This thesis examines the rise and fall of a coconut-based enclave economy in the administrative post of Micaúne in the district of Chinde, Zambézia Province. Residents of Micaúne derived their livelihoods from the coconut economy for over a century. My research is based on ethnographic fieldwork undertaken between 2010 and 2014 over a period of eight months in this administrative post. Although coconut had been a familiar crop to people in the Micaúne area for centuries, it became central to the local economy only after the advent of colonial settler capitalism in the 1880s.
I argue that the longevity of the coconut economy, and the stability and predictability that it brought to Micaúne residents, were the outcome of its embeddedness in the local social organisation and mode of production. From the last decades of the 19th century, Micaúne's economy was dominated by Société du Madal, initially a French-owned company that established coconut plantations in the area and produced commodities derived from the coconut palm for sale on international markets. Madal became a 'total institution' in Micaúne because it was the major landholder, employer of local labour, supplier of goods through its shops and the main purchaser of coconut from growers in the area.
This study suggests that a 'customary' law relating to inheritance in Micaúne reinforced the centrality of the coconut economy in local society for much of the 20th century by making specific reference to the inheritance of trees. The implication of this law was that control and ownership of trees rather than land was the major determinant of local livelihoods. But as in any enclave economy, when the resource on which it is based is depleted, the collapse of the whole system is inevitable. In the case of Micaúne, an ecological crisis in the 1990s, in the form of a plant disease known as Coconut Lethal Yellowing Disease (CLYD, infected and killed most of the palm trees, both on Madal's and local families' land, which were the backbone of the local economy.
As a result, the company-based welfare system that Micaúne residents enjoyed for more than a hundred years disappeared overnight, a catastrophe that caused unprecedented uncertainty and despair in the area. The local people's main sources of income and employment shrank and there have been many confirmed reports of hunger and starvation amongst the Micaúne population in the 2000s and after. In sum, the majority of Micaúne residents are now 'food insecure', except for a few who are local businessmen and people employed by or getting stipends from the state.
It is evident from my research that attempts by the government and NGOs to promote food security initiatives failed to solve the problem. On the contrary, these initiatives have fuelled a growing demand for land, which has led to its increasing commodification (including the emergence of an illegal land market). This development has also triggered emergent claims of land ownership based on a new notion of autochthony. A clear distinction between 'natives' and non-'natives' (newcomers) is now being drawn in Micaúne. Claiming to belong to the category of autochthons is seen as a basis for entitlement to prior rights over resources such as minerals recently discovered in the district.
I argue that the promise of minerals resources might explain why, despite the extremely harsh living conditions that local residents have faced since the demise of the coconut economy, they have decided to remain in this area while scouting in the interim for alternative livelihoods options, which are limited to subsistence farming and fishing, and petty trade. They seem to be waiting for the materialisation of big investments in mineral resources or in other development initiatives often touted by the central government in Mozambique.