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Doctoral thesis, 2018

Development delayed : exploring the failure of a large-scale agricultural investment in Tanzania to deliver promised outcomes

Engström, Linda


Since the early 2000s, large-scale agricultural investment has experienced a revival on the agenda for rural development in Africa, purported to bring, for instance, efficient agricultural production, reduced import expenditures and poverty alleviation. This new wave of large-scale agricultural investment has been described as more extensive in scale than previous attempts to promote such large farms. However, closer scrutiny reveals that in many countries, the expected flood of investments has so far been only a trickle. So far, few studies have been conducted to investigate this trend of failure. The overarching aim of this thesis is to contribute to the knowledge about how and why this new wave of large-scale agricultural investment failed to deliver proposed outcomes. This is done by exploring the empirical trajectories of, and the reasons behind, the failure of a planned public private partnership, a large scale sugar-cane investment in Tanzania, to deliver promised outcomes. In interviews with project proponents and rural residents targeted by investment, the thesis shows how project proponents simplified complex contexts in order to ‘sell’ narratives of imminent success. Such simplifications interacted with context to produce delays in project implementation and subsequent failure of the project to materialise. Importantly, these delays had severe negative impacts on local communities. Despite delay being a common feature in development projects, it has been little discussed. Combined, these findings suggest that delay is an important, but overlooked, factor when understanding development failure, and that delay should not be conceived as inevitable and innocent. Through discourse analysis and drawing on the concept ‘resilient narratives’, I analyse discursive practices used by proponents to sustain the image of success, in the face of contradicting narratives and materialities. Mainly drawing on post-development and post-colonial theory, I then position my findings in debates on development narratives and development failure, and advance some reflections on the influence of close collaboration with a private actor in development assistance in relation to these findings. While the context of the case study is highly complex and to a certain extent unpredictable, I argue that proponents have a responsibility to understand this context, and address it in their policies and projects. Finally, I argue that more attention must be paid to the impacts of delayed or non-materialised projects in both academia and policy debates.


simplification, delay, development failure, development narratives, largescale agricultural investment, land grabbing, privatisation of development

Published in

Acta Universitatis Agriculturae Sueciae
2018, number: 2018:40
ISBN: 978-91-7760-220-0, eISBN: 978-91-7760-221-7
Publisher: Department of Urban and Rural Development, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences