Over the past decade, the rise of what has been called the Global Land Grab suggests the return of rural development as a privileged (if problematic) site for accumulation, modernization, and growth. In this paper, I analyze a set of rural development efforts in Mozambique, a country seen by many as the potential heart of a new African food regime. I build a framework for understanding contemporary dynamics by drawing on the triple metaphor of fields: first, I build on the sociological concept of field as strategic social space; second, I bring together disparate disciplinary fields, including political economy, development, science and technology studies, and agrarian studies; and third, I situate the paper on fields as cultivated ground, the literal arena in and on which rural development takes place. The paper is narrated through four stories that illuminate the relationships and dynamics within and across different “strategic action fields.” These stories highlight the role of knowledge and power within distinct but related arenas of rural development and suggest the importance of seeing fields as in contestation even when they are not necessarily in conversation.
Development—as an object of study, an aspiration, and an institutionally organized enterprise—has been and is predicated on the transformation of rural life and livelihoods. Situated historically and theoretically in colonial exploration, conquest, and extraction, and enacted thereafter through enclosure, commodification, and factor reallocation, Development with a capital D (Hart 2001:650)—or the application of a body of theory and practice to the transformation of national economies, polities, and societies—has meant the fundamental transformation of life on the land. Over the past decade, this transformation has been led by what are referred to alternately as large-scale land acquisitions (LSLAs; Deininger and Byerlee 2011) or “land grabs” (Borras et al. 2011; Fairhead, Leach, and Scoones 2012; White et al. 2012; Wolford et al. 2013). In a response to perceived scarcity, investors as diverse as nation-states, agribusiness corporations, and hedge funds exploit inequality in agricultural productivity by acquiring land characterized as suffering from what the World Bank and others refer to as “high yield gaps” (Deininger and Byerlee 2011), where the potential to produce yields is as yet unmatched by the productive capacity of local farmers.
In this paper, I attempt to analyze land grabbing by focusing on the knowledge necessary to make such deals possible. I do this by working with the triple metaphor of fields: I build on ongoing work around the sociological concept of field as strategic social space (see Fligstein and McAdam 2011); I integrate disparate academic fields in order to undiscipline my approach, including political economy, development, science and technology studies, and agrarian studies; and I situate the paper on fields as cultivated ground, the literal arena in and on which rural development takes place. The paper is narrated through four stories that highlight a set of rural development efforts in Mozambique, a country seen by many as the potential heart of a new African food regime. In the remainder of this introduction, I elaborate on my use of the three meanings of a field, focusing particularly on the concept of “strategic action fields,” and outline the stories I will tell in the following sections.
The notion of fields has been used widely and has received attention recently in Neil Fligstein and Doug McAdam's (2012) expansive attempt to construct a general theory of social interaction through what they call “strategic action fields.” The concept of fields as constituted through the interplay of actors and structures within a given social space originates with Pierre Bourdieu's (1972) well-known work. Fligstein and McAdam (2011, 2012) build on Bourdieu by bringing the concept of fields together with insights from other literatures, including institutional theories, where institutions are everything from government agencies to the “rules of the game” (North 1990), and social movement theories that take as their premise the existence of contestation and unequal power relations. In this way, Fligstein and McAdam's (2011) definition of a strategic action field as a “meso-level social order” in which actors operate under “common understandings about the purposes of the field” (p. 3), though with very different interests, capacities, and social positions, addresses both the critique that institutional theories see change as occurring through a theoretically weak version of path dependence and thereby ignore power and the critique that social movement theorists overpredict the existence of exploitation and resistance while problematically privileging both structure and agency. In Fligstein and McAdam's work, the concept of strategic action fields serves to delineate arenas of collective social interaction in which people develop a set of interpretive frames that allow them to understand the norms or ideals structuring any given field. Individuals and groups have differential abilities to shape and contest those rules, but on some level there is a shared understanding of what the rules are.
This broadening of field theory is a useful way of incorporating social organization, institutions, and contestation, but to understand how fields are produced and reproduced over time we need to more firmly situate fields in political economy: fields are produced through (and structured by) social relations and forces of production and are sustained through the cultural logics of reproduction (Thompson 1971). In this way, actors within fields can be understood as having their own moral economy (Thompson 1971; Wolford 2005), as well as their own ways of knowing the world, their own imaginaries and imagined communities (Wolford 2003) around which everyday life is structured. In the case of rural development, these knowledges or imaginaries produce and legitimate particular relationships with the land and the labors on it (Carse 2012; Lu, Valdivia, and Wolford 2013; Kull 2004; Robbins 2001).
One of the advantages of analyzing relationships through the concept of fields is that doing so allows us to think about relations within and between multiple fields. Fligstein and McAdam (2011, 2012) refer to this as the “broader field environment” and characterize relations across fields as relatively distant or proximate, vertically or horizontally related, and state or nonstate. In the case of rural development, the conceptualization of multiple fields within a broader field environment is particularly useful for illuminating the ways in which ideas, practices, and knowledges flow through seemingly unrelated actors and places. Individual projects may be located in specific places such as rural Mozambique, but they are shaped by dynamics across multiple fields, from conferences on global climate change to development projects in Peru, laboratories in Brazil, and sociology lectures in Ithaca, New York.
In addition to using the concept of fields to emphasize the importance of relationships that appear to be unconnected, I use the term as a metaphor to highlight the different theoretical fields that are of use in developing a richer understanding of the production and reproduction of strategic action fields. I do not develop a new approach or theory; rather, I incorporate theoretical tools from political and cultural economy, through which I maintain an allegiance to historical materialism as a key explanation for social change; science and technology studies, from which I borrow a focus on the constitution and production of knowledge; development studies that provide the historical and empirical material for understanding efforts “to improve” while complicating notions of progress as linear or universal; and agrarian studies that emphasize the importance of giving the peasantry its proper due as the fodder (and foil) for industrial modernization worldwide. Together, these conceptual fields provide the tools for understanding rural development as the environment in which actors within and across multiple fields produce and reproduce their individual and collective experiences.
