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Restructuring the Swazi sugar industry: The changing role and political significance of smallholders

Terry, Alan; Ogg, Mike


Alan Terry

Mike Ogg


© 2016 The Author(s). Since Independence, the contribution of Swazi smallholder farmers to sugar production has grown greatly. This is in part due to a change in the political support that the farmers have received from the Swazi state. Initially viewed with suspicion and as a challenge to royal hegemony, smallholder sugar cane production is now seen as a crucial means of overcoming rural poverty in Swaziland’s poorest region, the semi-arid lowveld. Provision of irrigation water is vital for successful sugar cane production on the co-operatively managed farms that are necessary to achieve the economies of scale in irrigated sugar production. Threats to their profitability arising from increasingly volatile markets facing Swaziland’s sugar industry since changes to the EU Sugar Protocol in 2005 undermine their capacity for co-operative governance and challenge their long-term viability. EU support to facilitate adjustment to the new sugar market has led to increased sugar cane production by smallholders. The paper argues that the two big dam projects that are at the heart of the new irrigation regions are politically ‘too big to fail’, which has committed the Swazi state to the long-term support of smallholders to ensure repayment of loans to build the dams. At the same time, the success of commercial small-scale sugar cane production poses challenges to the Swazi model of customary land tenure. Although emblematic of autocratic royal power, it also - in the processes of land and water development for commercial smallholder sugar cane production - suggests limits to how that power may be deployed in the changing relationships between Swazi elites and their corporate partners and the diverse classes of rural stakeholders.


Terry, A., & Ogg, M. (2017). Restructuring the Swazi sugar industry: The changing role and political significance of smallholders. Journal of Southern African Studies, 43(3), 585-603.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jul 1, 2016
Online Publication Date Sep 15, 2016
Publication Date May 4, 2017
Journal Journal of Southern African Studies
Print ISSN 0305-7070
Electronic ISSN 1465-3893
Publisher Taylor & Francis (Routledge)
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 43
Issue 3
Pages 585-603
Keywords sugar, irrigation, smallholders, Swaziland, rural development
Public URL
Publisher URL


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