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

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 January 2017


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.

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