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The Journal of Peasant Studies
ISSN: 0306-6150 (Print) 1743-9361 (Online) Journal homepage: https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/fjps20
Confronting agrarian authoritarianism: dynamics
of resistance to PROSAVANA in Mozambique
Boaventura Monjane & Natacha Bruna
To cite this article: Boaventura Monjane & Natacha Bruna (2019): Confronting agrarian
authoritarianism: dynamics of resistance to PROSAVANA in Mozambique, The Journal of Peasant
Studies, DOI: 10.1080/03066150.2019.1671357
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/03066150.2019.1671357
Published online: 22 Oct 2019.
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FORUM ON AUTHORITARIAN POPULISM AND THE RURAL WORLD
Confronting agrarian authoritarianism: dynamics of resistance
to PROSAVANA in Mozambique
and Natacha Bruna
Centre for Social Studies, University of Coimbra, Coimbra, Portugal;
International Institute of Social Studies,
Erasmus University Rotterdam, Rotterdam, Netherlands
This paper explores how varying degrees of authoritarianism and
populism, although not always coinciding, have been intrinsic to
the imposition of agrarian policies in Mozambique. Taking the
case of ProSAVANA, a highly controversial agrarian development
program, we look at how its undemocratic imposition by the state
has given rise to a vigorous resistance movement. By tracing a
decade of electoral results in selected districts where ProSAVANA
is intended to be implemented, we argue that due to its agrarian
authoritarian policies which have had negative implications on
rural livelihoods, the ruling party, FRELIMO, has recently been
losing popularity to the strongest opposition party RENAMO.
Authoritarianism and undemocratic forms of imposing policies and measures on rural and
peasant populations were a norm in colonial and post-colonial Mozambique. This contrib-
uted, consequently, to the recurring failures to grasp the nature of the agrarian question
in Mozambique in the context of changing regimes from central planning to market-based
development policies (Wuyts 2001). Soon after independence in 1975, Mozambique’s
dominant political party, Frente de Libertação de Moçambique –Mozambique Liberation
Front (FRELIMO), exhibited undemocratic, and to some extent populist, characteristics
with regards to implementing agrarian policies. In the current neoliberal period,
however, FRELIMO’s regime has come to clearly exercise varying and decreasing
degrees of populism combined with authoritarianism when it comes to choosing and
imposing agrarian policies. The Triangular Co-operation Programme for Agricultural
Development of the Tropical Savannah in Mozambique Project (hereafter referred to as
ProSAVANA), is one concrete example.
© 2019 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
CONTACT Natacha Bruna firstname.lastname@example.org International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University
Rotterdam, Rotterdam, Netherlands
Editorial Note: This paper is part of the ‘JPS Forum on Authoritarian Populism and the Rural World’, framed and introduced
by Ian Scoones and colleagues in their joint paper, ‘Emancipatory Rural Politics: Confronting Authoritarian Populism’,
published in JPS in January 2018. The contributions to this forum will be published separately and in clusters in 2018
and 2019. This forum is one of the initial outcomes of the activities of the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative (ERPI,
The agrarian question approached in this paper goes in line with the classic deﬁnition provided by Byres (1991, 9) where
the continuing existence of poverty –and its political consequences –in the country side alongside with substantive
obstacles to generate economic development both inside and outside agriculture.
THE JOURNAL OF PEASANT STUDIES
ProSAVANA was ﬁrst introduced in the beginning of the 2010s, as a developmental
project in line with the main agrarian policy of Mozambique, the Plano Estratégico
para o Desenvolvimento do Sector Agrário (PEDSA –Strategic Plan for the Develop-
ment of the Agrarian Sector), which aimed to transform the agricultural sector to
be more investment and business-friendly (RM 2011). To this end, the main objective
of ProSAVANA has been to increase agricultural productivity, targeting 11 million hec-
tares in north-central Mozambique, targeting areas in Niassa, Nampula and Zambézia
provinces, a region known as the Nacala Corridor. Importantly, ProSAVANA was
initiated and implemented by the Mozambican Ministry of Agriculture and Food
Security (MASA), the Brazilian Cooperation Agency (ABC) and the Japan International
Cooperation Agency (JICA).
Public disclosure of the Master Plan quickly sparked resistance. This was largely
due to the apparent lack of transparency and inclusivity in the planning process,
and the apprehension coming from knowledge of the negative impacts of PRODE-
CER, a large scale agricultural development project in Brazil, in the late 70’softhe
last century (we develop more on PRODECER later). The emergence of a transnational
campaign, called ‘Campanha não ao ProSAVANA –No to ProSAVANA Campaign’
(hereafter referred to as NPC), came to be central to the resistance process. NPC pre-
sented an organized and explicit contestation to not only the ProSAVANA project
itself, but the fundamental paradigm of rural development promoted by the
project. Parallel to the constitution of the campaign and the resistance movement,
FRELIMO was losing electoral support in the region where ProSAVANA is due to
be implemented, the Nacala Corridor. The NPC, while demanding the discontinuation
of ProSAVANA, also proposed alternatives to rural and agricultural development. This
eﬀort not only led to the current ‘hibernation’of the project but created space to
enable expanded participation of peasants and civil society throughout the
1.1. Key questions and structure of the paper
This paper analyses the process and dynamics of resistance to ProSAVANA as a way of
confronting authoritarian imposition of agrarian policies in Mozambique. The main
objective is to explore how the varying political regimes and their varying degrees
of populism and authoritarianism contribute to the triggering of resistance, particu-
larly looking at how and why the NPC was able to ‘succeed’in hibernating ProSA-
VANA. The paper gives an explanation on how a combination of ﬁve elements, in
the right timing regarding FRELIMO’s popularity and support, were strategically deter-
minant in putting the program on hold: (1) political reactions from below, (2) inter-
sectoral civil society alliance, (3) communication, outreach and media strategy, (4)
transnationalization of the struggle, and (5) the proposal of alternatives to dominant
narratives. Although these ﬁve tactics were strategically executed, opponents of Pro-
SAVANA were sharp in maximizing the existing generalized rural discontent. The
decrease in rural votes for FRELIMO across the Nacala Corridor was not an accident,
but a result of FRELIMO’s strategy and policies on rural development as the paper
2B. MONJANE AND N. BRUNA
The paper is organized into ﬁve main sections. Following Section 1, the Introduction,
Section 2 brieﬂy approaches the conceptualization of authoritarianism and populism,
and its relation to Mozambique. This section also explores the presence of authoritarian-
ism throughout the inception and early implementation of ProSAVANA. Section 3 exam-
ines ProSAVANA: what are its main goals, its components, deﬁciencies as well as
contradictions. Section 4 directly addresses how ProSAVANA was confronted, highlighting
the role of the National Peasant Union (UNAC) in the NPC. Lastly, Section 5 has concluding
1.2. Methods and methodology
This paper is based on data collected from a combination of methods during ﬁeldwork
conducted intermittently between 2014 and 2018 in the capital city of Maputo, and in
the provinces of Nampula and Zambézia. Unstructured (open) and semi-structured inter-
views were conducted throughout and directed to multiple stakeholders, such as pea-
sants, peasant union representatives, organizations aﬃliated with NPC, government
oﬃcials at district and province levels and ProSAVANA representatives at the provincial
Additionally, participant observation was conducted, including participating in public
hearings both at district and national levels, visiting ProSAVANA’s pilot-projects sites
and participating in meetings with the Mozambican civil society at the international,
national, provincial and district levels. Lastly, analysis of secondary sources on ProSAVANA
–both oﬃcially and un-oﬃcially (leaked) disclosed documents, public statements and gov-
ernment strategies –was held. Such activities were reinforced by extensive ﬁrst-hand
foundational knowledge by one author who had worked as a staﬀmember of UNAC
between 2009 and 2015.
The qualitative primary data was processed through transcription of the inter-
views and ﬁeld notes. The body of empirical data was then analyzed using process
tracing in order to trace the links between possible causes and observed outcomes
(Bennett and George 2005). Validation of preliminary conclusions was conducted in
September to November 2018, where the authors discussed their main ﬁndings
with NPC members.
Table 1. Percentage of total votes per district (elections of 2008 and 2018).
