Authors: Andrew Chilombo (UNEP) , Dan van der Horst (University of Edinburgh)
Large-scale land acquisitions (LSLAs) have emerged as an important policy issue in development discourse. Governments in host countries play a critical role in engineering policy landscapes for enclosing local community resources for capital accumulation by business entities with more financial resources and access to power. Case studies have highlighted failed implementation of LSLA deals, resulting in cancellations, scaling down, abandonment or change of investment business models. However, few attempts have been made to understand what accounts for such failures and what happens when both state policy and private sector implementation of land deals fail. Taking Nansanga farm block, a government of Zambia-led LSLA deal currently in limbo, this article presents a study that aimed at understanding the political ecology of tobacco production and manganese mining as opportunistic economic activities – that is, activities that are taking advantage of new infrastructure created by an otherwise 'failed' government project and flourishing in an area where local people's rights were previously protected through customary tenure. Drawing on stakeholder interviews, the study shows that the government's role in the development of Nansanga vanished; creating a development vacuum that opened the door to opportunistic tobacco production and open pit manganese mining. Tobacco and mining, heavily extractive as they are of forest resources, have emerged as double-edged swords: in the short term increasing financial inflows and job creation on one hand, and, on the other, leading to flight from production of traditional crops, deforestation and land degradation, anomie and deracination as some land use and land users are (re)defined.
Keywords: Nansanga, large-scale land acquisitions, political ecology, tobacco, manganese, Zambia
How to Cite: Chilombo, A. & van der Horst, D. (2021) “'When the cat is away, the mice will play': the political ecology of tobacco production and manganese mining in Nansanga farm block in Zambia”, Journal of Political Ecology. 28(1). doi: https://doi.org/10.2458/jpe.2974