I ground this necessarily baroque conceptual apparatus on the green and brown fields of northern Mozambique. These small fields, planted mostly with subsistence crops such as manioc, beans, groundnuts, and grains like sorghum or maize (corn), constitute the ground on which rural development is founded and experienced. As cultivated spaces of social and ecological life, agricultural fields tell a story all their own: stories of territorial expansion and settlement; of sovereignty and the quest for national legitimacy; of fertility and yield, and identity, tradition, and livelihood as well as inheritance and the future. Fields are socio-natural constructions shaping and shaped by the social organization of life on the land. The search for answers to “new” crises of development—from food insecurity to resource scarcity or environmental degradation and change—turns on particular and often competing understandings of the role these fields can and should play. For actors in different strategic communities, the subsistence fields of rural Mozambique mean different things; for some, they are an underutilized, empty expanse waiting for the appropriate technology and investment, while for others they are productive, if nutrient-deficient, repositories of family labor, knowledge, and suffering.
The triple metaphor of fields comes together in the material I use for this article. The cases I present come from two different (but related!) projects in northern Mozambique: one is an ambitious, multilateral development project funded by Brazil, Mozambique, and Japan and modeled on an earlier multilateral experience in the grasslands of Brazil, and the other is an NGO-led development project intended to help local residents reduce marine and forest extraction by increasing the productivity of small-scale production.1 From these two projects, I narrate four stories that describe interactions and relationships within different fields of action.2 I focus particularly on the role of knowledge in building and shaping the fields.
The first story is of new demands for South-South development and the rise of Brazil as an “agent of change” in sub-Saharan Africa. The Brazilian agricultural development project ProSAVANA in Mozambique is premised on the capacity of Western science to organize agricultural production efficiently and address global food security concerns. Agricultural science is the accepted language of this field, and I explore the implications of this particular knowledge form for the organization of production. The second story examines the push for “land governance” as a growing business in the developing world, particularly sub-Saharan Africa (Carmody 2011), and argues that here economics and business management are privileged ways of knowing. In the field of market-led development, consultants use expert models to help formalize land rights in the hopes that transforming fields into commodities will incentivize investment, production, and the expansion of markets. The third story focuses on political authority and argues that the postcolonial Mozambican state has invested significant energy in knowing how to rule in a context where the rules all come from somewhere else. The difference between governing and knowing the rules or knowing how to rule becomes very clear as party elites go through the motions of providing resources and services to an impoverished population. The fourth and final story is of rural communities in northern Mozambique who engage in development projects of various sorts, never knowing what the future will bring. In this story, what local residents know is how to survive (even if their knowledge isn't always enough). They participate in the new Farmer Field Schools less because they want the particular technologies offered than because they know that participation may radically improve their chances of survival.
All four stories highlight different forms of knowledge: knowledge of/as science, business, rule, and survival. The stories are admittedly partial and located within particular histories and contexts, but they demonstrate how actors understand and navigate the “rules of the game” in each field. Read together, they illuminate the broader field environment of rural development more generally; although the two projects and four stories do not immediately appear related, I argue that each is necessary for understanding the others. The assertions and actions of one shape the “conditions of possibility” in the other three, even if the actors themselves never meet; if we are to understand how LSLAs come to be seen as a logical response to hunger and scarcity, then we need to understand the different ways in which the fields of rural Mozambique are known.
SOUTH-SOUTH DEVELOPMENT AND THE POLITICS OF PARTNERSHIP
The first story is, in many ways, a fantasy. It was cooked up in government offices and on drafting tables that stretched from the central grasslands of Brazil to the northern region of Mozambique. It is a fantastical reading of history that says much about the “unconscious dreams of nations” (Rose 1998:3), as scientific experts are tasked with the responsibility of mapping “order and progress” (as it says on the Brazilian national flag). This fantasy is officially called ProSAVANA, though it has also been called the “largest farmland grab in Africa.”3 ProSAVANA is a 20-year program begun in 2013, funded primarily by the Brazilian Cooperation Agency (ABC) with assistance from the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA). It is located in the Nacala Corridor, or what USAID (2011) calls the “vast, untapped agricultural potential” (p. 4) of northern Mozambique, characterized by perhaps the highest “high yield gap” in the world.
ProSAVANA is intended to feed the world. The program is coordinated by the darling of the global agricultural research community, the Brazilian agency Embrapa. It is Brazil “paying its agricultural success forward” because “what Embrapa sows, the world reaps” (Embrapa n.d.). Officially, the logic behind Brazil's South-South assistance to Mozambican agriculture turns on the notion of similarity—or what the Brazilians call “parallels” (Embrapa 2010; Wolford and Nehring forthcoming). The concept of parallels is a legacy of Cartesian logic in which countries that share latitudinal space are categorized together—the tropics, the subtropics, the temperate regions, etc. The Brazilians invoke parallels because the region of that country's greatest agricultural success (the cerrado grasslands of the Center West) sits at roughly the same latitude as the northern part of Mozambique. The World Bank, without any apparent irony, goes even further, tracing the similarity between Brazil and Mozambique back to Pangaea—roughly 200 to 300 million years ago—when “Brazil and African landmasses were connected” (World Bank 2011:2). Now the two countries are thought to share ecological characteristics such as their warm weather and acidic soils, and the World Bank has declared: “Brazilian technology is easily adaptable to those parts of Africa that share similar geological and climatic conditions.”4
Parallels between Brazil and Mozambique frame the invocation of South-South development, a new approach to development between developing countries, predicated on similarity and solidarity rather than on inequality and difference, as in former colonial relations. Unlike Hobson ( 1978), who cautioned the British to avoid colonizing in Africa because the natives were so regrettably foreign, and Lugard (1926), who emphasized the contrast between the “communal life of the primitive tribe” and modern Europe, the new approach to African development is based on a partnership between emerging economies—the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) and developing nations (Scoones, Cabral, and Tugendhat 2013). The World Bank calls this a “pendulum swinging from North to South” (World Bank 2011:33). The Brazilian development office argues that it offers an alternative to Official Development Aid (ODA) by not officially imposing conditions or obligations and by respecting the rhetoric, values, and sovereignty of its counterparts (ABC 2010). Brazil's development approach is “demand driven” and noninterventionist (Cabral and Shankland 2012), based on bringing the “Brazilian miracle” of rapid growth, particularly agricultural growth, to Africa (Economist 2010). The rise of South-South development evokes an older history of solidarity between “nonaligned” or former colonial nations even as it deemphasizes obvious differences between a handful of emerging economies and the developing world as a whole.