Votes per region FRELIMO RENAMO
Province District 2008 2013 2018 2008 2013 2018
Niassa Lichinga 75 66 51 23 n/a 45
Cuamba 77 70 39 16 n/a 53
Marrupa 95 91 71 4 n/a 18
Nampula Nampula City 69 44 32 28 n/a 59
Ribaue 87 72 46 11 n/a 42
Monapo 62 70 47 37 n/a 46
Zambézia Quelimane City 55 33 36 43 n/a 59
Alto Molocue 67 53 48 31 n/a 47
Mocuba 73 52 50 24 n/a 45
Notes: In 2013 Renamo boycotted the municipal elections; contestation of electoral processes and previous results were
among the diﬀerent reasons presented by the party leader Afonso Dhlakama.
Source: Comissão Nacional de Eleições (2018) and WLSA Moçambique (2014).
THE JOURNAL OF PEASANT STUDIES 3
2. Authoritarianism, populism and coercive rural policies in Mozambique
The discussion about authoritarian populism emerged from Poulantzas’discussions
on ‘authoritarian statism’,whichwasdeﬁned as the increase of state control regard-
ing every aspect of economic life, accompanied by a decrease in democracy (Hall
1980). Hall took the concept one step further, identifying ‘the set of operations
designed to bind or construct a popular consent into these new forms of statist
authoritarianism’(Hall 1980, 161), terming it ‘authoritarian populism’.Theconcept
emerged from a reﬂection on the construction of popular consent ‘by a historical
bloc seeking hegemony, as to harness to its support some popular discontents, neu-
tralize the opposing forces, disaggregate the opposition and really incorporate
some strategic elements of popular opinion into its own hegemonic project’(Hall
Scoones et al. (2017) reintroduced and further explored the concepts of ‘populism’
and the rising worldwide phenomenon of ‘authoritarian populism’within current con-
texts in the countryside. Nevertheless, in Southern Africa, populism is generally associ-
ated with liberation movements that secured political power as governments, using
populist stand as a means to legitimize their power by appealing to the continued
struggle against foreign domination and thereby marketing themselves as the only
true political alternative. When contested politically, they accuse opponents of being
remote-controlled agents of imperialism seeking regime change as instruments of
foreign agendas (Melber 2018).
Populism is largely a reaction to social dislocations tied to processes of neoliberal glo-
balization (Hadiz and Chryssogelos 2017). What seem to be a common ground among pol-
itical and state elites in the region is the push for neoliberal agendas in various sectors
applying populist strategy and at times authoritarianism. There has been an increase in
reactionary politics in some societal sectors in the region, to promote neoliberal neoclassic
values and visions. ProSAVANA, as we argue, ﬁts in this trend. If on the one hand ProSA-
VANA was imposed authoritatively, resistance to it took, in part, progressive populist
forms. Some would contest the term ‘populist’when referring to progressive approaches
and instead use ‘popular’(Shivji 2019).
Borras (2019, 3) furthers the discussion of Scoones et al. (2017)bydeﬁning populism
as ‘the deliberate political act of aggregating disparate and even competing and
contradictory class and group interests and demands into a relatively homogenized
voice, i.e. “us, the people”,againstan“adversarial them”for tactical or strategic political
Borras (2019) distinguishes populism into two types: a right-wing populism, the one
that has disdain for democratic institutions, and a more progressive type of populism,
namely agrarian populism. Although he uses the term ‘right-wing populism’as a proxy
for authoritarian populism, he still questions the more ﬁtting term to this concept
among the ones used. He conceptualizes agrarian populism as the political bundling of
anti-capitalist rurally-based or rural-oriented social groups advocating for a peasant way
of alternative development.
Most notably, Borras (2019) describes that the crucial point of analysis is not whether a
speciﬁc regime is populist or not, but the degree to which the regime is populist. In other
words, to what extent is a regime, regardless of its authoritarian nature, populist. It can
4B. MONJANE AND N. BRUNA
therefore be conjectured that a regime dynamically oscillates between varying degrees of
populism and a persistent high level of authoritarianism throughout time. Evidence of this
dynamic can be clearly observed through careful analysis of the historical trajectories char-
acterizing rural Mozambique.
O’Laughlin (1996, 5) summarized post-independence strategies of agrarian transition in
The ﬁrst phase, from 1975 to 1980, was deﬁned by broad-ranging political consensus around
the need for a rapid socialization of production and residence through the expansion of state-
farms, co-operatives, and communal villages. The second highly contradictory phase, from
1980 to 1983, was deﬁned by FRELIMO’s shift to a bureaucratic and hierarchical model of
rapid socialist accumulation based almost exclusively in state farms. Goods starvation in
rural areas, the stagnation of state farm production, and widening support for the RENAMO
opposition movement from South Africa (amongst others) led to a rapid expansion of both
the war and parallel markets in rural areas. FRELIMO’s strategy in the third phase, beginning
with the Fourth FRELIMO Party Congress in 1983, was initially deﬁned as market socialism, but
moved rapidly towards increased support for private commercial farming, and the distribution
of some state farm land to multinational enterprises, Mozambican commercial farmers and
some peasant households.
The ﬁrst phase referred to by O’Laughlin (1996) is parallel to FRELIMO’s rise as the prota-
gonist of the national liberation from colonial rule, as its name itself portrays (‘Frente de
Libertação Nacional’–National Liberation Front). They showed themselves as the
symbol of national resistance, as revolutionary and a savior of the people, winning back
the control of the country for the Mozambican people. FRELIMO was represented in the
national anthem as ‘the guide of Mozambican people’and portrayed, in the 1975 consti-
tution, as ‘the leading force of the State and Society’. Additionally, the presence of a char-
ismatic and visionary leader, namely Samora Moisés Machel who served as the ﬁrst
president after independence, who believed in socialist principles, leading the discourse
on social change and justice was essential in the attempt to build a positive image for
Authoritarianism and undemocratic forms of imposing policies and measures taken
on rural and peasant populations were a norm in colonial Mozambique. Soon after
independence in 1975, some of FRELIMO’s agrarian policies exhibited undemocratic
characteristics. For example, from a historical perspective, we can refer to the agrarian
policies implemented by the revolutionary government of the People’sRepublicof
Mozambique, FRELIMO, namely the aldeamentos comunais (villagization) or the com-
munal village policy, which took similar measures as aldeamentos coloniais,the
Established in 1968, the colonial villages were believed to have been created as a mech-
anism to monitor and control rural populations, mostly to avoid contact with FRELIMO, the
national revolutionary forces at the time (Coelho 1998). The colonial villages were
(…) based on a preventive philosophy, sought to bring people together in villages that would
enable social progress and, at the same time, avoid contact with subversion, so that they
would not be ‘contaminated’. (Garcia 2001, 130)
On the other hand, FRELIMO’s communal villages aimed to organize a dispersed peasantry
in the form of villages. This, however, was also understood as a measure taken to control
the peasantry, preventing the population from gaining access to and receiving inﬂuence
THE JOURNAL OF PEASANT STUDIES 5
from the Resistência Nacional de Moçambique (RENAMO), the anti-FRELIMO government
guerrilla group. Assuring FRELIMO to maintain hegemony over the peasantry.
There is a consensus among scholars on the idea that implementation of the communal
village policy was directly inspired by the colonial villages (Coelho 1998; Garcia 2001; Lour-
enço 2010; Monjane 2016a). The majority of communal villages were simply conversions of
the old colonial village settlements. Vitor Lourenço (2010) demonstrates how the colonial
Portuguese settlements along the main road connecting Mandlacaze and Panda districts
in southeastern Mozambique, were simply renamed, with few organizational modiﬁ-
cations, when converted into communal villages (2010, 178). FRELIMO was equally criti-
cized as being ‘interventionist, authoritarian, and coercive for engaging in projects that
belittled customary African practices, forcibly relocating people, or threatening the liveli-
hoods of the peasantry’(Pitcher 2012, 19).
FRELIMO and Samora’s discourse was explicitly critical of colonialism, and later on, of
the emerging opposition movement (RENAMO). These political discourses consistently
included divisive narratives of ‘us’against ‘them’, in which the ‘other’changed faces
from colonialism to the scourge of colonialism, in the form of ‘armed bandits’, the
RENAMO. Scoones et al. (2017) point out that authoritarian populism is based in depict-
ing politics as a struggle between the people and ‘others’. In this case, it would be
FRELIMO against colonialism, or FRELIMO against RENAMO. This was the foundation
for the construction of FRELIMO’s authoritarism and populism. In this context, Mosca
(2005, 137) stated that ‘Overall, FRELIMO structured society and power based in an
authoritarian one-party system, with an ideology that combined populist and orthodox
Going back to O’Laughlin (1996), the third phase was characterized by a process of
massive privatization, in the name of economic rehabilitation, supported by the
Bretton Woods Institutions. This was represented by the emergence of a market
economy in Mozambique, in what was now called a ‘democratic’society. The societal
acceptance of FRELIMO as the nation’s rescuer, sustained through the stigmatization
of those who are against it, helped to maintain FRELIMO’s populism both in rural and
urban areas. Although it has been the ruling party since independence, RENAMO has
been systematically contesting and questioning election outcomes, occasionally suc-
ceeding in proving irregularities in the processes. Nevertheless, the enduring legitimiza-
tion of FRELIMO’s dominance was a clear feature of authoritarian populism (Hall 1985;
Scoones et al. 2017).
We expand our analysis and include the current processes of forced displacement of
rural populations (specially the peasantry) from their areas of residence and cultivation
to resettlement zones (reassentamentos) as a continued state policy of coercive, and there-
fore authoritarian and undemocratic, regrouping of rural populations in Mozambique
Throughout history, FRELIMO showed patterns of an authoritarian populist party with
relatively high support in the countryside of some provinces due to its role as the revolu-
tionary force and savior of the people. Nevertheless, in the current neoliberal period, we
understand FRELIMO’s regime as exercising a combination of dynamically changing
expressions of populism and persistent presence of authoritarianism when it comes to
selecting and imposing agrarian policies.
6B. MONJANE AND N. BRUNA
3. Authoritarism in pushing market-oriented agricultural development:
the imposition of ProSAVANA
Nowadays, FRELIMO does not always have the supportive base to exercise its populist
character. In reality, Frelimo’s popularity has been falling throughout the years. Two
main reasons might partially explain the decadence of this very important strategy of
the dominant political party in the last decades: (1) colonialism per se is no longer an
issue and RENAMO no longer represents a ‘threat’to the well-being of the people,
which results in the inexistence of a powerful external/internal enemy in the discourses
as there is no longer a clear ‘other’to blame for
; (2) the emergence of a intense feeling
of frustration and discontent after decades of authoritarian agrarian policies, adopted
and implemented by the government, resulted in land conﬂicts between capital and
the peasantry, localized intensiﬁcation of poverty and political and military instability; con-
sequently, diﬀerent segments of the rural and urban population no longer feel rep-
resented nor identify themselves with FRELIMO’s claims and discourses.
So, Table 1 shows the patterns of electoral votes and the reﬂection of a loss of popu-
larity by the dominant political party in selected regions. To understand the fall of FRELI-
MO’s popularity, we chose to analyze the results from the most recent elections (municipal
elections of 2018) which shows the most recent picture of the manifestation of ‘revolt’at
the ballot box. The 2008 and 2013 elections happened in a period of time in which the
penetration of capital in rural areas started to have major implications –especially
related to land grabbing to accommodate resource extraction such as Vale de Moçambi-
que and the whole complex of multinationals investing in coal extraction in Tete province
since 2009. So, the ratio Investment/GDP shows an increasing tendency from 2008 to 2018,
with a maximum registered in 2014 when total investment represented 55% of the GDP
(Instituto Nacional de Estatística 2018). At the national level, the agriculture sector as
well as in the ‘mineral resources and energy’sector hosted the highest amounts of
approved investment in cumulative terms, from 2001 to 2017 (CPI 2017). At the provincial
level, investment trends show that Nampula is the second province in the country with the
highest amount of approved investment inﬂow from 2001 to 2017, with cumulative invest-
ment of more than 9 billion USD (CPI 2017).
In the table below, we only put forward provinces that were targeted by ProSAVANA.
Within each province, we selected three main districts, including the capital of the pro-
vince, and two essentially rural districts. Additionally, we considered the size of the popu-
lation (chose most populated areas) and areas in which ProSAVANA’s activity/investment/
resistance have taken place; but, of course, limited by the availability of data regarding the
selected period of election.
As mentioned previously, land conﬂicts that arose as a result of capital penetration in
the countryside were a major issue of contestation within the rural population. The impo-
sition of land-based agricultural investments in speciﬁc regions of the country resulted in
the expropriation of people’s land, especially throughout these three provinces. A number
of companies expropriated hundreds of thousands of hectares from local peasants and
Detailed analysis of ProSAVANA’s discourses, objectives and Master Plan Zero can be explored in the following papers:
Funada-Classen (2013a,2013b), Clements and Fernandes (2013) and Mosca and Bruna (2015).
However, Frelimo Government has been targeting confrontational civil society organizations, throwing unfounded accu-
sation that they serve obscure interests and are external agents.
THE JOURNAL OF PEASANT STUDIES 7
consequently, a lot of people were displaced. In Zambézia province, Gurué district, by
2017, Portucel Mozambique had occupied the land of more than 2,000 households; in
the same district, Hoyo Hoyo expropriated the land of about 800 families (Mandamule
and Bruna 2017); in Wakua (in the border area between Nampula and Zambézia) Agribusi-
ness de Moçambique SA, Agromoz, forced the displacement of approximately 1,000
families (Mandamule and Bruna 2017); in Malema district (Nampula province) Mozambi-
que Agricultural Corporation, Mozaco, also forced the displacement of about 1,000 families
(UNAC and GRAIN 2015).
In the same period, debates around the implementation of ProSAVANA emerged. The
imposition of ProSAVANA as the most important policy for the Nacala Corridor initiated in
the 2010s. As previously mentioned, ProSAVANA was drafted, initiated and implemented
in a top-down manner. Guidelines, strategies and speciﬁc activities were mostly deﬁned by
the Ministry of Agriculture (led by José Pacheco, the Minister at the time), along with its
Brazilian and Japanese partners, the Brazilian Cooperation Agency (ABC) and the Japan
International Cooperation Agency (JICA). Preparatory activities were already taking place
even before the Master Plan was published, without the information provided or consul-
tation with the population of people who are to be directly and indirectly aﬀected.
The ProSAVANA programme, from the beginning, was neither conceived together with the
local inhabitants nor was there interest in meeting local needs. Instead, this project was con-
ceived as a way for Japan and Brazil to: work together for achieving UN reform, participate in
the new global political/economic structures such as BRICS and G20, and jointly promote com-
modity production/extraction. (Funada-Classen 2013b,3)
Despite the Mozambican legislation (speciﬁcally the Land Law 19/1997, Decree 31/2012 of
resettlements and Law of access to information 34/2014) clearly stating the need for public
consultation and consent throughout the process of planning and implementation of any
projects requiring the use of land,
It was only after public protests and political pressure
calling for a more inclusive and transparent process from Mozambican, Brazilian and Japa-
nese civil society that JICA and the Mozambican Government decided to engage in public
hearings and consultations throughout the whole target region.
A joint statement published by Civil Society Organizations (Comboni Missionaries
2015), which participated in such public hearings, described the authoritarian character
of ProSAVANA’s implementation process very clearly. Issues brought up included the
belated announcements of the date, time and location for the public hearings, citing an
incident when only a couple of weeks’notice was given. This compromised people’s
access to information, which directly lead to limiting the presence of stakeholders at
the hearings. Another issue was how the public hearing process did not cover all of the
targeted regions in ProSAVANA. Where public hearings were held, the time was mostly
spent on announcements, rather than on open discussion. The hearings predominantly
focused on optimistic representations of ProSAVANA, without any mention of social, econ-
omic or environmental risks. Questions raised by the public were not fully answered. And
For speciﬁc cases of acquiring land, community consultations are the ﬁrst step to be taken. These community consultations
or hearings are a legislated form of public participation that ought to be conducted before the implementation of a
project or investment as a way to get the ‘community’sensibility regarding the plan of investment and consent regarding
the use of land (No 3, Article 13 of Land Law 19/1997). In case of reaching community consent to transfer the land to the
investor/project, four public consultations are needed to plan and implement the resettlement process of the people who
agreed to transfer their land (Article 23 of Decree 31/2012 of Resettlements).
8B. MONJANE AND N. BRUNA
lastly, the presence of an armed policeman in the room suggested the potential to sup-
press any divergent opinions or positions.
These ﬁndings are corroborated by Mosca and Bruna (2015) who report on a public
hearing for ProSAVANA that took place on the 12th June in 2015 in Maputo. This gathering
was moderated by the then Minister of Agriculture himself, who clearly stated how ‘all of
the interventions during the debate must be “patriotic”. Do not come here with obscuran-
tist agendas’. He further goes on to state his ﬁrm commitment for the mission, by stating ‘If
there is any obstacle, we will run over it and move on with our mission’(Moçambique para
todos 2015; Monjane 2015; Mosca and Bruna 2015,25–26). Mosca and Bruna further high-
lighted the under-representation of peasants in the meetings and the dominant presence
of public workers such as teachers, nurses and the police. Moreover, they report on the
accounts of people who were threatened after protesting or showing opposition to the
ideas presented in the public hearing (Mosca and Bruna 2015).
As we argue in this paper, ProSAVANA was introduced with a great degree of author-
itarianism and sometimes with elements of populism. We demonstrate further that the
strategy of its opposition had visible characteristics of agrarian populism.
3.1. What is ProSAVANA?
ProSAVANA’s stated aims are to boost agricultural and rural development, targeting an
area covering approximately 13% of the country and 17% of the total population. The
area is referred to as the Nacala Development Corridor,
which lies in a uniquely fertile
region, also famous for its endowment of mineral resources. The region also includes
the deepest sea port in East Africa, strategically located to allow easy access to Asian
markets. This government-led program follows most of the guidelines recorded in Mozam-
bique’s Strategic Plan for the Development of the Agrarian Sector (PEDSA). The ﬁrst drafts
of ProSAVANA’s Master Plan were written by consultants and experts from JICA, Brazilian
Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa), FGV and the Mozambican Institute of Agri-
cultural Research (IIAM).
Shankland and Gonçalves (2016), Funada-Classen (2013a), among others assume that
ProSAVANA was initially inspired by PRODECER, a Japanese-Brazilian Cooperation
Program for the Development of the Cerrado of Brazil. The program began with a joint
statement to establish a relationship between the two countries on agricultural develop-
ment, signed by then Japanese Prime Minister, Kakuei Tanaka, and then President of Brazil,
Ernesto Geisel, in September 1974 (Inocêncio 2010). Oﬃcial project documents regarding
ProSAVANA commonly emphasize the biophysical and geographic similarities between
the Cerrado and Nacala Corridor as well as their position as centers of economic and pol-
itical power. Wolford and Nehring (2015), however, emphasize the diﬀerences between
the two nations, highlighting key diﬀerences in the commodiﬁcation processes of land
and labor with relation to capital.
The Mozambican civil society only heard of ProSAVANA after Brazilian media reported
on Mozambique giving away extensive farm land for Brazilian soy production (Mello 2011),
Connecting Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique up to Nacala Port, located on the coast of the Indian Ocean (approximately
700 km), the Nacala Corridor is one of the six logistic corridors assigned for the implementation of PEDSA and the target
for the implementation of ProSAVANA (MASA 2015).
THE JOURNAL OF PEASANT STUDIES 9
drawing reference to ‘Brazil’s successful experience’. Detailed information about the
project was only revealed to the public after a draft copy of the ProSAVANA Master
Plan was leaked in 2013. In a joint statement, a group of Mozambican and foreign civil
society groups denounced the project, stating that it ‘conﬁrms that the governments of
Japan, Brazil and Mozambique are secretly paving the way for a massive land grab in
Northern Mozambique’(Justiça Ambiental et al 2013, 1).
An oﬃcial unclassiﬁed powerpoint presentation from the Joint Coordination Commit-
tee (JCC) of ProSAVANA was also revealed to Mozambican civil society. Some points high-
lighted included ‘Land Reserve for Investment’and ‘Development of Agribusiness’(JCC
2012). Moreover, potential infrastructure development of the Nacala Development Corri-
dor included the renewal of the Nacala Port –the countrýs deepest port –and the Nacala
Railway. The leaked documents conﬁrmed that the main goal of ProSAVANA was to prior-
itize agribusinesses, promote monocrop production and exports of cash crops (such as
soy). Furthermore, all of the activities targeting small to medium scale farmers were
related to ﬁnancialization schemes, which JCC (2012) called ‘ﬁnancial support systems’,
directly associated with their ability to hold land titles.
3.2. Components of ProSAVANA
The oﬃcial document of ProSAVANA, namely ‘Master Plan Zero’was published by MASA
(Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security) in March 2015. Included are three components:
(1) ProSAVANA –PD (Plano Director or Master Plan) that introduces the main guidelines
through which the overall agricultural sector would be improved and modernized, (2) Pro-
SAVANA PI (Projecto de Investigação –Research Project) which refers to the intensiﬁcation
of research and technology transfer, and (3) the ProSAVANA PEM (Models of Extension
Project) that aims to improve extension activities (MASA 2015).
Under ProSAVANA ‘fast impact’pilot projects, some medium to small-scale private com-
panies and peasant associations received credit inﬂows to develop activities that
answered to ProSAVANA’s Master Plan guidelines. One of the investing companies, in
an attempt to implement the ﬁnanced project in the Ribaué District, encountered
several families that were already established in the area. The area included houses and
plots that had been there for more than 10 years; consequently, a land conﬂict
emerged. Even though Article 12 of the Land Law conﬁrms that the land in question
belonged to the rural households (since they have been living on those plots for more
than 10 years), they were displaced. This process resulted in the expropriation of land,
and a loss of houses and cultivated plots.
According to the Director of the Institute of Agrarian Research in Nampula Province,
the main activities carried out under ProSAVANA PI included research related to cultivation
systems and transfer of technology, testing and introduction of varieties, institutional
training, and soil improvement. However, the main target was to introduce and spread
the production of soy, in order to feed Mozambique’s chicken value chain. In other
words, a lot of eﬀort was put into the production of a crop that was not going to directly
beneﬁt the local economy nor the diet. Even if it were available, households were not fam-
iliar with the crop, nor did they have the knowledge or the means to process it into food.
Interview, Director of the Institute of Agrarian Research in Nampula Province, April 2015.
10 B. MONJANE AND N. BRUNA
In relation to ProSAVANA PEM, during ﬁeldwork activities, the authors identiﬁed and
visited two peasant associations (Maria da Luz Guebuza and Namuáli) that received
ﬁnancial support in order to receive a motor pump. While it was intended to be shared,
since the machine was too heavy to carry from one location to the other, only one associ-
ation, the bigger one, got the opportunity to use and beneﬁt from the pump. What
resulted was the poorest association ending up with nothing but a debt.
3.3. ProSAVANA deﬁciencies, contradictions and the Nacala fund
ProSAVANA’s Master Plan is far from comprehensive, beginning with the incomplete
explanation of their ﬁnancial resources. The initial discussions regarding the cooperation
between Brazil, Japan and Mozambique in the Nacala Corridor required the creation of the
Nacala Fund. According to Fundação Getulio Vargas (FVG),
the institution which was sup-
posed to manage this fund (speciﬁcally in the FVG Projects branch), this was an initiative
from FGV, ABC, JICA, Embrapa, FAO, Chamber of Commerce and Industry Brazil-Mozambi-
que, Mozambican Ministry of Agriculture, and 4I. GREEN.
According to FGV, the main objective of the fund was to ﬁnance projects that stimulate
agricultural development in the Nacala Corridor (FGV 2012), including ProSAVANA.
However, throughout the implementation of ProSAVANA pilot-projects and even after
the program’s hibernation period, it was never made clear how FVG was managing and
applying for funds, much less what FGV was planning to do with it in the future. Neverthe-
less, the Master Plan presents a very brief summary of a preliminary ProSAVANA budget of
9.371.000.000,00 Meticais (or USD133.871.430,00 using an average current exchange rate
of 70Mts/USD) (MASA 2015).
The Nacala Fund issue suddenly vanished from oﬃcial discourses and documents on
ProSAVANA after being criticized by civil society for being the main ﬁnancing vehicle
for the big agribusiness projects in the Nacala Corridor. It was revealed that the fund
would be registered in the ﬁscal paradise of Luxembourg (Justiça Ambiental, et al. 2013,
2–3). A ProSAVANA representative in Nampula said however that the idea of the Nacala
Fund was introduced by a third party, external to the main ProSAVANA initiatives.
After resistance, there were signiﬁcant changes in a later version of the Master Plan Zero
of 2015. This version attempted to be more inclusive, for example, through the use of
‘agroecological’language, mentioning local markets and small to medium scale models
of agriculture. Regardless, the response from civil society emphasized how, fundamentally,
the text maintained its vision to promote businesses, maintaining the same outlook. This
can clearly be inferred from the fact that the revised Master Plan Zero of 2015 did not
mention a mechanism for securing land use and access for peasants in the proposed areas.
Mosca and Bruna (2015) further identify gaps in ProSAVANA’s Master Plan Zero of 2015:
they include (1) not providing resettlement processes or mechanisms to assure that it can
be conducted in a fair and sustainable manner while maintaining or improving the quality
of lives in communities; (2) not being clear about its environmental, social and economic
impacts; (3) being overly optimistic about the capacity of the Government to eﬀectively
FVG is a private higher education institute which, according to their mission, aims to develop and disseminate knowledge
in the ﬁeld of public and private businesses.
Interview with Américo Uacequete, Nampula, February 2017.
THE JOURNAL OF PEASANT STUDIES 11
support a program of this dimension; (4) predicting a fall in the overall contribution of the
agricultural sector to the regional GDP (from 42% in 2011 to 24% in 2035), while forecast-
ing an increase in the mineral sector; (5) not reﬂecting the needs, priorities and aspirations
of the peasants; and (6) ignoring possible conﬂicts between the traditional models and
systems of agricultural production and the model presented by ProSAVANA.
In sum, it is clear that the initial eﬀort to implement ProSAVANA has been one that dis-
tinctly supports the expropriation of land, the intensiﬁcation of debt among peasants, and
the promotion of crops that do not meet the people’s needs. In other words, ProSAVANA’s
model does not respect customary rights. It marginalizes the needs and aspirations of the
peasant and rural populations. As a result, the project fosters higher levels of vulnerability
in communities, furthering conﬂicts and a deepening levels of poverty and food insecurity.
This stems from a complete deviation from constitutional rights, land legislation and the
constitutional principle of legal pluralism, which states that customary laws should be
Beginning with the lack of transparency and limited participation throughout the entire
planning process, combined with the model of development and the guidelines proposed
in the Master Plan, ProSAVANA was a wake-up call for the Mozambican National Peasant
Union. It resulted in civil society groups of Mozambique, Brazil and Japan joining eﬀorts to
initiate and articulate a resistance, based on apprehension for serious social, economic and
environmental impacts, mainly surrounding land expropriation of peasants. Such concerns
resulted in the formation of the Campanha Não ao ProSavana ‘No to ProSAVANA Cam-
4. Confronting agrarian authoritarianism
4.1. The rise of the ‘no to ProSAVANA campaign’: an agrarian ‘populist’
Before the launching of the NPC, there were a number of noteworthy actions taken by civil
society organizations, led by the National Peasant’s Union (União Nacional de Camponeses)
or UNAC. Perhaps, the most signiﬁcant was an open letter addressed to the governments
of Brazil, Japan and Mozambique, sent in in May 2013. The letter protested the lack of an
inclusive and transparent public discussion concerning ProSAVANA’s environmental, social
and economic impacts (UNAC et al 2013). The letter was signed by 23 Mozambican organ-
izations and supported by 43 international organizations. The prolonged silence of the
three governments following the letter was what triggered the formation of the NPC a
The NPC was launched in June 2014, initially with nine-member organizations: UNAC;
the Rural Association for Mutual Aid (ORAM); the Mozambican Human Right League;
Fórum Mulher and World March of Women; Justiça Ambiental (Environmental Justice); Liva-
ningo; Academic Action for the Development of Rural Communities (Acção Académica para
o Desenvolvimento das Comunidades Rurais, ADECRU); Archdiocesan Commission for
Justice and Peace of Nampula (Comissão Arquidiocesana de Justiça e Paz de Nampula);
and lastly, gained strong support from the Mozambique Bar Association (Ordem dos Advo-
gados de Moçambique). NPC’s main objective was clear: To disable and terminate all
ongoing activities and projects related to the ProSAVANA program (ADECRU 2014).
12 B. MONJANE AND N. BRUNA
In a statement read during the launching of the NPC, the proponents stated the nefar-
ious and devastating impact that this program would potentially bring to thousands of
peasant families residing in the Nacala Corridor. It was added that ProSavana does not rep-
resent a solution for Mozambican agriculture, but is simply a solution to meet Japan and
Brazilian soy needs (ADECRU 2014). In an interview with the authors, the Director of UNAC
Firstly, we heard about it (ProSAVANA) through the newspaper Folha de São Paulo that
talked about the Minister’s intervention regarding the perspective of the development of
a program in Nacala Corridor, which had already been developed in Brazil …This raised
some questions among us. For us, the Nacala Corridor is the corridor for food production
and supply for the entire area …and we realize that with the implementation of ProSA-
VANA, we are going to have serious issues. So, we asked that a group (UNAC and ORAM)
go to Brazil to investigate this type of development model. The information received was
that it is not worth it.
The uniqueness of the NPC was the assemblage of groups working on diverse issues:
agrarianism, gender and feminism, human rights and legalism, environmentalism, faith
and academic, unifying in order to defend a particular agrarian cause.
The NPC kept on incorporating more members from diversiﬁed sectors within Mozam-
bique, but then started to extend their alliance to the Brazil Agrarian Movements and
NGOs, as well as Japanese activists and academics. The campaign soon became a transna-
As JICA was intensifying its support for ProSAVANA, in 2017, members of the NPC sent
an open letter to its President, demanding an immediate suspension of JICAS’s actions in
ProSAVANA. In addition, they called for a revision of JICA’s approaches, an acknowledge-
ment of their mistakes, and compensation to repair the damages already caused to victims
of the program in Mozambican society (Monjane 2017).
4.2. Actions, strategies and fragmentation
The NPC’s strategy has consisted of an overt and organized contestation of speciﬁc pro-
jects mandating a model of rural development. The actions were speciﬁcally targeted at
the Mozambican government (Ministry of Agriculture, later Ministry of Agriculture and
Food Security), alongside advocacy targeting the Japanese and Brazilian governments.
Public strategic meetings, such as the ‘Triangular Peoples Conferences’, the most recent
in November 2018 in Japan, were held.
Some of the actions included occupying public
spaces (such as holding protests) and issuing statements and open letters to be used as
materials for recurrent tactics. UNAC members in Nampula and Zambézia provinces stra-
tegically mobilized citizens to oppose ProSAVANA through regular ﬁeld visits and meet-
ings with the peasantry living in these provinces.
As the proponents of ProSAVANA continued to face resistance, tactics were used to
fragment and isolate opposition. This was done through a voting system which consisted
Interview, Luís Muchanga, Director of UNAC, member of NPS campaign, 30 August 2018.
So far, four Triangular Peoples Conferences were held, the ﬁrst three in Maputo, Mozambique. These conferences bring
together peasants (UNAC members) from Nampula, Zambézia, Niassa and Cabo Delgado provinces, activists from NPC
member organisations, members of government (i.e, the Ministry of Agriculture himself), academics and members of
THE JOURNAL OF PEASANT STUDIES 13
of asking which organizations were open to working on revising ProSAVANA PD (Chichava
This eventually resulted in the fragmentation of Mozambican civil society into two fac-
tions: the pro- and anti-ProSAVANA. Those who support the vision of the Master Plan orga-
nized themselves into the Mecanismo de Coordenação da Sociedade Civil para o
Desenvolvimento do Corredor de Nacala (Civil Society Coordination Mechanism for the
Development of the Nacala Corridor), or MCSC-CN. The MCSC-CN has since been
oﬃcially recognized by MASA as its legitimate interlocutor in issues regarding ProSAVANA.
This was justiﬁed by the fact that most of the MCSC-CN members are based, or are working
in, Nampula and Zambézia provinces. MCSC-CN has not integrated local UNAC (at the dis-
trict and provincial levels) unions.
The other faction are those in the NPC, who have raised critical questions concerning
the contradictions inherent in the Master Plan and the model of agricultural development
it is predicated on. Their modes of outreach have been through the release of statements
in Mozambique media, and holding regular strategy meetings. Apart from activists from
the regular participating members, there was the participation of the President and
Vice-President of UNAC and a former vice-president of Zambézia Peasant Union.
In the next section, we go over UNAC’s foundational roots and principles, paying par-
ticular attention to the dynamics of its instrumental participation in the opposition and
resistance to ProSAVANA.
4.3. The role of the national peasant union (UNAC)
4.3.1. Roots and constituency
When Mozambique was moving into a market economy through the adoption of IMF and
the World Bank programs, peasants in various parts of Mozambique feared a possible dis-
appearance of already established farmers cooperatives. This initiated the national move-
ment to defend the interest of the peasantry.
UNAC wanted to represent the voice of
peasants, speaking out in defense of their social, economic and political interests, uphold-
ing a vision to attain sustainable development, promoting both qualitative and quantitat-
ive approaches to self-organization (Article 4, UNAC Constitution).
At the beginning of their establishment in 1987, one of UNAC’s top priorities was the
political organization and establishment of leaders within the member associations. This
was based on the conviction that, in order for a national peasant movement to be politi-
cally strong, it should be politically trained.
The relevance of UNAC is recognized starting with its considerable number of members
(more than 100,000, according to the accounts announced in its last Electoral Assembly, in
2016), placing it as the largest organized social movement in Mozambique. UNAC is recog-
nized as the organization that oﬃcially speaks on behalf of the peasantry in Mozambique.
This is regardless of whether those represented by it are actually aﬃliated to UNAC as
Hence, the Mozambican Ministry of Agriculture necessarily considers UNAC
as their strategic partner (MASA, website 2018).
Interview, Ismael Oussemane, honorary president and co-founder of UNAC. March, 2017.
Interview, Ismael Oussemane, honorary president and co-founder of UNAC. March, 2017.
This statement was conﬁrmed on several occasions by government oﬃcials themselves, when speaking in meetings with
14 B. MONJANE AND N. BRUNA
Historically, the ﬁrst popular organizations in Mozambique, i.e. of women, youth,
workers and teachers, were initiated by FRELIMO. It is, therefore, signiﬁcant that UNAC
was one of the few organizations that formed outside the strict boundaries of FRELIMO
(Negrão 2002; Monjane 2016). As a national movement, UNAC membership was strongly
inﬂuenced by the political undercurrents of rural Mozambique. When UNAC was ﬁrst
established, RENAMO supporters dominated rural areas in central and northern regions
of Mozambique. On the other hand, those in the southern regions strongly supported
FRELIMO. The north’s aversion to FRELIMO’s policies may have been a key factor prevent-
ing FRELIMO from controlling the peasant movement.
UNAC could be seen as the microcosm of the peasantry in Mozambique: diverse,
complex and clearly divided politically. Historically the peasantry was at the center of dis-
putes in Mozambique: between the colonial regime and the liberation movement (liber-
ation war); between the state forces and the RENAMO guerrilla (civil war); and today
between FRELIMO and RENAMO parties (electoral battles). As Table 1 shows, it is mostly
in the countryside where we observe signiﬁcant ﬂuidity in electoral support between
FRELIMO and RENAMO. Diﬀerences in political views within UNAC are therefore so
evident that it was decided that debates of a political-partisan nature within the move-
ment have to be avoided in order to avoid fragmentation (interview, Ismael Oussemane,
4.3.2. UNAC and ProSAVANA
At the beginning, UNAC attempted to be intimate with the then Ministry of Agriculture
and ProSAVANA oﬃcials. This tactic, however, did not succeed in inﬂuencing the Govern-
ment’s decisions. Luís Muchanga, the current Director of UNAC, described the initial
There was some authoritarianism then, and it was felt in several ways; even in conferences, we
(UNAC and the Government) had some clashes, and there were threats, even to the previous
President of UNAC …maybe because there is the assumption that civil society is against the
Government, and if the person disagrees with me, even if it is a good idea, there is a blockage,
just because it is divergent.
The ﬁrst UNAC oﬃcial statement on ProSAVANA was issued in October 2012, after a
meeting held in Nampula, which aimed at discussing and analyzing ProSAVANA. It was
strongly critical of the program, stating ‘we strongly condemn any initiative that calls
for the resettlement of communities and expropriation of peasants’land, in order to
give way to mega agricultural projects for monocultural production’(UNAC 2012). The
statement emphasized that the Provincial UNAC Unions of Nampula, Zambézia, Niassa
and Cabo Delgado were skeptical about ProSAVANA. Their statement posed that opposing
ProSAVANA was a decision of ‘all members of the National Union of Peasants’(UNAC
It was only later, however, that the movement truly started to engage with its member-
ship base on ProSAVANA, starting mainly with the leaders of district and provincial unions.
This implies that the oﬃcial UNAC position on ProSAVANA was not necessarily reﬂective of
all of its members’deep understanding of the issue. This was evidenced by the lack of
Interview, Luís Muchanga, Director President of UNAC, member of NPC, 30 August 2018.
THE JOURNAL OF PEASANT STUDIES 15
consistency in opinions given regarding ProSAVANA among UNAC members. While the
leadership of UNAC provincial unions in Nampula and Zambézia were consistent in
their oppositions against ProSAVANA, at the individual level, there were some emerging
opinions in favor of it.
Literature on social movements and peasant agency suggests that there is often a dis-
tance between movements and their base (Edelman 2017). This can, to some extent, be
the case of UNAC, regarding ProSAVANA. It is worth noting, however, that people strongly
questioning ProSAVANA at public hearings and consultations were not limited to peasants
who are aligned with UNAC and NPC. This shows that opposition to ProSAVANA has been
actually wider and beyond the scope of the known actors.
Nonetheless, the participation of UNAC and its leadership role in the opposition to Pro-
SAVANA was essential in giving legitimacy to NPC, even after the fragmentation of civil
society into two opposing groups. After a recently held meeting in March 2019, which
was convened by the current minister of MASA to reach consensus among civil society
and de-hibernate ProSAVANA, both NPC and UNAC (in a separate statement) released
statements reiterating their opposing position.
4.4. Key strategies of NPC that resulted in the stagnation of ProSAVANA
The stagnation of ProSAVANA can be explained from a combination of tactics intrinsic to
the NPC. We developed these into ﬁve elements: (1) active agency from below, (2) inter-
sector civil society alliance, (3) communication, publicity and media strategy, (4) transna-
tionalization of the struggle and (5) proposal of alternatives confronting dominant narra-
tives. These elements are considered against a backdrop of external factors which include
the political and economic environment within Mozambique and in the external investor
countries. We do not claim this set of strategies, some of them mere activities, to be a
formula to guarantee ‘success’in resisting agrarian authoritarianism. The goal is to show
in detail what ProSAVANA opponents have done, in terms of actions and activities, to
hibernate it, which is relevant enough to the understanding of the outcome of the resist-
ance process, particularly in the case of Mozambique.
4.4.1. Active agency from below
The debate about the various political reactions from below towards land grabbing,
initiated by Borras and Franco (2013), directly relates to the resistance processes regarding
the ProSAVANA case. This was the unique factor that quickly brought strength and legiti-
macy to the opposition of ProSAVANA; and it framed the determination of UNAC to lead
the process of resistance. Peasant protests, however, were not limited to UNAC members.
This was exempliﬁed during the Mutuale public hearing which took place in Malema Dis-
trict, Nampula Province. A peasant protested against the implementation of ProSAVANA
We, in Mutuale, do not want ProSAVANA because this program does not represent the inter-
ests of the peasants. We know that with this program, we will lose our land. We know that the
peasants will be forced to go ask for land in other places as it is happening now with the
people who were expelled from their land when the AGROMOZ company entered, in the
Gurué District, Administrative Post of Lioma. Today, those people left there are coming to
16 B. MONJANE AND N. BRUNA
ask for places to live here in Mutuale. We do not want to go asking for land in other commu-
nities because this will later bring conﬂict between us
With no satisfactory response from the proponents of ProSAVANA, peasants decided to
walkout of the meeting. This was because peasants from this particular area were pre-
viously exposed and had access to information translated into their local language in
the form of videos and leaﬂets, which helped them to clearly understand the risks,
which shaped their opinions about ProSAVANA.
When asked why he is saying no to ProSAVANA, a peasant member of UNAC, from
Muecate district in Nampula province, responded with the following:
…from the information that we had access to, regarding Prodecer in Brazil and its impacts,
they tried to take away Brazilian peasant’s land, and now those projects are being transferred
to Mozambique …Being a less developed country compared to Brazil, we think that we
cannot accept that project, one day it will harm us. They occupy extensive areas, so we
don’t have enough space to do our machambas [family farm land], this was one reason to
say no to ProSAVANA. We have the capacity to work, but they cannot come and harm us in
our life, that lead us to say no to ProSAVANA and we will continue to say so.
Such statements are reﬂective of UNAC having taken the lead and released a statement of
concern at an early stage, allowed political reactions from below to take emerge. Very
quickly, local associations, district and provincial unions of UNAC were mobilized. This
crippled the eﬀorts for the proponents of ProSAVANA, including local government, to con-
vince the peasantry of its ‘beneﬁts’. This strong position of UNAC and peasants on the
ground, however, did not quite overcome the authoritarian position of the Mozambican
Government. The government remained unphased by protests. This, however, contributed
to the extend eﬀorts to cooperate between diﬀerent sectors of society.
4.4.2. Inter-sector civil society alliance and segregated processes of resistance
The segregation of struggles and movements has been very common among Mozambi-
que civil society groups and has long contributed to the segregated processes of resist-
ance and focus of social change among social movements and activists. Historically,
urban-based struggles have had little dialogue with rural-based struggles. Trade unions
have had little dialogue with peasant/agrarian organizations. Similarly, advocates of
women and gender issues have had very little dialogue with those working on housing,
transportation, and environmental issues.
