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UTENRIKS-Internasjonale forhold - utenriks- og sikkerhetspolitikk og norske interesser

The political economy of river sand mining in South Asia: A commodity chain approach

Alternative title: Politisk økonomi analyse av storskala uttak av sand frå elvane i Sør Asia: Ei verdikjede tilnærming

Awarded: NOK 9.0 mill.

Sand is the world's second most consumed resource after water. It is increasingly becoming scarce. The world is running out of sand as building booms consume ever greater quantities of the resource. Long thought to be an almost inexhaustible resource, the international community is slowly realizing that sand governance should be a key priority of governments across the globe. This is even more pertinent as it has been found that sand extraction can have highly negative environmental impacts. This research project aims to understand the current governance of sand in three countries (Bangladesh, India and Nepal) in the Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna (GBM) River Basin. This Basin has been particularly affected by sand extraction and it is already highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The project combines qualitative fieldwork and a household survey. It analyzes the relations between power, capital, labor and livelihoods and look at both formal and informal forms of governance of sand extraction, transport and consumption. This research project aims not only to increase our knowledge of current governance practices, but provide the groundwork for devising both ecologically and socially sustainable sand policies. An in-depth mapping of the literature confirmed an almost complete absence of studies focusing on the everyday governance of sand extraction. This project is part of an emerging conversation about not simply the ecological impacts, but also the socio-political contexts in which sand extraction is happening. While the (limited) literature has focused extensively on the role of criminal networks in extraction, our fieldwork findings suggest that this picture has to be complicated. Local bureaucracies seem in some cases to lay out basic ground rules to govern the extraction. Labour also is organised in different ways. In Bangladesh we have been able to document the transition of more locally embedded artisanal sand mining to mechanised, capital-intensive dredging operations. Other field-sites however continue to see mostly artisanal and small-scale mining, including rudimentary tools, working in small teams, sometimes consisting of members of a single household, located near the river. A first analysis of the survey result shows that in Nepal and Bangladesh sand workers earn about the same as other low-skilled laborers; however, a major benefit is more regular income than other forms of low-skilled labor such as agriculture or construction work. The data further suggests that sand work is an alternative to labor migration, which normally gives higher income, but at the cost of being away from the family for months or even years. In contrast to Nepal, where family groups engage in artisanal sand mining, (mechanised) sand mining in Bangladesh is a male profession. This is different in sand ports, where female labour was dominant in (lowly paid) unloading labour.


South Asia's riverbeds are a primary site of conflict between the need for development and environmental protection. The region's unprecedented construction boom has created a scramble for sand, and one of the primary sources for this newly valuable commodity is its vulnerable river systems. The large Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna (GBM) River Basin has been particularly affected by the search for sand sources. This multi-disciplinary, multi-sited project will use innovative theoretical and methodological approaches to investigate sand mining in the GBM River Basin. The project will focus on Artisanal and Small-scale mining, which are the primary modes employed within the basin, and approach them from the perspective of commodity chain analysis. It will include fieldwork at four sites within the watershed and a household survey. Its outcomes will contribute substantially to the literature on the political economies and ecologies of sand extraction, inform government policies on sand-mining, and inform public conversations on resource management. Additionaly, such a focus will strengthen and further develop research on Asia in Norway by developing interdisciplinary cooperation between Norwegian, Asian and other scholars engaged in research on Asia.

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UTENRIKS-Internasjonale forhold - utenriks- og sikkerhetspolitikk og norske interesser