One of the lead scientists for ProSAVANA is a soil microbiologist. When we spoke in July 2014, he was 18 months into a two-year contract. He was frustrated by the lack of management skills he found among Mozambican farmers, which he attributed to laziness or satisfaction with subsistence, but he was optimistic that he could convince farmers to plant his miracle crop—soybeans. Thus far, people had been reluctant; most farmers in the region are focused on subsistence as a primary goal, and soybeans are not a common food crop, but that didn't deter him: “They don't know the potential of soy,” he said. “But they should!” He went on poetically about the advantages of the leguminous plant: “Soya fixes nitrogen and produces oil and meal for people and that improves their livelihoods, and then if people start eating more meat [as it is assumed they will do if their livelihoods improve] they will need feed!” He ended with a triumphant “Soy is nutritious and really needed!”
Soybeans, as well as other crops Embrapa is introducing to Mozambique, are free and open sourced. At first that may seem confusing, because many observers have argued that ProSAVANA will breed dependence on purchased seeds,5 but it was clear from our discussion and from published materials by Embrapa that the struggle in this strategic action field is to determine much more broadly how agricultural production should be organized. And in this the dominant model is mechanized, large-scale industrial agriculture. As the microbiologist cited above said, “We don't want to sell seeds, we want to sell tractors.” Scientific expertise, represented by the soil microbiologist, is necessary to legitimate the size and scope of ProSAVANA and to transform unproductive subsistence fields into high-yielding ground for commodity crops.
Scientific understandings of plant breeding, soil quality, and land management developed in the global North, particularly the United States, were disseminated to Brazil through trilateral development projects in the 1970s, adapted to the Brazilian savanna, and are now being transferred to Mozambique. Thus ProSAVANA must be situated within the postcolonial field of international “techno-politics” (Mitchell 2002; Tilley 2011), where Western science and technological innovations have been deployed for political purposes, whether knowingly or not (Adas 1989; Headrick 1988; Hecht 2011). ProSAVANA experts join the extensive networks of experts building new land-people systems through industrial agriculture (Gupta 2003; Latham 1984; Perkins 1982, 1997; Staatz and Eicher 1998), large dams (Biggs 2008; Pritchard 2011; Teisch 2011), transportation infrastructure (Li 2007), veterinary medicine (Davis 2007), and modern pharmaceuticals (Anderson 2006) as well as markets for land (Walker 2008) and water (Goldman 2005). Even with the best of intentions, the presumed superiority of modern science has facilitated plans for agriculture that bend labor and capital to the promise of the machine (Fitzgerald 2003), expanding the logic of industry internally and internationally with its unique sense of time, skill, and value. Such technologies are increasingly infused with benevolent assertions of participatory development (Medeiros 2005) and the protection of local communities (Hayden 2003a, 2003b), but the notion of expertise continues to be defined by formal training, adherence to scientific principles, and elite pedigree. Today, Brazilian science is building on postcolonial networks of influence, access, and solidarity to promote the creation of agro-industrial landscapes such as the Nacala Growth Corridor, a wide swath of land in which ProSAVANA will provide the means for agricultural intensification and modernization.
These new technologies are not simply physical or mechanical innovations. They represent the particular and partial belief system of this strategic action field, fantasies rooted in the epistemological assumption that farming and farming systems adhere to certain universal principles (see Fitzgerald 2003; Tilley 2011) so that relatively undifferentiated technological interventions can be applied across time and space. From Henry Ford's visions of orderly industrial rubber plantations in the Amazon (Grandin 2009) to agricultural collectives in the Soviet Union (Scott 1998), scientific imaginaries have validated technological interventions that rearrange livelihoods and environments in the process (Latour 1993).
These imaginaries or fantasies serve to legitimate and shape Brazilian intervention in Mozambique, rendering the partnership “natural” so that expertise and technologies can be “easily transferred” as long as scientific rules and methods are followed. Yet it is clear that while fantasies of universality, scientific reasoning, and partnership have material implications on the ground in the form of tractors, laboratories, and experts, the construction and diffusion of such fantastical reasoning are always contested. Mobilization against ProSAVANA has garnered significant national and international attention. According to the microbiologist quoted earlier, hopes (which he still maintained) that Brazilian farmers would migrate to Mozambique and apply their knowledge of large-scale commodity farming in situ have been scaled back in the wake of civil society protests. Activists argue that ProSAVANA may sound like a dream come true but is predicated on inequality (high yield gaps) and poverty, neither of which the program seems likely to address (UNAC 2012). From the high yield gap predicated on unequal access to technology and different traditions of cultivation, to new markets for soybeans and tractors and the rhetoric of southern Africa as the new continental breadbasket, the blossoming field of South-South development is a contested one but is currently dominated by a belief in the surpluses that science can yield.
KNOWING THE TRUE VALUE OF LAND
The second story is less of a fantasy and more of a mystery. This story begins in the United States in the early 2000s, a time when the country was unmoored by simultaneous threats of terrorism and global economic crisis. Under George W. Bush and the weight of impatient fearfulness, the U.S. Congress felt obligated (and empowered) to question the rationale behind aid to developing countries (Saith 2006). A new agency, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, was created that would “advance American values and interests” by aggressively pushing aid recipients to institute good governance (accountability, transparence) and economic freedom (free markets) (MCC n.d.-a). In 2004, Congress approved the formation of the MCC, with the specific goal of providing loans to competitively selected recipients, structured around rigorously designed and continuously evaluated projects that were preidentified as ensuring a high economic rate of return (EROR). The MCC institutes a formal process before providing funding and intervenes at regular points thereafter to assess progress made and to potentially delay or cut off funding.
