Trading Sand, Undermining Lives: Omitted Livelihoods in the Global Trade in Sand

Vanessa Lamb, Melissa Marschke, Jonathan Rigg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)


Sand is a scarce resource, extracted from rivers and coasts at rates that exceed its natural renewal. Yet, little is understood about the political economy of sand extraction, the livelihood vulnerabilities produced, or why sand grabbing is occurring at unprecedented rates in particular locations. Drawing together literature on global production network approaches in economic geography and debates on sustainable livelihoods in development geography—two literatures rarely in conversation with one another—we reveal the links between new, globalized, cross-border articulations of poverty and prosperity and the sand trade. We situate our sand case in Southeast Asia across three sites, namely, in Singapore, the world’s top sand importer; Cambodia, a top-ten global exporter of sand; and an emerging exporter, Myanmar. We examine how sand mining affects, directly and indirectly, a range of livelihoods, specifically fisheries in Cambodia, riverbank agriculture in Myanmar, and migrant labor in Singapore. Drawing on our empirical work, we argue that linking these two literatures with empirical data on sand provides an approach that is broad in its connections and simultaneously grounded in specific practices, places, and people. This enables us to better account for often overlooked aspects in the production, erosion, and transfer of value. Key Words: global production networks, livelihoods, precarity, sand mining, Southeast Asia.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1511-1528
Number of pages18
JournalAnnals of the American Association of Geographers
Issue number5
Early online date25 Mar 2019
Publication statusPublished - 3 Sep 2019


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