Skip to main content Accessibility help

Migrant workers into contract farmers: processes of labour mobilization in colonial and contemporary Mozambique

  • Helena Pérez Niño


As contract farming gains ground as a form of agricultural production in Southern Africa, there is growing interest in its effects on patterns of investment and production as well as in its potential to provide small farmers with access to export markets. However, the relation between contract farming and the region's long history of labour migration has largely escaped analysts and scholars working on Southern Africa. This article traces the changing livelihoods of those who experienced the demise of the migrant labour system and displacement during the civil war, and who now engage in contract farming in Angónia, a densely populated district in Tete Province, central Mozambique. In the decades since the end of the war, contract farming thrived among former migrants with access to land and few alternative sources of income and employment. If historical labour migration from Angónia involved attempts by employers to externalize the responsibility for social reproduction onto households, contract farming amounts to the internalization by households of the opportunities, risks and tensions involved in the production of high-value export commodities. By analysing farmers’ accounts of producing under contract and linking this to their households’ longer histories of labour mobilization, this article sheds light on people's experiences of working for wages, working on their own account and hiring workers, as households became the new sites of commodity production.

Alors que l'agriculture contractuelle gagne du terrain en tant que forme de production agricole dans le sud de l'Afrique, on s'intéresse de plus en plus à ses effets sur les schémas d'investissement et de production, ainsi qu’à sa capacité à permettre aux petits exploitants d'accéder aux marchés d'exportation. Or, le lien entre l'agriculture contractuelle et la longue histoire de la migration de la main-d’œuvre dans la région a largement échappé aux analystes et aux chercheurs qui s'intéressent au sud de l'Afrique. Cet article retrace l’évolution des moyens de subsistance de ceux qui ont connu l'effondrement du système de travail migrant et le déplacement de la population durant la guerre civile, et qui aujourd'hui pratiquent l'agriculture contractuelle dans le district densément peuplé d'Angónia, dans la Province de Tete, au cœur du Mozambique. Au cours des décennies qui ont suivi la fin de la guerre, l'agriculture contractuelle a prospéré parmi les anciens migrants ayant accès aux terres et peu d'autres sources de revenu et d'emploi. Si la migration historique de la main-d’œuvre d'Angónia faisait intervenir des tentatives par les employeurs d'externaliser la responsabilité de la reproduction sociale sur les ménages, l'agriculture contractuelle revient quant à elle à une internalisation, par les ménages, des opportunités, des risques et des tensions associés à la production de produits d'exportation à valeur élevée. En analysant ce que rapportent les agriculteurs de leur expérience de production sous contrat, et en rapprochant cette analyse de la longue histoire de la mobilisation de la main-d’œuvre qu'ont connue leurs foyers, cet article apporte un éclairage sur l'expérience qu'ont ces personnes du travail salarial, du travail indépendant et de l'emploi de travailleurs, à une période où les foyers sont devenus les nouveaux sites de production.