The MCC and the government of Mozambique signed a “compact” (as the MCC's agreements are called) in 2007 focused on four projects in four northern states, including water and sanitation (funded at approximate US$200 million over five years), roads (US$175 million), agriculture (particularly coconut sales, US$17 million) and land administration (US$39 million). The goal of the land administration project was to help “beneficiaries meet their immediate needs for registered land rights and better access to land for investment.” In other words, the project was to assist local residents in registering their land use claims, creating a tenure system in which access and ownership would be clear, excludable, and exchangeable.6 The economic rationale for this project was fourfold. Improving land tenure administration and security would provide economic benefits in the form of “(i) Income to communities with communal land that are to be delineated and ‘titled’ under the Land Fund and will lease out a fraction of their land to commercial investors; (ii) Income to urban parcel-holders who will receive government approved land use transfer rights under the program; (iii) Transaction cost savings to small rural landholders (on non-communal lands) who will access land titling services according to their demand; and (iv) Transaction cost savings to large commercial investors who currently pay substantial costs in time and legal fees to access land in Mozambique” (MCC n.d.-b).
The project of providing clear title is not unique to Mozambique; rather, it represents a “dream of universal fixity” (Craib 2004:12) that appeals to the modern state and the market alike. But concerns about land tenure security in Mozambique must be situated in the country's particular history of colonial rule and independence (O'Laughlin 2010). In Mozambique, all land became state land with independence in 1975.7 The new socialist government under the Mozambican Liberation Front (Frelimo, Frente Liberação de Moçambique) created collective farms and encouraged rural-to-urban migration (a policy euphemistically referred to as “villagization”; see Mahoney 2003:180–81) but never succeeded in reducing the diversity of agrarian classes (Bowen 2000; O'Laughlin 1995). Collective farms were largely dismantled in the 1980s as part of a brutal civil war, and land tenure issues were one of the most pressing questions as the country ended hostilities in 1992 (Tanner 2010). The Land Policy of 1995 and Land Law of 1997 strengthened the rights of customary users and systems (traditional management systems, either communities or individuals; see Norfolk and Tanner 2007), but the state oversees all land transactions, whether for community use rights or foreign investors. Mozambique is still largely an agrarian society, with approximately 80 percent of its population in agriculture, but the countryside consists of a variety of rural producers, most of whom farm on fields under five hectares.
In this context, the MCC's investment in land administration was somewhat mysterious. If all land in the country was legally owned by the state and the state was already empowered to transact leases on unoccupied land of up to 50 years, renewable for another 49, how could land administration be profitable or generate a high economic rate of return? It was clear that tenure security could have many collateral benefits for individuals and communities, but land would still not be freely exchanged or divisible, so how would higher returns be realized? In other words, without a market for land, how was this profit to be made and to whom would it accrue? I asked this question to the head of the MCC program in Mozambique in March 2013. We sat in his high-rise office in the port of Maputo, six floors up from the intense press of people and cars on the street below. I had had to go through the ominous-looking security on the first floor, sliding in on short notice with an introduction from a USAID program officer even though visitors were supposed to be cleared 24 hours in advance.
The silence of the office, and its immaculate furnishings and wall-to-wall carpeting, seemed odd after the constant noise and grit of the street below. My interviewee explained how the MCC determined which projects it would take on and how this process led the agency to fund land administration in Mozambique. I interrupted him not long into our conversation to ask how land certification and overall land governance could possibly generate high returns when there was no legal or official land market in Mozambique. He answered, with a polite smile, that it was true there were no sanctioned land markets but that the model could accommodate a variable for an “informal land market.” When one made the assumption (in the model) that landholders would be able to lease their land to others and profit from doing so, then certification generated incentives for exchange and high returns (in the model). Officially recognized certificates would allow outside investors sufficient confidence to do business, both with the certificate holders and with the representatives of communities or districts, who could now assure such investors that they did indeed control the land (Tanner 2010). Given that in accordance with the 1997 Land Law investors could already negotiate leases with government officials for unoccupied land, the real difference expected as a result of the MCC's program (and model) was that smallholders would be able to transfer the rights to land they were currently using.
This way of viewing, allocating, and exchanging land through the lens of business and economics sits uncomfortably with the recounting of land use and authority in the stories of local community members. Many people have written about the multiple, overlapping traditional, customary, and bureaucratic authorities in rural Mozambique who have some influence or recognized right to allocate land use rights (Fairbairn 2013; O'Laughlin 1996; Tanner 2010). In our research we came across three different systems for adjudicating access to land (or controlling it; see Peluso and Lund 2011), all of which were mediated by a variety of factors including market access, capital and labor resources, political affiliations, authority (Lund and Boone 2013) and social identity (Fairbairn 2013). In an agricultural system that had long relied on swidden (slash-and-burn) methods of regularly clearing new land, some people said they had consulted the local community to locate land that was currently fallow and not too close to any other fields. Others said that they had consulted with the local king and asked for permission to plant. Kings are traditional authorities in rural Mozambique and are particularly relevant today in the northern part of the country. When the socialist party, Frelimo (Mozambique Liberation Front), won political control after Independence, Frelimo officials attempted to replace the kingdoms (regulados) and chiefly power with a third way of managing claims to land—through bureaucratic positions at the district level. Every community we met with had these bureaucratic managers, referred to as secretaries, but in the northern part of the country where both ProSAVANA and the MCC are working the opposition party Renamo (Mozambique National Resistance) has considerable influence, and Renamo has historically been more supportive of the regulado system (Dinerman 2006). As a result of the ongoing struggles between local communities and political parties, different systems of land administration and authority overlap one another in rural areas, making it difficult to know how to access land securely (R. Hall and Paradza 2012).
