A Feminist Political Ecology of Livelihoods and Intervention in the Miombo Woodlands of Zambézia, Mozambique
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Three recent global economic trends are shifting forest livelihoods and ‘development’ intervention in Mozambique. These trends are China’s growing influence in Africa, large–scale land grabbing and climate change politics. Based on eighteen months of mixed–methods research between 2009 and 2011, this dissertation examines the interactions of these global trends with day–to–day social, political and ecological processes in two rural communities in Zambézia Province (central Mozambique)—one in the miombo woodlands of Maganja da Costa district and the other near expanding timber plantations in Gurué district. The community in Maganja da Costa is at the center of clashes between conservation groups and illegal loggers selling precious hardwoods to China. The community in Gurué is responding to a Presidential mandate for every local leader to establish ‘forests’ (predominantly exotic monocultures) that represent a dispersed form of land grabbing. Drawing on recent agendas within the field of feminist political ecology, the author highlights key encounters or ‘place–events’ (following Doreen Massey) that explain the complex historical, political and ecological dynamics shaping contemporary forest transformation in Zambézia. These place–events can only be understood through attention to bodies and identity performance, key sites where assemblages of power and meaning are enacted and negotiated. This approach provides insight into less visible dimensions of landscape change by moving beyond commodity chain analysis and local/national/global hierarchies of causality. Examples of place–events examined include: girls becoming women through scarification with battery acid in a forest grove; men singing about their boss’ wife as they haul timber; NGO staff distributing pesticide spray information pamphlets in an anti–malaria campaign and elite women beating their husbands for planting ‘government’ trees. Attention to bodily performances that fundamentally constitute these place–events demonstrates how interventions in the name of sustainable development play out and often fail. It also elucidates how some loggers are able to extract valuable timber more than others. In fact, local community members see all of these outsiders—despite their distinct ideologies—as equally foreign based on similar ‘outsider’ bodily comportment. Such embodied dynamics are political and cultural, and they should be a key concern for anyone involved in shaping the future of Mozambique’s forests.