“Don’t stop the mill”

by Giuliano Martiniello

This paper explores the socio-ecological implications of large-scale agricultural investments through the case study of the 1998 acquisition by Illovo of the Kilombero Sugar Company Limited (KSCL) in the Morogoro region of Tanzania.

Kilombero Sugar (Photo: 24 Tanzania)
This deal predates the current land grabs and literature rush; as such it represents a privileged entry point to analyse past and present, global and local, dynamics and trajectories of agrarian change. In the last few years, this case study has gained further significance, as the Kilombero Valley has been the centre of large-scale land acquisitions for conservation, tourism and agricultural purposes – recently being targeted for sugar expansion and other agricultural investments under the South Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania initiative.
This paper argues that the expansion of large-scale agricultural initiatives in sugarcane cultivation, and the ensuing forms of smallholders’ integration into capitalist markets, stimulated the creation of a class of small-scale commercially-oriented smallholders, adversely incorporated within vertically-organized and corporate-driven value chains. Pro-inclusion narratives have increasingly focused on the positive impact of organizational, institutional and marketing innovations promoted through contract farming.

However, this paper challenges these claims by moving beyond the narrow lenses through which contract farming is generally defined, conceiving it instead as the site of intense social, political and economic struggles, where different interests (landowners, large-scale capitalist farmers, smallholders, and millers) have historically been articulated. By disentangling the complex assemblage of different social components, capital and state interests, political and economic imperatives underpinning outgrowing operations, this paper argues that the proliferation of these schemes expanded and recreated uneven geographies of class relations, differentially impacting rural communities by transforming patterns of land use, intensifying food insecurity, promoting social polarization, and degrading the environmental landscape.

Download the paper from the PLAAS website.

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