In our research with rural communities in the coastal areas of the northern state of Nampula, we encountered all three systems of authority. In one community where we worked, the king approached us after we had been interviewing in the area for several days. He was unassuming and even diffident, although one of our team members, a local extension agent, argued that we should have contacted him before beginning our interviews, given that the king had traditional jurisdiction over land and political affairs in the community. There was some confusion and disagreement over how relevant the king still was, but we arranged an interview.
I arrived at the king's compound the next day. It was relatively spacious, with two well-built houses, one cob and the other adobe, and a smaller separate building that appeared to be for storage. Neat fields of corn and sugarcane, intercropped with pigeon pea and beans, surrounded the house, and the courtyard was swept clean. The translator working with me and I sat on a mat with the king; his two wives and three children sat on a mat laid out ten feet behind him. He explained to us in a very matter-of-fact tone that he had authority over land use in the entire region. People who wished to break ground for planting were required by traditional rule to seek his permission.
The king's soft-spoken words in the courtyard that day reminded me of the hush in the MCC office, hundreds of miles away. In the end, though, land in a model in Maputo is largely incommensurable (Kuhn 1962) with land in a kingdom in rural Nampula, even if they often look alike on the ground. Overlapping and often contradictory visions of what land is and how land should be accessed, used, or exchanged animate the two. In the context of the contemporary field of power that is rural development in Mozambique, these are contradictory—though not always competing—forms of knowledge within one strategic action field (see also Bowen 2000; Galli 2003). Who will win the struggle for authority over land rights will depend on who is able to marshal the resources (what Bourdieu refers to as capitals) to defend what they know. While the MCC has the power to rally considerable support for its form of knowledge—business—as applied to land, other ways of knowing work to gain the upper hand or to undermine official land-titling projects. This struggle is much more than symbolic; the land itself—the fertility of its soil, the products produced, the livelihoods cultivated—will be fundamentally shaped by who gets to set the rules that govern access to the land.
PARTY POLITICS: KNOWING HOW TO RULE
The third story is short; it is almost, and quite appropriately, an interlude. This story is about the Mozambican government after Independence, but it speaks to issues within development more broadly, given the emphasis in the field on “good governance” or “good enough governance” (Grindle 2010) as the solution to everything from fiscal crisis to geopolitical conflict and even poverty (Dill 2013; Saith 2006). The optimistic World Bank report titled Accelerated Development in Sub-Saharan Africa (1981), otherwise known as the Berg Report, was influential in tying good governance to open markets, efficiency, progress, and democracy.
Today, Mozambique is a “one-party-dominant” state, with the socialist party Frelimo at the helm since 1975 (Sahn and Sarris 1994). The country is considered a success story after having experienced 10 percent rates of growth per year for over a decade (Calderisi 2007). This success has allowed Mozambique to reduce its reliance on foreign aid for its operating budget from 74 percent in 2000 to 58 percent in 2009 (ActionAid 2011). By most accounts, this is still extreme reliance on foreign aid for the everyday operations of government; that it is considered a success is indication of how bad things are in the poorest countries in the world (Wuyts 1996). More importantly, this so-called success has reduced neither relative nor absolute poverty, and Mozambique continues to be one of the poorest countries in the world, with roughly 40 percent of its population living below the line of absolute poverty. Successful “growth without development” (Amin 2002) is possible because the Mozambican government has enabled the rapid extraction of its natural resources—coal, natural gas, minerals, precious gems, and land—and it has put the profits of this extraction into the business of ruling (Sumich 2010).8 This is one of the things the government knows how to do well in Mozambique: how to rule in the context of what Harrison (1999) calls “extroversion,” or the outward-facing nature of the state. Within the strategic action field that is extroverted governance in Mozambique, the government has to know how to rule, even when support is tenuous and everyday living conditions for the majority of the population are very precarious. Ruling, in this field and under these circumstances, means knowing the rules of the game and knowing how to play: how to seem like a democracy, when you're really a one-party authoritarian state; how to sell land but insist that you're not actually selling it, that leases don't count; how to pretend you are coordinating agricultural development and running an extension agency when you are not.
This last comment requires further explanation. In July 2014, my group of colleagues and I had a meeting with the district director of the Ministry of Agriculture in Nampula state, where ProSAVANA sits. We were nervous, as we had been told this was a rare meeting. We set up our PowerPoint presentation and waited at the front of a set of tables arranged in a long rectangle. After 20 or 30 minutes of waiting, the director's retinue came in. They filed into the seats on one side of the rectangle and took out their papers and notebooks. Together, we waited awkwardly for another 20 minutes or so until the director himself swept in, nodding to people in the room and walking briskly to the front with a smile.
What followed next was performative and ritualistic in the way that good governance often is, especially when governance itself has become a field of struggle (Larson and Aminzade 2009). The director greeted us formally, commenting briefly on the slaves that our country (the United States) had taken from Africa not overly long ago. With that opening, I stumbled awkwardly into our PowerPoint presentation with the results of our research. After the presentation was over and had gone reasonably well, I made my way over to the director. I told him that manioc rot (cassava brown streak disease, CBSD) was very bad in many of the communities we had visited and that they would all really love to have the new varieties of disease-resistant manioc that the ministry had developed. We had heard so many complaints about the rot during our fieldwork in local communities, I felt I had to tell the director in case there were manioc stalks he could distribute.
The director listened attentively and then snapped his fingers and called for one of the people from his group. “Hey,” he said, “don't we have a truck full of that rot-resistant manioc?” The person he had spoken to was the head of research in the state office of the national extension agency, and he nodded, even though he looked visibly confused. The director continued: “Well, see that you take the truck and go to the coast where the professor has been, and get the stalks out to those people.” The extension agent nodded again, and the director nodded at me, and I was so pleased—until later, when I told my colleague from CARE what had happened and he laughed. He seemed genuinely surprised that I was upset. “No,” he said, “there is no truck, and even if there were, it wouldn't have manioc in it.”