Hide All
Amin, S. (1972) ‘Underdevelopment and dependence in Black Africa: origins and contemporary forms’, Journal of Modern African Studies 10 (4): 503–24.
Andersson, J. A. (2006) ‘Informal moves, informal markets: international migrants and traders from Mzimba district, Malawi’, African Affairs 105 (420): 375–97.
Barrett, C. B., Bachke, M. E., Bellemare, M. F., Michelson, H. C., Narayanan, S. and Walker, T. F. (2012) ‘Smallholder participation in contract farming: comparative evidence from five countries’, World Development 40 (4): 715–30.
Baumann, P. (2000) ‘Equity and efficiency in contract farming schemes: the experience of agricultural tree crops’. Working Paper 139. London: Overseas Development Institute.
Beinart, W. (2014) ‘A century of migrancy from Mpondoland’, African Studies 73 (3): 387409.
Bellemare, M. F. (2010) ‘Agricultural extension and imperfect supervision in contract farming: evidence from Madagascar’, Agricultural Economics 41 (6): 507–17.
Benfica, R., Zamela, J., Miguel, A. and de Sousa, N. (2005) ‘The economics of smallholder and households in tobacco and cotton growing areas of the Zambezi Valley of Mozambique’. Research Paper Series. Maputo: Directorate of Economics, Ministry of Agriculture of Mozambique.
Bijman, J. (2008) ‘Contract farming in developing countries: an overview’. Working Paper. Wageningen: Department of Business Administration, Wageningen University.
Bolt, M. (2012) ‘Waged entrepreneurs, policed informality: work, the regulation of space and the economy of the Zimbabwean–South African border’, Africa 82 (1): 111–30.
Borges-Coelho, J. P. (1991) ‘Tete, 1900–1926: O Establecimento de uma Reserva de Mão-de-Obra’, Arquivo: Boletim do Arquivo Histórico de Moçambique 10 (October).
Borges-Coelho, J. P. (1993) ‘Protected villages and communal villages in the Mozambican province of Tete (1968–1982): a history of state resettlement policies, development and war’. PhD thesis, University of Bradford.
Bush, R. and Cliffe, L. (1984) ‘Agrarian policy in migrant labour societies: reform or transformation in Zimbabwe?’, Review of African Political Economy 11 (29): 7794.
CEA (1983) Famílias camponesas da Agónia no processo de socialização do campo. Maputo: Centro de Estudos Africanos (CEA), Universidade Eduardo Mondlane.
Christiansen, R. E. and Kydd, J. G. (1983) ‘The return of Malawian labour from South Africa and Zimbabwe’, Journal of Modern African Studies 21 (2): 311–26.
Crush, J. (1995) ‘Cheap gold: mine labour in Southern Africa’ in Cohen, R. (ed.), The Cambridge Survey of World Migration. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Crush, J. and Tshitereke, C. (2001) ‘Contesting migrancy: the foreign labor debate in post-1994 South Africa’, Africa Today 48 (3): 4970.
Delius, P. (2014) ‘Special issue: the making and changing of migrant workers’ worlds (1800–2014)’, African Studies 73 (3).
DPA (2011) ‘Relatorio de produccao de tabaco’. Mimeo. Tete: Direccao Provincial de Agricultura (DPA).
Eaton, C. and Shepherd, A. (2001) ‘Contract farming: partnerships for growth’. Agricultural Services Bulletin 145. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Englund, H. (1999) ‘The self in self-interest: land, labour and temporalities in Malawi's agrarian change’, Africa 69 (1): 139–59.
FAO (2012) Guiding Principles for Responsible Contract Farming Operations. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Division Office of Knowledge Exchange, Research and Extension.
FAOSTAT (2014) ‘Statistical databases’. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
Farré, A. (2013) ‘A broken link: two generations in a rural household in Massinga district, southern Mozambique’, Anthropology Southern Africa 36 (3–4): 124–9.
IFAD (2003) Agricultural Marketing Companies as Sources of Smallholder Credit in East and Southern Africa: experiences, insights and potential donor role. Rome: Africa Division II, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
INE (2011) Censo Agropecuário 2009–2010: resultados definitivos. Maputo: Instituto Nacional de Estatística (INE).
Ishemu, S. L. (1995) ‘Forced labour and migration in Portugal's African colonies’ in Cohen, R. (ed.), The Cambridge Survey of World Migration. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Jaffe, S., Mkandawire, R., Bertoli, S. and Kamkondo, D. (1991) The ‘Migrant Smallholders’: tenant and laborer participation, remuneration, and social welfare within Malawi's expanding estate sub-sector. Binghamton NY: Institute for Development Anthropology.
Jelsma, I., Bolding, A. and Slingerland, M. (2010) Smallholder Sugarcane Production Systems in Xinavane, Mozambique: report from the field. Wageningen: Plant Production Systems, Plant Sciences Group, Wageningen University.
