While many arguments against ‘land grabs’ speak of investments in the face of resource scarcities and unused land (Hall, 2011), some may argue that Zambia is as a contrasting example: it contains one of Sub-Saharan Africa’s lowest physiological population densities, with only 14 percent of arable land under cultivation (UNCTAD, 2011). The World Bank (Deininger and Byerlee, 2011) has cited Zambia as a country with high availability of land and a high ‘yield gap’ between agricultural yields and potential and water abundance. It is said that Zambia contains over 40 percent of Southern Africa’s water resources, with much of its irrigation potential unrealized (UNCTAD, 2011). Yet, it remains to be seen if Zambia holds true as an ideal place for agricultural investments and if such commercial endeavours can provide new ways of conceptualizing agricultural development. Using ethnographic fieldwork from Mkushi district, this paper seeks to explore the conditions surrounding the accusations of ‘land grabs’ in Mkushi district, in order to navigate the various narratives of impacts from the rising interest of foreign investors in agriculture in Zambia.
The paper first explores the question of what might ‘land grabs’ be in Zambia, from the perspective of two important accusations of ‘land grabs’ in Zambia. It then more closely explores the discourses employed Chayton, before proceeding towards Mkushi itself, with a more detailed encounter with the residents of the Mkushi farm block. Here, investments in agriculture must instead, be understood through the existing development of commercial agriculture; the Chayton investment is not new or unique, in this case. Commercial agriculture, and the growing role played by foreign investments in this sector, is facilitated by the changes within Zambia itself, with growing urban consumption and dietary trends. The picture that emerges from Mkushi is that of the rise of agribusiness, the extension of international agricultural value chains, the increasing wealth to be sought in agriculture, and interest by foreign agricultural actors. These scenarios are not meant to justify the Chayton investment, but rather to demonstrate why such investments are able to persist in Zambia. Thus, this paper suggests that there is a need to reconsider what ‘land grabs’ are, and to consider cases such as Chayton as an ‘inconvenient example’ (Ferguson, 2006) in order to evaluate the ways in which they have purported to bring benefits to the Zambian economy and to the Zambian people.
Chu, J.M. LDPI Working Paper 33. Creating a Zambian Breadbasket. ‘Land grabs’ and foreign investments in agriculture in Mkushi District, Zambia. The Land Deal Politics Initiative, (2013) 27 pp.