Disintegrating labor relations and depoliticized adaptation to climate change in rural São Tomé and Príncipe

Michael Mikulewicz*

*Corresponding author for this work

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That climate change is a major disruptor of rural livelihoods in the low‐ and middle‐income countries, including sub‐Saharan Africa, has been a key narrative for the continent’s development for at least a decade. And while the severity of climate impacts on African development should not be underestimated, in this article I argue that the vulnerability of smallholders in São Tomé and Príncipe should be considered in the broader political economic and historical context of progressing depeasantization and proletarianization of global agricultural labor. Moreover, I posit that certain smallholders’ vulnerability can actually increase as a result of both autonomous and externally planned adaptation strategies, the latter most commonly promoted by governments and their international development partners. To substantiate the above arguments, this paper combines theoretical insights from labor geography and adaptation studies with ethnographic data collected in Liberdade – a village in the small island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe – which participated in a nationwide climate change adaptation project. Throughout the paper, I trace local smallholders’ vulnerability back to the country’s political economic history. I complement this by an investigation of the changing labor relations at the community level, where I analyze the autonomous adaptation strategies adopted by the residents and critically assess the localized effects of planned adaptation embodied by the project, with a specific focus on how they affect local labor relations. I conclude by providing some reflections on addressing the current pitfalls of planned adaptation.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 11 May 2020



  • adaptation
  • climate change
  • Africa
  • development
  • vulnerability

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