarization of family farming, the widening of economic inequality, and the feminization of poverty), and family farmers’ continuous endurance. Ultimately, this study illustrates local processes and livelihood implications of LSLAs in Mozambique, and likely also in contexts marked by similar democratic deficits and renewed incursions over valuable land that is intensively used.