This story illustrates what the government knows. There are many dedicated people in government offices who know a great deal, but taken as a whole what the government knows is how to rule. Local actors such as the regional director of the Ministry of Agriculture operate strategically in their given field of action, in which knowing how to rule means knowing how to pretend to coordinate agricultural development and run an extension agency when in fact you rely on external organizations to do much of the work. Other ways of knowing how to govern are offered up by civil society, international NGOs, and development agencies (Dinerman 2006), but the history of colonialism and postcolonial struggles for leadership makes it difficult to effect substantive change (Harrison 1999; Sumich 2010).
RURAL DEVELOPMENT AND LOCAL COMMUNITIES: KNOWING HOW TO SURVIVE
My final story takes place along the coast of Nampula, in northern Mozambique. A group of Cornell researchers, interpreters, and extension agents worked in several different communities during the summer of 2014, conducting interviews to understand the reasons for participation and nonparticipation in the Farmer Field Schools (FFS) started by two international NGOs, CARE and WWF (see Hickey, Young, and Wolford 2014). The FFS program in Nampula was modeled after FFS programs implemented in other areas of the world and was intended to introduce the principles of conservation agriculture through farmer-led experimentation and participation.
As suggested in the preceding story, NGOs like CARE and WWF operate in an important field of action where they provide many of the everyday elements of governance (service delivery, capacity building, protection for human rights) without the official mandate of a government. They are a constant presence in Mozambique, as they are in much of the developing world. They bring their own sort of knowledge, one that demonstrates long dedication to the principles of development, assistance, and self-help. This knowledge is built up by reams of paperwork (now regularly summarized in pithy streams of 140 characters) produced by armies of workers who circulate among NGOs around the world through the offices of CARE, Oxfam, Action Aid, Catholic Relief Services, and so on. NGO workers spend time “in the field” working on particular projects and then in capital city offices, overseeing finances, attending countless meetings and developing new frameworks, approaches, and strategies—from sustainable livelihoods to capacity building to resilience—for understanding development (see Mosse 2005). They are world-weary, having seen too much, yet at the same time they are perpetually optimistic.
They are also, in Mozambique's case, totally essential to the everyday functioning of the country from the national level to the local (Schraeder 2004), especially in the rural areas of northern Mozambique, where the government is visibly absent. To be visibly absent means that while the state sets national policies regarding agriculture and rural development it is not providing many of the most basic, taken-for-granted responsibilities of a democratic state (Rosario 2012); its absence is hard to miss. Although government officials usually occupy the grandest or most ostentatious buildings in any town, dependency on aid and NGO labor has led to a “degree of surrogacy and substitution of the government's role” (Thomas 1992:43). When we noted during an interview with a government official that interventions into farming would be more effective if they were supported by functioning schools, a local health system, markets, and infrastructure such as roads and potable water, he said: “But [that is not what governments do], that's what NGOs do.”
The visible absence of the government in everyday affairs does not mean that the government is very far from people's minds. To the contrary, people in rural communities have experienced dramatic political changes since the 1960s. In the areas where we worked, people narrated their collective history in terms of their relationship with the government. In one community, for example, the people we interviewed recounted their history in four generations or periods.9 The first was the precolonial time, which community members labeled simply “the first period,” when people fished and planted in traditional groups. The second period was the time of colonial rule, when many people were taken from the community to work in the sisal and sugarcane plantations or on the road that now passes by the center of the small village. This was the time of the regulos (kings); people had small fields of their own but were forced to work collectively by king and colonial power alike. They lived in straw houses that “weren't worth anything” and planted cotton, peanuts, corn, and rice. They couldn't have any goods and were not allowed to marry “a pretty woman.” The third period was what community members called the time of “the government,” when the Mozambican Liberation Front fought and won the war for independence, during which many people died. When Frelimo emerged victorious, the party instituted many controls on local districts, and the civil war began. The civil war between Frelimo and Renamo was bitterly contested in the northern parts of the country, which were considered areas of strong Renamo support. In 1992, the civil war formally ended when the two groups agreed to a peace deal, and this was the beginning of what our interviewees called the time of democracy and desenvolvimento (development). The population in the villages began to grow as people left the factories or came to the rural areas to marry or to look for work.
The simultaneous presence and absence of the government in rural northern Mozambique has created a highly uncertain field of action. Local knowledge in this region was shaped by a long colonial history; people we talked to had worked in the plantations and factories under Portuguese rule and then had participated in—or been affected by—a brutal war for independence and an even more brutal civil war. People we talked to said that during this long period of war they had hidden in the bushes or the forest or the mangroves, waiting until it was safe to come out again. People had been conscripted into the military or forced labor; the ones who had remained near home scratched a living out of the earth while their homes were burnt to the ground. The knowledge they developed, in many ways, was the knowledge of survival. In the strategic action field of rural communities in northern Mozambique, people survived by strategically diversifying their risk. And one of the key ways to diversify risk in a government-poor, NGO-rich environment is to take advantage of whatever projects outsiders offer.
In our work conducting interviews in these rural communities, we were surprised by the number of people who participated in the Farmer Field Schools organized by CARE and WWF and who seemingly needed very little convincing to abandon their old practices and adopt new ones. I think we had all expected that there would be some tension between traditional forms of knowledge and the new practices of conservation agriculture. Over time, however, we realized that what would normally be considered “traditional” knowledge forms had been violently disrupted by colonial rule and later by civil war. The new knowledge that people had developed over time was the knowledge of survival, and survival under these circumstances meant that when outside people—particularly white people—came in with a new project, local residents were inclined to say yes because they wanted to learn how to farm more effectively and they knew that participating in the project might mean the difference between dirty water and clean water, between malaria and a fighting chance, between life and death. As one man said simply, “I want to learn anything people bring.”
This knowledge of survival is not an easy one; it seems to be defined by suffering. At the end of almost every interview conducted by our team, we asked whether people had anything else to tell us, anything we had missed or forgotten to ask. And people, from young women to old men, would sit up straight and say, “Yes, there is one thing you should know; we are suffering.” There was a dignity to their statement; it wasn't a complaint, more an insistence that we should know the truth and not leave with something less than the full weight of their experiences. This suffering is perhaps the underside of the knowledge of survival; it is the banal and sobering expression of the subsistence ethic (Scott 1976) under duress, learned at the margins or limits of human existence and conveyed to anyone who might be able to help.10 Understanding knowledge and the ways in which knowledges interact with the strategic actions fields that encompass these cultivated fields in northern Mozambique requires understanding the production and manifestation of this suffering.