The ﬁrst notable exception was the Land Campaign (Campanha Terra), which was one
of the few active inter-sectoral groups to build an advocacy and debate platform to
include popular views and defend the interest of the peasantry in the 1997 Land Law.
At the beginning, the Land Campaign was not coordinated. According to Negrão (2002,
18) ‘there were fundamental concerns covering a wide spectrum of layers and groups
of social interests,’bringing together ‘churches, associations and cooperatives, non-gov-
ernmental organizations, academics, politicians and even elements in the private sector,
in addition to dozens of incognito honest citizens’. Once the 1997 Land Law was
passed, the Land Campaign declined. Nevertheless, the issue of land, particularly losing
land for capital grab in Mozambique remained a compelling issue for mobilization.
Interview, peasant Member of UNAC Nampula, District of Muecate, February 2017.
THE JOURNAL OF PEASANT STUDIES 17
Following the Land Campaign, diﬀerent sectors of the Mozambican civil society created
synergies that fed the growth and legitimacy of the ﬁght for environmental, land, agrarian
and gender issues as one big and cohesive cause. Following this trend, NPC has arguably
been one of the most innovative and eﬀective alliance among diﬀerent constituencies,
which paved the way for ProSAVANA to be perceived as an important national issue, gar-
nering public interest.
This demonstrates that land is a highly sensitive and potent issue in Mozambique.
Defending it is associated with people’s sovereignty, and losing it triggers memories of
colonialism and vulnerability. This makes the agrarian question in Mozambique transversal
to many other national concerns. It is important to note that many academics and civil
society organizations, including members of parliament, not associated with NPC, also
publicly presented critical assessments of ProSAVANA’s Master Plan, its discourse and
how the program itself was problematically being introduced.
4.4.3. Communication, publicity and media strategy
One of the main strengths of NPC can be attributed to the designing of an eﬀective com-
munication and media strategy. The use of online communication channels, from websites
and blogs to social media, as well as local newspapers, has been a dominant tactic. The
campaign would publish on a regular basis, and openly disclosed statements, testimonies,
articles, videos and images (photos and infographic material) highlighting resistance to
ProSAVANA, exposing its negative social and environmental issues. This can be attributed
to the extensive communication and media experience held by NPC members, providing
eﬀective access to tools and existing networks to disseminate information.
The NPC publications were shared amongst the websites managed by the various par-
ticipating members not only in Mozambique, but in Brazil and Japan. Social media was also
actively utilized, where links to the publications and key messages were shared on the
campaign’s facebook page, which had more than one thousand followers as of January
Additionally, campaign materials were quickly republished through other media
outlet websites, including media organizations such as Pambazuka News (2016). NPS
media strategy included getting the issue into local and international mainstream
media. As a result, leading international newspapers, such as The Guardian (2014),
Neues Deutschland (2018) and Deutsche Welle (2017), published stories mentioning the
resistance to ProSAVANA.
4.4.4. Transnationalization of the struggle and solidarity mobilization
The involvement of Brazil and Japan’s social movements/civil society in ProSAVANA resist-
ance inspired international solidarity. Almost all of the main Brazilian agrarian movements
associate with La Via Campesina Brazil, and a number of progressive NGOs, such as GRAIN,
and progressive intellectuals in Japan were supporting the Campaign. Since 2014, a
number of activities –such as ‘lobbying’meetings in Brazil –have been carried out in
their respective countries, as a strategy to put pressure on EMBRAPA in Brazil and JICA
in Japan and, wherever possible, to identify allies inside those institutions. This was par-
ticularly eﬀective in Japan, where their lobbying and advocacy actions at the parliament
level resulted in a strong alliance between Japanese organizations and a left-wing
The facebook page was opened in 2016.
18 B. MONJANE AND N. BRUNA
parliamentarian who pushed for ﬁerce debates on ProSAVANA. It was through this alliance
that ProSAVANA was strongly debated at Japanese parliament.
Institutional impacts in Brazil have been harder to monitor. What is noteworthy,
however, is the progressive decline of Brazil’s institutional involvement in the current
developments of the program. Contributing factors may be the political and economic
events that have taken place during the last three years, namely the deepening economic
crisis, the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseﬀ, and the election of a right-wing gov-
ernment that openly announced shifting its foreign policy to focus on the Global North.
Regardless, a deﬁning factor is how some Mozambican organizations in NPC have been
active members of some of the largest and most radical transnational social movements in
the world. In particular, UNAC is a member of La Via Campesina, Fórum Mulher is a
member of, and hosting, the World March of Women, and Justiça Ambiental is a
member of Friends of the Earth International. With its established global network, these
movements are known for their capacity to mobilize global solidarity, attract media atten-
tion, and give global visibility to local struggles.
4.4.5. Alternative proposals confronting dominant narratives
UNAC has been credited for establishing a constructive form of resistance led by the
people, contesting the model of development proposed in ProSAVANA with a clear prop-
osition of an alternative on the table. To this end, agroecology, as a strategy, has guided
UNAC’s agenda since the design of its 2011–2015 Strategic Plan.
We remain ﬁrmly committed to peasant farming and agroecology –the foundations of Food
Sovereignty –as alternatives to the development of the agricultural sector in Mozambique,
which consider all aspects of sustainability and are, in practice, friends to nature. (UNAC 2012)
In its current 2015–2020 Strategic Plan, agroecology is mentioned under the ‘Advocating
Peasant’s Rights’pillar of the plan in which UNAC assumes agroecology as the main mech-
anism through which food sovereignty is going to be achieved in Mozambique. In almost
all statements of NPC, it is made clear that rejecting ProSAVANA was not just an end in
itself. Proposals such as Agroecology and Food Sovereignty were given as practical
alternatives to what ProSAVANA proposed, which were based on agribusiness, monocul-
ture, land reserves, global markets, and intensiﬁed production. In recent years, UNAC has
actively been engaging its members in speciﬁc educational and training programs on
agroecology. Furthermore, the movement has been successful in building an Agroecology
School in the Manhiça District (South of Mozambique) and training rural extensionists in
agroecology throughout the country (three promoters per province who conduct trainings
at the village level). For example, in the Marracuene District, 285 peasants were trained on
agroecology as a pilot project. Lastly, exchanging visits and experiences between peasant
associations have also been inﬂuential in the promotion of alternative narratives of
Another experience worth highlighting is the Alfredo Nhamitete Agricultural Associ-
ation, in the district of Marracuene, Maputo province. Their 280 members produce
various food crops, some of which they sell at the local market. Income is shared
equally among members (LVC Africa News 2014). Several peasants began an exchange
Interview, Renaldo João, peasant member of UNAC, 4 September 2018.
THE JOURNAL OF PEASANT STUDIES 19
with a peasant organization in Brazil, the Small Farmers Movement (MPA), to rescue seeds
that are at risk of extinction, which are deemed to be of greater importance for food sover-
eignty. This exchange led to increased local seed sovereignty, drastically reducing the cost
of seed procurement.
The growing number of peasants at the national level who are practicing agroecology
and challenging the large-scale capitalist farming model, like ProSAVANA, should be seen
as emancipatory. This combination of words followed by action has given strength to NPC.
4.4.6. External factors: political and global economic environment
A number of factors that were out of the control of the movement and the resistance
actors could have directly or indirectly contributed to the strength of the resistance
process. At the national level, the rising disapproval of the local government, due to over-
lapping crises, can be seen as the emergent localized ruptures with the authoritarian
populist FRELIMO regime, especially in the areas where ProSAVANA is to be implemented.
On an international scale, the political climate, both in Brazil and Japan, should be con-
sidered as a potential factor in the stagnation of the program. Additionally, the trends
of commodity prices should be analyzed in order to fully understand the behavior of
potential investors for ProSAVANA. Although it is diﬃcult to have a comprehensive analy-
sis of how these factors might have inﬂuenced the stagnation of ProSAVANA, the impor-
tant points are summarized.
18.104.22.168. Overlapping crises and the rise of localized government unpopularity. The
process of discussion and resistance to ProSavana was characterized by a parallel emer-
gence of political and military crises that consequently contributed to the escalation of
the economic crisis in Mozambique. These events derived from a combination of micro
and macro issues of political and economic instability such as unjust resettlements of pea-
sants due to the development of extractive industries and agricultural investments, the
uncovering of hidden and illegal public debt involving ministers, along with both the
current and former presidents, alongside the rising discontent of the RENAMO Party,
and competition over the control of the resource-rich regions. This resulted in recurrent
armed conﬂicts in rural areas. Needless to say, rural inhabitants and peasants were econ-
omically aﬀected. The state, however, was slow in controlling this social instability.
