In January 2017, we travelled to Mozambique with what we thought was a detailed and well-organised plan for a month and a half of interviews. Three days later, the notebook into which we had poured all our plans was replaced with blank sheets of paper, and the initial certainties became an open road stretching out ahead of us. The same road that would first take us across the breathtaking landscapes of the North and later to Maputo, where, amid the hubbub of an evolving city and the stifling afternoons of a top floor that opened onto the periphery of the city, we interviewed both company and Government representatives.

As we were saying, we had a plan, but next to nothing went as anticipated: on the third day of reporting, 23 January, all the pre-scheduled interviews were cancelled and the local reporter who was supposed to accompany us during the Nacala Corridor part of the trip pulled out the night before we were due to set off. Not wanting to waste more time, we got on the road.

We couldn’t believe our luck when we found out that that morning there was a conflict resolution meeting in Napai II, a village in the district of Mecuburi, province of Nampula, 80 km from where we were. The peasant farmers were accusing the Norwegian company Green Resources of having occupied more land than had been granted to it and the district leader would be present to moderate the conversation between them and the company. Still in the process of rethinking the initial plan, it seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up. We switched the planned route and finally we were on the path of the story we had been looking for.

When we arrived in Napai II, dozens of men and women were spread out in a circle. The community representative, Francisco Chicompa, looked at the sheets he had in his hand and practiced the reading of the letter prepared by the community one last time - as if he were scared his voice would desert him when it was his turn to speak. The furrowed brows of the mass of people expressed an urgent need to voice the many complaints that had been eating them up inside. They were anxious to be heard but the then district leader, Hilário Anapacala, seemed more concerned with the unexpected presence of “people from Europe” and of those who are “Mozambicans in name only”.

What happened next can be seen here. As for us, minutes after the meeting ended, we were approached by armed police who wanted to confiscate our cameras, and after a lot of negotiating, they demanded that we deleted all the material we had recorded. We ended the morning sat at the Mecuburi District Police Office to explain the reason behind our presence. We had a story.

It was just before summer 2016 when a conversation that flowed with red wine gave rise to a challenge. Boaventura Monjane, a Mozambican journalist and activist, and Sofia da Palma Rodrigues, a Portuguese journalist, shared some classes on the doctoral programme on Post-Colonialism and Global Citizenship, at the Centre for Social Studies at Coimbra University.

- “Family farmers produce most of the food consumed in my country, but small-scale peasant farmers have suffered immense pressure to abandon their lands. Large agricultural companies promise them employment, schools, health centres and people see an opportunity there. But then, what happens is a completely different story: the diversity of food that we have always grown is being replaced with cash crops and peasants lose their autonomy. You should come to Mozambique to do a report about Land Grabbing.”

- “Land what?”

- “Land Grabbing!” It means the wrongful seizure of land and is the expression used to define the large-scale acquisition of lands carried out by private interests and large corporations from rural populations in developing countries. There are dubious, agreements, many of which are illegal. It is nothing new, it has already been the subject of much debate, but it could be looked at from a different angle...”

A quick search tells us that one third of the Mozambican population suffers food insecurity and that the Government does not only support large-scale agricultural investment, but also argues that it contributes to combat hunger in the country. There are various reports - from Non-Governmental Development Organisations (NGDO), Civil Society Organisations, independent experts at the European Union - on the subject, that recognise the marginalisation to which peasants and small-scale farmers are subjected, even though they are responsible for producing 90% of the food consumed in the country. In the last decade, they have been pressured to leave the houses where they lived and the lands they worked, but the news reports and articles on the subject rarely give them their own voice. They are always talked about but are rarely given the opportunity to express themselves. The maxim of journalist Amy Goodman, “go to where the silence is and say something”, ended up being the guiding light for this investigation.

The idea was to tell a story from the bottom up, starting at the root. To start by listening to the peasants who live in regions into which agricultural corporations have started to move, spend a few days with them and, only then, interview the company and Government representatives. This would mean that we could confront them with specific situations, with real stories from real people, a different perspective from the one we get through the official documents and news on the subject.

“If we’re going to do this, we must go to the Nacala Corridor, in the north of Mozambique. These provinces of Cabo Delgado, Niassa, Nampula, Zambézia and Tete run through this region. They make up the most populated and most fertile areas of Mozambique and are where the race to own land is the most intense”, explained Boaventura Monjane.

“It gives me great pleasure to announce that your project has been awarded a grant of 10 thousand euros.” In July 2016, we received the go-ahead from the Journalismfund, a not-for-profit organisation that supports investigative journalism projects. To these 10 thousand euros, 5 thousand more were added from a grant awarded by Free Press Unlimited - a Dutch foundation that supports journalism projects. Emma Lesuis (the videographer who, together with Diogo Cardoso, captured the stories on film) put forward the project for the latter grant. With enough money to cover the plane tickets and logistical costs, we set out for Mozambique, hoping to obtain the rest of the funding after publishing the work.

Napai II, Ruace and Nakarari take centre stage in this report. A road map that traces the people and stories we came across along the way. A road map planned out on a daily basis using the information we discovered along the way.

After being “freed” by the Mecuburi District Police, we made two or three phone calls and decided to continue onto the province of Nampula. We headed for Malema, where Manuel Massana, President of the District Union of Peasants in the region, was awaiting us. Two hours of conversation later, Manuel told us about Nakarari, “a village that took in refugees who were forced to leave Wakua, where the company Agromoz had settled.”

In Nakarari, Agostinho Mcerneia, a man who used his machete to clear the land where he built his house and founded the village, gave us a challenge: “See if you can get into Agromoz and interview them.” In Agromoz, the human resources manager who agreed to talk “but always off the record” pointed us to the company Hoyo Hoyo, “that one yes, it’s having lots of problems with the people of the Ruace village”.

In Ruace, we found a group of people overwhelmed with powerlessness - asking the Government, who they call “father”, to go to their village to see what they are being subjected to; asking us, people they saw as an instrument capable of adding weight to their voice, to go to Maputo and ask the then Minister of Agriculture, José Pacheco, “why they aren’t watching over them, why ‘father’ had abandoned them”.

In Maputo, after two weeks of insisting with the Ministry of Agriculture’s press office, we were finally granted an interview with the then deputy minister. Luísa Caetano Meque answered all questions based on a document, projected onto the wall, that her advisor wrote down as we posed the questions. Some stories you just couldn’t make up.

In total there were more than 40 interviews, 900 gigabytes of recordings and a story that we knew would be huge to tell. Back in Lisbon, we dove into a mess of information from which we would have to weave a consistent narrative that was, at once, simple and appealing, complete and concerning.

It was a long process and at times we despaired: choosing the quotes, the videos, the photos that best illustrated the story that we wanted to tell; having to leave out - against our wishes - information so that the narrative didn’t overflow in a directionless torrent; writing the texts; designing the illustrations, the maps, the graphs that could explain things that words and images couldn’t; understanding what the interviewees really wanted to say when they used local expressions and finding the important contextual information; communicating with designers and programmers; revising translations (the NGDO Grain helped us with the translation of the English version); creating the architecture of a publication plan for the report in other media.

We said - half joking, half serious - that this project took longer to be born than a child. But it was born. From the very beginning, we wanted to tell a story with people in it, to bring this “far away” reality up close. With this report, we are shining a spotlight on the Nacala Corridor, we are holding a microphone to the lips of the protagonists of the story and we hope to succeed in making their voices heard. Apart from that, just one wish: we would like, as you read, see and hear these stories, to feel the same pleasure as we felt in telling them.

Diogo Cardoso and Sofia da Palma Rodrigues

This report was published with support from

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