Disintegrating labour relations and depoliticised 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 paper 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 depeasantisation and proletarianisation of global agricultural labour. 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 these arguments, the paper combines theoretical insights from labour geography and critical 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. I trace local smallholders' vulnerability back to the country's political economic history and complement this by an investigation of the changing labour relations at the community level. Here, I analyse the autonomous adaptation strategies pursued by the residents and critically assess the localised effects of planned adaptation embodied by the project, with a specific focus on how they affect local labour relations. I conclude by providing some reflections on addressing the current pitfalls of planned adaptation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)N/A
Early online date28 May 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 28 May 2020


  • adaptation
  • climate change
  • Africa
  • development
  • vulnerability


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