A Resistência Mora Aqui

Nineteen years ago, before Nakarari was Nakarari, Agostinho Mcerneia picked up a bush knife and cleared the way that led him to the place where he now lives with his wife and seven children. He is proud of being the first to arrive at the village, of being the one who encouraged the others to come. He looks behind him - at the children playing under the mango tree, at the women sat on a straw mat - and with a proud smile he tells us what it was like: “It was scary coming down here. There was just bush, no one lived here. As I was a commander of the militia [armed forces, supported by the State, who protected rural areas], I had experience and I managed it. I saw that the land was good, that there was a river nearby, water for the crops...”

Agostinho doesn’t know exactly how old he is, but he’s sure he’s over 60. He is the village leader, a decent man who everyone trusts, a fair man who puts the community that he helped to build above his own personal interests. And the local government always spoke with him regarding any matter that needed to be dealt with. That was until he rejected the offer from the Chefe do Posto, the sub-district political leader of Mutuali - 150 thousand meticais [nearly 2000 euros] in exchange for the Right to Use and Benefit from the Land (DUAT, by its Portuguese initials) of the 31,292 hectares that the community of Nakarari farm collectively. It was more money than he had ever had at any one time, but it couldn’t pay for something that’s priceless. As he would not budge, he was pushed aside: the link person, through which all information was passed, has fallen out of favour with the Government representatives.

“He said to me: ‘you’re old, take the money...’ But how could I say that to everyone? This mango tree is ours; it was us who planted it, who watched it grow. I could take 150 thousand and make everyone leave? It’s not worth it.” His response left no room for negotiation, he preferred the land, which stays forever, to the money, which is fleeting: “They wanted to let Agromoz in, they wanted to let ProSavana in...” To Agostinho, Agromoz and ProSavana are two sides of the same coin: both represent a threat.

Agromoz is a large-scale agriculture company that has a DUAT for 10 thousand hectares in Wakua, the village that borders with Nakarari and which draws the line between the provinces of Zambézia and Nampula. It came to be as a result of a partnership between the Américo Amorim Group (the majority shareholder) - which takes its name from the Portuguese businessman who died in July 2017 and was considered by Forbes magazine to be the richest man in Portugal, with an estimated fortune of 4.4 million dollars -, Focus 21 - managed by the family of Armando Guebuza, the former President of Mozambique -, and Intelec Group - one of the biggest Mozambican private investment companies. With no company website and no presence on social media, we started to doubt the existence of this company. A Google search for “Agromoz” comes back only with articles published in the press and reports from numerous civil society organisations.

Prosavana is an even more ambitious project. It was presented in 2011 by the Governments of Mozambique, Brazil and Japan, as an “agricultural development programme” and plans to occupy 14 million hectares across 19 districts of the Nacala Corridor region. Various civil society organisations believe that, if the project goes ahead, it will represent one of the greatest attacks ever against peasant farming in Mozambique. So far, they have managed to stop the project from going ahead, but negotiations never halted and its implementation is still a possibility.

Agostinho doesn’t need to be told what happens when a large-scale agriculture project arrives in an inland village. He has seen what happens with his own eyes: “The people displaced by Agromoz, who were on the Zambézia side, came over to Nampula. There were 120 refugees, women, children... They had nowhere to go, they were left without land, they had nothing. I told them where they could build their houses, told them to stay right here. What else was I going to do? But the land where they are isn’t as good as what they had, we couldn’t do any more, we just showed them where there was available land and they had to do everything else themselves.” “The refugees”. This is how the Nakarari villagers call those who asked for somewhere to rebuild their lives. “Refugees”, not because they were forced to leave their country through war, natural disasters, or political, religious or ethnic persecution, but because they arrived there vulnerable, asking for refuge, drowning on solid ground.

Since Agromoz arrived in Wakua in September 2012, it has mainly been producing soya and maize and has tried to introduce sunflower cultivation (used for animal feed). Of the 10 thousand hectares that were granted to Agromoz by the Government for land exploitation, they have cleared 2,500 hectares and expect to increase production by an average of 500 to 750 hectares per year. “Our idea is to expand the area and to continue to grow, always including the community in our activities. After four years of experience, we are focusing on becoming a more efficient, rational and optimised company,” said the company director, Justiniano Gomes.

When questioned about the situation of displaced people in Wakua, Justiniano Gomes assures that Agromoz followed Mozambican law: “When we arrived into the area of Wakua, we involved local leaders and the local authorities from the very start. The DUAT award process is a legal one, we had dozens of community meetings in which we explained what the Agromoz project was going to be like - the changes, the positive and negative aspects. Of the negative aspects, the worst is doubtlessly the displacement of people. There was a compensation package - amounts defined by the law - for each banana tree, each mango tree, each house, each hectare of land cultivated. An exhaustive survey was conducted of the number of people who work and live in the area we want to exploit. What I mean is that we still have people living on our land, we only displace those living in the area we want to cultivate.”

Julião Antre was one of the first to ask the Nakarari community for help: a piece of land to cultivate and another to build a house meant that it was possible to “get on with life”. He arrived with his wife, his seven children and the clothes they were wearing. “We showed them where there was free land where they could stay, but it’s not good soil. It’s really not!” stresses Agostinho. “In Wakua, I had 37 plants, a 2-and-a-half-hectare smallholding and four houses. The compensation money was 14 thousand meticais [about 190 euros], it wasn’t very much. I started to complain and they told me: ‘the company will take care of you, you will stay here until you die’. When I heard this, I calmed down.” Julião tells us that he worked at the company between 18 September 2012 and 24 March 2014 - with two 6-month contracts and one 1-year contract. “After this, I was kicked out for no reason, they just told me that there was no more work. Now I don’t want to go back, I prefer having my own smallholding, planting food to eat, to sell. Being free.”

From Agromoz, Justiniano Gomes assures that the company does not owe anyone anything and tells us that he will explain the whole compensation process “with pleasure”: “often, people are interviewed, they feel important in that moment, and afterwards they say that Agromoz owes them one thousand or a million dollars. In the case of any displacement process, the worker should come to speak with us. We then identify the matter in our files and provide evidence of what was agreed at the time. If someone says this, it’s one of two things: either they have bad intentions, or it may be that they have forgotten the process they went through together with all their other neighbours. At the time, all of them were happy to come and work for the company.”