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Livelihoods and coping strategies of local communities on previous customary land in limbo of commercial agricultural development: Lessons from the farm block program in Zambia


  • Chilombo, Andrew
  • Van Der Horst, Dan


The surge in large-scale land acquisitions (LSLAs) has captured the attention of activists, development practitioners, policy makers and academics. Supported for food security, biofuels, financial investments, eco-tourism etc., opponents of LSLAs raise concerns regarding the fate of local communities suffering from (potential) land dispossession and involuntary displacements, environmental degradation, diminished local food security and sovereignty and casualisation of farm workers. Scholarly efforts to understand socio-economic and environmental impacts of LSLAs grapple with: (i) methodological challenges related to lack of (reliable) baseline data; and (ii) implementation of LSLA deals - LSLAs can be complex operations; cancelled or abandoned, and reshaped by diverse biophysical, socio-cultural and political landscapes in which they unfold. Few attempts have been made to understand how local communities cope with failed LSLA deals. Addressing this gap, this paper uses participatory rural appraisal methods to examine coping strategies of local communities in Nansanga farm block, a government of Zambia-led LSLA program. Overall, our fieldwork shows Nansanga is a deal in limbo of development: state-funded infrastructure has crumbled, and many private investors have not developed the land they bought. Instead, mining and tobacco companies have emerged as important economic players, filling the development vacuum created by the government’s absence in Nansanga. As immigration for casual mining jobs increases, there is land dispossession in some places, and curtailed access to dambos that used to be communal under customary land tenure. Our findings question the possibility of LSLA deals to contribute to wealth creation for local people. Our findings suggest pre-existing socio-economic status and household labour are key to understanding coping strategies of local people in Nansanga. High wealth households are more likely to take advantage of emerging opportunities from (failed) LSLA deals than low wealth households. Finally, LSLA deals transform resource use and therefore livelihoods - reinforcing pre-existing socio-economic community conditions.

Suggested Citation

  • Chilombo, Andrew & Van Der Horst, Dan, 2021. "Livelihoods and coping strategies of local communities on previous customary land in limbo of commercial agricultural development: Lessons from the farm block program in Zambia," Land Use Policy, Elsevier, vol. 104(C).
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:lauspo:v:104:y:2021:i:c:s0264837721001083
    DOI: 10.1016/j.landusepol.2021.105385

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    1. Chilombo, Andrew, 2021. "Multilevel governance of large-scale land acquisitions: a case study of the institutional politics of scale of the farm block program in Zambia," Land Use Policy, Elsevier, vol. 107(C).

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