School of Social and Political Science

Formalisation and Thickening of the State in a Forest-based Bioeconomy in East Central Tanzania


Date & Time

Centre of African Studies Seminar Series


Microsoft Teams (please e-mail for the link)


In the global South, uses of renewable bio-resources such as forests are increasingly transformed into sustainable practices for low-carbon development under the umbrella term of bioeconomy. In southern Africa, this is marked with the burgeoning trend for sustainable charcoal production (SCP) as a forest-based bioeconomy. Preceded with land formalisation and creation of spatialised forest management units, SCP follows bioeconomic visions of green economy, ecological integrity and human development. Yet, relatively few analyses explore produced tensions over resource territorialities in forested landscapes where informal utilisations dominated. I fill the gap through an ethnographic study of a sustainable charcoal project in east central Tanzania. I show that in such forested landscapes, non-state entities exploited the limited state authority to claim control over forests through charcoal making and trading. As such, the state ‘absence’ constructed the landscapes as zones of ‘bountiful emptiness’, triggering charcoal rushes in the 1990s and 2000s. In the early 2010s, a conservation NGO-sponsored land use planning, asserted local territorial claims over forests, stopping the frontier of resource extractions. Some locals are unhappy with the outcome, hence engaging in resource claim-making that creates fragmented territorialities. Consequently, the state takes advantage of the fragmentation and uses a locally contested new administrative structure to thicken its territorial resource sovereignty. The thickened state territoriality illustrates a different state response to local agency, where rather than using coercive control strategies, the state reconstructs the locally territorialised forests as sites of not yet mapped, not yet regulated and of empty territorial claims, leading to chronic cycles of access and alienation. This case study contributes to the literature on critical analyses of the bioeconomy discourse and practices in the global South’s forestry sector.

Keywords: Sustainable charcoal production, forest-based bioeconomy, charcoal governance, territoriality, Kilosa, Tanzania

Key speakers

  • Mathew Bukhi Mabale - Department of Geography, University of Dodoma