As mentioned previously, the localized decrease of FRELIMO’s popularity, speciﬁcally in
rural areas, can be explained by the increased implementation of land-based agricultural
investments that resulted in the expropriation of people’s land in Zambézia, Nampula and
Niassa Provinces, where a number of companies expropriated hundreds of thousands of
hectares from local peasants (UNAC & GRAIN 2015; Bruna 2017; Mandamule and Bruna
As shown in Table 1, FRELIMO has been losing votes since 2008. In 2018, RENAMO got
more votes in many of the districts in these three provinces, including Malema District,
which was one of the regions where peasants were contesting the most, due to on-
going ProSAVANA activities. It is also important to take into consideration that, for the
ﬁrst time, RENAMO was able to get 49% of the total votes on the national level. This
means that for the last decades, FRELIMO’s political dominance has been decreasing as
RENAMO’s has been increasing.
20 B. MONJANE AND N. BRUNA
The importance of analyzing the political context in which the process of resistance
happened is because it contributed to the increase of awareness of FRELIMO’s failure in
adopting a socially just development model for both rural and urban contexts. This,
then, facilitated and/or motivated the engagement of peasants in the struggle. This fact
marked the transformation of the roots of rural Mozambique’s typical way of resistance,
which had been characterized up to this point by Scott’s(1986) everyday forms of resist-
ance until the incorporation of an overt and semi-organized way of protesting as was
veriﬁed in the case of ProSAVANA.
22.214.171.124. Brazil’s political instability and Japanese democracy. As Brazil’s political crisis
emerged in the last years, the Brazilian Cooperation Agency’s (ABC) role in the implemen-
tation of ProSAVANA has been decreasing, especially in terms of degrees of involvement in
the responses to the program’s resistance movement. Contrary to this position, the Japa-
nese Cooperation Agency (JICA) took the lead in attempting to revise the program’s
Master Plan, claiming to be open, to a certain degree, to negotiate its terms and integrate
civil society’s demands. They were even willing to ﬁnance the formation of an integrated
organization to manage all civil society claims regarding the implementation and revision
of the Master Plan.
It is relevant to consider the role of the Japanese parliament and democracy in relation
to the process of resistance against ProSavana. More than cooperating with the struggle in
Mozambique, the pressure exercised by the Japanese civil society towards the Japanese
parliament directly reﬂected on the decision-making process of JICA. This would conse-
quently compel the Mozambican Government to give in, given the power relations exist-
ing between the two nations, that of beneﬁciary and donor. Despite its controversies, the
democratic system in Japan is operating at a much higher degree than in Brazil or Mozam-
bique. Hence, the existing ‘democratic regime’in Mozambique is less reliable than in
126.96.36.199. Global economic environment: commodity prices trends. Since ProSAVANA’s
implementation was contingent upon the support of both internal and external investors,
the investment decision would inevitably rely on global trends of commodity prices. The
Master Plan identiﬁes two main crops as ‘priority crops’to be promoted by the program,
namely maize and soya. Looking at the international price of maize (Index Mundi 2019),
the trends show high prices for the period between 2011 and 2013, with a peak of approxi-
mately 330USD per metric ton between July and August of 2012. This is followed by sharp
decreases in late 2013, reaching the lowest point in 2017, priced at 150USD per metric ton.
Regarding the international price of soybeans (Index Mundi 2019), rising prices were
observed in the beginning of the 2000s reaching a maximum of 684USD per metric ton
in August 2012, a period in which ProSAVANA discussions were still ongoing far from
the public eye. This was followed by some ﬂuctuations in price between late 2012 and
2014. In mid 2014 the price started to signiﬁcantly decrease, until reaching the lowest
point in early 2016 at 370USD per metric ton. When taking into account the factors inﬂuen-
cing the decision-making process for investors, we could observe a signiﬁcant decrease in
the international price of both priority crops by approximately 50% throughout the period
during which the ProSAVANA resistance movement was taking place.
THE JOURNAL OF PEASANT STUDIES 21
5. Concluding remarks
The failure of grasping the nature of the agrarian question in Mozambique rests in the fact
that Mozambique has been governed by a persistent authoritarian regime with oscillating
levels of populism, which tended to impose agrarian policies that prioritize large scale
investments to the detriment of peasants. The achievement of national independence
by a revolutionary force, whose populist claims for ending Portuguese colonial continuities
and subsequently ﬁghting a guerilla counter-movement were both used to build and
sustain its political power and inﬂuence.
This paper highlighted problems surrounding the planning and implementation of Pro-
SAVANA, starting with the approaches taken to hold public hearings. This was followed by
the deviations of ProSAVANA’s Master Plan, its proposed guidelines, which was contribut-
ing to the expropriation of land, the intensiﬁcation of debt among peasants, and the pro-
motion of crops that do not answer to people’s needs. The persistent lack of transparency
and little or no regard for public participation were at the core of these issues. It was in this
context that the resistance process took place with NPC as the leading force and UNAC as
the main element of legitimation.
Confronting agrarian authoritarianism may go beyond the intrinsic boundaries of a
campaign. There are factors that are beyond the control of a speciﬁc movement, but
still a determinant for its success. Although FRELIMO lost its popularity because of its
own failure to deliver and to meet people’s expectations, it reacted with higher levels
of authoritarianism and, consequently, it lost a big share of its electoral votes. Neverthe-
less, we argue that it is important to acknowledge that this kind of rupture in the dominant
political force could be a window of opportunity to eﬀectively confront authoritarianism. In
this case, progressive populism arose as a strategic response of the resistance process. NPC
upheld a clear agenda: demanding that ProSAVANA stop immediately and indeﬁnitely
through proposing an alternative model of development.
The set of strategies and tactics that gave strength and cohesion to the NPC, discussed
above, was built into a uniﬁed agenda against the proposed model of development. The
strong ideological bond among all of the transnational members of the campaign allowed
them to constitute a narrative of ‘us against them’, othering, in this case, the proponents of
ProSAVANA. Moreover, NPC discourses were highly anti-capitalistic and with a strong pos-
ition toward an alternative paradigm of development, referred to as the ‘peasant way’and
‘agroecology’. This is in line with what Borras (2019) called agrarian populism, or a form of
progressive populism. The outcomes of the resistance process were not only the current
stagnation (not yet a discontinuation) of the ProSAVANA project, but also the expanded
space for discussion and participation among peasants and civil society throughout the
Overall, this paper addressed the process and dynamics of resistance to ProSAVANA as
a way of confronting authoritarian imposition of agrarian policies in Mozambique. It por-
trays how the process of building a uniﬁed and coherent resistance movement trans-
formed the Mozambican civil society into a more mature, consolidated and dynamic
civil society. Moreover, it argues that by identifying breaks and/or rifts in the authoritarian
populist regime, such as the decrease of FRELIMO’s popularity, they can be used against
the regime itself and increase the eﬀectiveness of the campaign’s strategies and give
more ﬂuidity for the resistance process itself.
22 B. MONJANE AND N. BRUNA
The authors wish to thank Mai Kobayashi and Amanda Kobayashi for their kindness in proofreading
the manuscript. We are also grateful for the helpful comments of the anonymous reviewers. All poss-
ible errors remain ours. The authors would also like to thank the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and
the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies in the context of the Emancipatory Rural Politics
Initiative (ERPI) for the small research grant provided.
No potential conﬂict of interest was reported by the authors.
Boaventura Monjane http://orcid.org/0000-0002-8944-629X
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THE JOURNAL OF PEASANT STUDIES 25
Boaventura Monjane is a PhD candidate at the Centre for Social Studies, University of Coimbra and
associate researcher at the Sam Moyo African Institute of Agrarian Studies. He is currently a visiting
researcher at the International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University Rotterdam in The
Hague. His areas of research include: agrarian social movements, agrarian political economy,
climate change and ‘alternatives from below’.
Natacha Bruna is currently a PhD candidate in the International Institute of Social Studies (Erasmus
University Rotterdam) on the Political Ecology research group. Her research is about the agrarian
change brought up by the intersections of resource grabbing as a result of extractivism and environ-
mental politics. She is currently engaged as a researcher in an independent research institution in
Mozambique –Observatório do Meio Rural (www.omrmz.com). Her areas of research include: agrar-
ian political economy, political ecology and extractivism.
26 B. MONJANE AND N. BRUNA