Neo-Colonial Economies And Ecologies, Smallholder Farmers And Multiple Shocks

As the world continues to battle with the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and we edge towards a “new normal”, the ACB embarked on research to examine the nature of shocks striking the African continent.

These shocks are categorised by the climate crisis and ecological collapse, converging with economic and political crises as part and parcel of an overstretched, unravelling world. This has been magnified and made visible by the COVID-19 pandemic, which highlights the inextricable linkages between industrial agriculture, and its continuous and unchecked expansion, ecological degradation, and human health (UNEP and ILRI, 2020). The fragilities of the global economy – shaped by neoliberal globalisation – have been exposed; as have the fractures that exist between and within societies. This research has culminated in a series of papers that explore the nature and impacts of the fatally flawed economic (il)logic driving the industrialisation agenda against the backdrop of converging and compounding shocks. In this regard, in this series we examine some of the dynamics around the interests, inequalities and deepening vulnerabilities of those already on the frontlines.

This paper critically examines the political and economic drivers of ecological degradation under the guise of development loans and aid, through rapacious natural resource extraction and social and cultural displacement – the backdrop to tropical cyclones Idai and Kenneth, which made history by respectively striking central and northern Mozambique only six weeks apart from each other in 2019 and also severely impacted parts of Zimbabwe and Malawi. Thus, with our specific focus on Mozambique, and to a lesser degree Zimbabwe, we examine the underlying systemic and compounding nature of these unprecedented shocks, the national and global response, and the challenges confronting recovery at the local level in the context of continued extractivism and debt. We also examine practices related to ecological integrity and recovery that hint at components of a broader alternative in the face of compounding shocks.

We discuss the interplay between climate change, deforestation, agriculture and extractivism, and their roles in driving social and political instability and food insecurity in these countries, further fuelling the systemic, existential crises we face. On the one hand, these so-called development interventions reinforce indebtedness, inequalities and social exclusion. And on the other, they deepen dependency on destructive, short-sighted and short-lived carbon and capital-intensive projects, and global agricultural and forest value chains, which all contribute to creating conditions for extreme vulnerability to shocks such as the fall armyworm and the COVID-19 pandemic.

We also critically examine responses to shocks by international and national actors and discuss how these constitute typically neo-colonial trade and finance projects, pushing poor and marginalised farming communities over the edge. We argue that these false and discredited “solutions” can no longer be tolerated at a time when we desperately need to rethink beyond a neoliberal approach towards recovery, resilience and reconstruction.

This series is an initial attempt to scope some of the overriding dynamics and patterns. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, national lockdowns and limited mobility, research for this paper was conducted through desktop research and telephonic interviews with key informants working in the region and relevant sectors, to triangulate information and paint a picture of what is taking place on the ground. While there are abundant articles written on cyclones Idai and Kenneth, information is sorely lacking to fully grasp the institutional context, with limited accurate and reliable information on the financial and ecological in- and out-flows in these countries. This paper therefore aims to highlight these concerns, and stimulate this conversation.

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