Juergensen, O. (1996) ‘Peasants on the periphery: a geohistory of rural change in Mozambique, c.1960–1992’. PhD thesis, Queen's University.
Lubkemann, S. C. (2009) ‘From circular migrants in the mines to transnational polygynists in the townships: a century of transformation in central Mozambican male migration regimes (1900–1999)’, International Migration 47 (3): 5192.
Mkandawire, T. (1985) The Informal Sector in the Labour Reserve Economies of Southern Africa with Special Reference to Zimbabwe. Harare: Zimbabwe Institute of Development Studies.
NEPAD (2006) ‘Contract farming offers fresh hope for Africa's declining agriculture’. East Africa Policy Brief 2. Midrand, South Africa: Sida, World Agroforestry Centre and NEPAD Secretariat Agriculture Unit.
Newitt, M. (1995) A History of Mozambique. London: Hurst.
Newitt, M. and Tornimbeni, C. (2008) ‘Transnational networks and internal divisions in Central Mozambique’, Cahiers d’Études Africaines 192 (4): 707–40.
Ochieng, C. M. O. (2010) ‘The political economy of contract farming in tea in Kenya: the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA), 1964–2002’ in Harriss-White, B. and Heyer, J. (eds), The Comparative Political Economy of Development: Africa and South Asia. London: Routledge.
O'Laughlin, B. (2000) ‘Class and the customary: the ambiguous legacy of the indigenato in Mozambique’, African Affairs 99 (394): 542.
O'Laughlin, B. (2002) ‘Proletarianisation, agency and changing rural livelihoods: forced labour and resistance in colonial Mozambique’, Journal of Southern African Studies 28 (3): 511–30.
O'Laughlin, B. (2013) ‘Land, labour and the production of affliction in rural Southern Africa’, Journal of Agrarian Change 13 (1): 175–96.
O'Laughlin, B. and Ibraimo, Y. (2013) A Expansão da Produção de Açúcar e o Bem-Estar Dos Trabalhadores Agrícolas e Comunidades Rurais em Xinavane e Magude. Cadernos IESE 12. Maputo: Instituto de Estudos Sociais e Económicos (IESE).
Oya, C. (2012) ‘Contract farming in sub-Saharan Africa: a survey of approaches, debates and issues’, Journal of Agrarian Change 12 (1): 133.
Pérez Niño, H. (2014) ‘Post-conflict agrarian change in Angónia: land, labour and the organisation of production in the Mozambique–Malawi borderland’. PhD thesis, SOAS, University of London.
Porter, G. and Phillips-Howard, K. (1997) ‘Comparing contracts: an evaluation of contract farming schemes in Africa’, World Development 25 (2): 227–38.
Potts, D. H. (2010) Circular Migration in Zimbabwe and Contemporary Sub-Saharan Africa. Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer.
Prowse, M. (2012) Contract Farming in Developing Countries: a review. Series A Savoir. Paris: Agence Française de Développement.
Prowse, M. (2013) ‘A history of tobacco production and marketing in Malawi, 1890–2010’, Journal of Eastern African Studies 7 (4): 691712.
Sautier, D., Vermeulen, H., Fok, M. and Bienabe, E. (2006) Case Studies of Agri-Processing and Contract Agriculture in Africa. Santiago de Chile: RIMISP.
Smart, T. and Hanlon, J. (2014) Galinhas e cerveja: uma receita para o crescimento. Maputo: CIEDIMA.
Tornimbeni, C. (2000) ‘Lavoro migratorio in Africa centro-meridionale e il distretto di Tete, Mozambico, 1890–1945’, Africa: Rivista trimestrale di studi e documentazione dell'Istituto italiano per l'Africa e l'Oriente 55 (3): 309–37.
UNCTAD (2009) World Investment Report 2009: transnational corporations, agricultural production and development. Geneva: United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
Vail, L. and White, L. (1980) Capitalism and Colonialism in Mozambique: a study of Quelimane district. London: Heinemann.
Watts, M. J. (1994) ‘Life under contract: contract farming, agrarian restructuring, and flexible accumulation’ in Little, P. D. and Watts, M. J. (eds), Living under Contract: contract farming and agrarian transformation in sub-Saharan Africa. Madison WI: University of Wisconsin Press.
Will, M. (2013) Contract Farming Handbook: a practical guide for linking small-scale producers and buyers through business model innovation. Bonn: Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit.
Woodhouse, P. (2012) ‘Agricultura, Pobreza e a Receita do PARP’ in Desafios para Moçambique 2013. Maputo: Instituto de Estudos Sociais e Económicos (IESE).
World Bank (2005) Mozambique: contract farming and supply chain financing. Report 33406. Washington DC: World Bank.
World Bank (2007) World Development Report 2008: agriculture for development. Washington DC: World Bank.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO

Migrant workers into contract farmers: processes of labour mobilization in colonial and contemporary Mozambique

  • Helena Pérez Niño


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.