CONCLUSION: KNOWLEDGE AND THE DISPENSATION OF FIELDS IN RURAL DEVELOPMENT
By way of conclusion, I ask: How useful is the triple metaphor of fields for understanding rural development in Mozambique? What is at stake in considering the way in which different forms of knowledge structure action in and across the four stories (or fields) I describe? At stake, I suggest, is our very interpretation of what rural development is, for whom it functions, and with what effect.
Throughout the often-violent histories of colonialism and development, a clear disregard for rural life has been evident. This disregard has been apparent in the widespread assumption that colonization, trade, and industry would promote civilization among scattered and barbarous folk (Lugard 1926; Smith  2003); and it manifests in David Ricardo's ( 1951) condemnation of large landowners and his obsession with the unproductive qualities of ground rent; in Sir Arthur Lewis's (1954) admiring invocation of primitive accumulation; and in Walt Whitman Rostow's (1960) notion of “take-off” as predicated on land reform and the urbanization of the campesino. Indeed, most of the major figures in the discipline of sociology writ large—including Adam Smith, Émile Durkheim, Karl Marx, Max Weber, Vladimir Lenin, Antonio Gramsci, Karl Polanyi, and Michel Foucault—were grappling with this transformation, the direction of which (from rural to urban, primitive to modern, mechanical to organic) was so often assumed that history was mistaken for theory, and transformation was gradually deemed synonymous with transition (see World Bank 2008). Development actors today—including governments, financial institutions, and philanthropic organizations—all provide incentives for developing countries to industrialize and urbanize because they “know” that doing so is highly correlated with development, tautology notwithstanding (Araghi 2009).
After a brief period in the 1980s and 1990s when development efforts moved away from the rural to focus more exclusively on urban development, informal labor and the growth of slums, global manufacturing networks, and fiscal adjustment (Barrett, Carter, and Timmer 2010; Staatz and Eicher 1998), the question of rural transformations (or what is sometimes referred to as the “agrarian question”) has reasserted itself with a vengeance.11 Due simultaneously to institutional intervention and neglect, multiple new and ongoing crises seem to both threaten and reinvigorate rural development efforts. The World Food Crisis of 2007–8, when international prices of key commodity crops spiked sharply, threw an unprecedented number of people into a chronic state of food insecurity, undoing high-profile advances made under the Millennium Development Goals. At the same time, people, organizations, and agencies around the world increasingly came to see climate change as a threat, one expected to be particularly onerous for those who rely most closely on natural resources for their livelihoods (Barrett 2013; Bringezu et al. 2014). Woven throughout the declarations of crisis and concerns for the future are clear Malthusian invocations of resource scarcity due to population growth, or what is euphemistically referred to as the new “demographic transition,” where changing consumption patterns in emerging economies such as China and India are identified as key contributors to global land, water, and energy scarcity.
In response to these crises or concerns, there is renewed focus on agriculture and rural development as both the problem and the solution. The Global Land Grab cited already in this paper is one response. The rush to acquire land as a productive investment highlights the return of agriculture as a means to provide capital, labor, and commodities for economic growth. A second response to current concerns is the ambitious agenda for rural development promoted by old and new institutional actors such as the Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (Sachs 2008). The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) is a multi-billion-dollar effort based on the best available science and “commonsense” economics. It is intended to improve smallholder viability in the poorest communities of sub-Saharan Africa by promoting entrepreneurship, market access, good governance, and participatory technological diffusion (Scoones and Thompson 2011). This agenda mirrors that of a third response to crises in contemporary development: the Millennium Development Goals signed by 186 nation-states in 2003 (and in operation from 2005 to 2015). A set of eight laudable goals, the MDGs identify development as the eradication of objective characteristics belonging to certain populations (poverty, malnutrition, illiteracy, etc.; see Wolford 2011) and outline a set of principles that will best achieve eradication, including enhanced capabilities, improved access to market opportunities, and good governance (Saith 2006). These eight goals have shaped what and how people know about development, and their reformulation into a new set of Sustainable Development Goals to be unveiled in 2015 promises to continue a heightened focus on rural development as both problem and solution.
To fully grasp the transformative potential of such politics and practices, we need to analyze the construction and deployment of knowledge across multiple fields, from agricultural science to property rights, governance, social organization, and livelihood. The academic literature on rural development today is rich with material from individual case studies, but we do not always see the connections between cases or between nonproximate actors or events because events and actors are pulled together opportunistically to illuminate the dynamics of the case at hand. This makes theoretical and empirical sense, as case studies are useful windows onto a broader landscape; much like a camera obscura, case studies provide specific points of entry that help one to see the broader context and conjuncture. At the same time, a focus on specific cases without attention to the broader environment can literally obscure one's vision, causing one to miss the pregnant silences, emphatic rejections, polite lack of interest, unintentional behaviors, and noncontestations that appear (by definition) to have nothing theoretically or empirically valid to say to the case at hand (Lund 2014).
The four stories narrated in this paper illustrate different fields of action that are shaped by different “rules of the game,” or different ways of knowing the land in Mozambique. These different ways of knowing—perhaps best described as science, business, rule, and survival—all interact on (and shape) the broader environment of rural development in Mozambique and beyond. Relationships between wildly unequal actors within and across these fields shape (and are shaped by) the sort of projects imaginable and thus shape the very landscape in northern Mozambique. These relationships are replicated in unique ways across the landscape of rural development, shaping the range of proposed solutions from the Global Land Grab to the MDGs.
Ambitious development projects like ProSAVANA are legitimated and even made necessary by scientific imaginaries of the land, plant genetics, and disease ecology. From the point of view of the “high yield gap,” in which land in different locations is rendered commensurable and measured against an ideal, northern Mozambique is the answer to global food insecurity, a potential breadbasket for southern Africa and Asia. The fact that ProSAVANA will require large-scale, mechanized producers in a country dominated by poor smallholders is a potential problem, but one that can be at least partially addressed if land is made fungible, a commodity for investment by more efficient stakeholders. And so both the scientific imaginary of ProSAVANA and the business-oriented imaginary of the Millennium Development Corporation are deemed necessary if Mozambique is to match the yields attained in the world's most productive lands.
Imagining such a project might be difficult if the government were forced to respond to angry smallholders forced off their land. But the government of Mozambique knows how to continue ruling in the absence of popular support, a viable budget, or a mandate. Thus in 2011 the minister of agriculture, José Pacheco, responded to angry protests against ProSAVANA by assuring people that “in Mozambique there is no land for sale, the land is owned by the State” (Macauhub 2011). The state, though, in its position as landowner, has set aside millions of hectares of land to lease to outside investors. At the same time, rural residents focused on surviving from one day to the next are unlikely to challenge the scientists or development agents or even government officials. Their form of knowledge—survival—is not a quiet or quiescent one, but in the current moment it is subordinate. These different forms of knowledge operate in a highly uneven field of power, and each struggles for recognition and position. Their struggle, in turn, defines the contours of what rural development in Mozambique is today, for whom it functions, and with what effect.
This paper was first presented as a talk at the two-day workshop “Mapping the State of Play on the Global Food Landscape,” organized by Jennifer Clapp, Annette Desmarais, and Matias Margulis and held September 25–27, 2014, at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. The paper retains some of the exploratory and provocative nature of a talk, as it represents my preliminary attempt to work through the case of Brazilian agricultural investment and research in sub-Saharan Africa. The workshop was extremely productive, and I thank all the participants, particularly the organizers. I also thank several people for their comments on the paper, including the anonymous referee for this journal, Amanda Hickey, Katherine Young, Lidia Cabral, Ryan Nehring, Marina Welker, Durba Ghosh, Rachel Prentice, Maria Fernandes, TJ Hinrichs, Sara Pritchard, and the Institute for Social Studies land team at Cornell. Research presented in this paper was supported by funding from the National Science Foundation (grant SES-1331265), the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future and the Institute for Social Studies at Cornell University, and the CARE-WWF Alliance in Nampula. All errors are mine.
↵1. The findings in this paper result from preliminary research in Maputo, Mozambique, in March 2013 and one four-week team project conducted in coastal communities in 2014 (described in the fourth section of this paper). In 2013, I interviewed fourteen people in fifteen positions, including Brazilian agronomists and plant breeders, Brazilian program officers, the head of the US Millennium Challenge Corporation, the head of Feed the Future USAID Mozambique, two CARE field workers involved in land rights issues, the former head of the Ministry of Agriculture, a current officer in the Ministry, and the head of the national extension agency. In 2014, research was conducted by three people from Cornell (Amanda Hickey, Katherine Young, and Wendy Wolford) as well as a team of interpreters and extension agents (Benelito Adelino, Luisa Arlindo Balança, Jose Gigante, Damião Mupijama, and Goncalvez Ali Cabral). We worked in three communities in the Angoche and Moma districts, in the state of Nampula. Within these three communities, we interviewed participants and nonparticipants in the CARE-WWF Farmer Field School program. Research methods included participatory appraisals in five focus groups, semistructured interviews with approximately 80 participants and nonparticipants in Farmer Field Schools, and participatory field and resource mapping.
↵2. Narrating rural development through stories places agricultural scientists, development agents, government officials, and small farmers or local residents on an equal footing and counters the usual preference for describing development at the national or international level through official-sounding histories, statistics, and program brochures while narrating the experiences and perspectives of local communities through “vignettes.” By insisting that all knowledge is partial and particular, and emphasizing the multiple spaces in which knowledge is deployed, I intervene in the politics of academic knowledge, arguing that official histories and statistics are stories of their own, negotiating for preeminence on an uneven field of power.
↵3. This quote is from the largest farmer organization in Mozambique (UNAC): “ProSAVANA can be summed up in this simple equation: Mozambique supplies the land, Brazil does the farming, and Japan takes the food. It is a vast project being coordinated by the governments of the three countries that involves billions of dollars and millions of hectares of land. It may amount to the biggest farmland grab in Africa.” See GRAIN (2012).
↵6. This notion of clear property rights is itself a sort of fantasy, one that tempts all governments, particularly postcolonial governments attempting to unravel the complicated overlapping jurisdictions sedimented into place by tradition, colonial rule and postcolonial ambitions.
↵7. This is common in sub-Saharan Africa more generally, where over 90 percent of the land is in state hands. In studies on recent LSLAs, it has become clear that investors can take advantage of legal and institutional pluralism to engage in covert deal making and corruption in the acquisition and leasing of land (Arezki, Deininger, and Selod 2011).
↵8. Sumich (2010) writes, “Instead of democratization opening new spaces for the nation's citizens to negotiate relationships of power with the state, the party has been able to use its newfound resources to centralize negotiations within its own structures” (p. 696).
↵9. This community history is an amalgamated regional history, pulled together from multiple interviews as well as from the “history group” from the original focus group interviews conducted in each community. Many of the focus group participants and interviewees had not lived in the community for long, just ten or eleven years, so they provided memories of life on the land in the region more broadly.
↵10. Thanks to Nitsan Chorev, who pointed out that protestations of suffering are not performed only by people at the margins; many researchers and NGO workers have found similar dynamics in more well-off communities.
↵11. The agrarian question, usually traced back to German social democrat Karl Kautsky ( 1988), originally examined the role of peasants and agriculture in the transition from feudalism to capitalism or socialism (see Bernstein 2004, 2006; D. Hall 2013; Li 2014; McMichael 2006).
- © 2015 by the Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California Press's Rights and Permissions website, http://www.ucpressjournals.com/reprintInfo.asp.