In thick, humid air, with temperatures soaring at over 35ºC, a group of 16 Finnish journalists were in surprisingly good spirits as they travelled across Mozambique. Between 17 and 23 February 2013, the group visited the provinces of Maputo, Gaza (south) and Zambézia (northeast). For most of them, it was their first time in Sub-Saharan Africa and the challenges were numerous. The heat, the pot-holed roads and the threat of malaria and other tropical diseases could have led them to give up their ambitious trip, but nothing seemed to discourage the group in their desire to observe, touch, feel and report from the field.
“I learned a lot about Mozambique and about Sub-Saharan Africa, in general. I carry back home knowledge, experience and a lot of stories to write about Mozambican life. It is wonderful,” said Aishi Zidan, one of the Finnish journalists."
Aishi´s enthusiasm was shared by the rest of the group. Some journalists would miss their meal times to go out and search for stories. Through visiting local schools, cultural groups, forests, a girls football team, socially vulnerable groups and flood victims in temporary housing to mention a few, the journalists strived to learn as much as they could about Mozambique and its people. The group was led by four officers from the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which sponsored the trip. The group of journalists visited different places in Maputo, Gaza and Zambézia provinces. In Zambézia, the focus was on visiting development projects in forestry, food-security and agro-business. All the projects visited by the Finnish journalists are implemented by the Program for Development of Zambézia (Prodeza II) and funded by the Finnish Government as a part of their bilateral cooperation with Mozambique. The concentration of efforts in Zambézia is down to the province being not only the most populous in Mozambique, but also the poorest, according to the findings of the 2009 IAF Household Income Survey.
Forest management, agribusiness and food security
In Mocuba District, two-hundred kilometers from Quelimane, the group went to see places and activities developing with Finnish Aid. Here they split into three smaller groups, each visiting a different project. The first group visited a project focused on
development and management of forests and timber businesses. The second group visited some agribusiness projects which provide training for farmers in how to find markets for their products, as well as how to commercialise their products and sell them at fair prices.
The last group visited a project on food security which is teaching people about maintaining a healthy diet, how to produce good food and how to store it properly, as malnutrition is common among people in Mocuba. Often, it has been observed that shortages of food in Mozambique are not a result of weak production, but of incorrect storage of agricultural surplus. The food security program aims to teach and inculcate in people how to conserve not only food, but water as well, explained Marika, from Prodeza II.
In the area of forestry, Prodeza II trains people to manage their resources in a way which can improve their quality of life. In the forest, the journalists learned about the age, height and diameters which are required for trees to be cut down and transformed into timber.
According to Mozambican forest law, 20 per cent of taxes from forest exploitation should be given back to the local community. The process through which this takes place, is however not simple. For the government to be able to deliver the money, the community needs to be subdivided into councils and have bank accounts. Prodeza II helps to organise communities into councils and assist them in creating bank accounts to enable them to receive money from government, derived from timber exploitation in their local community. These efforts have been fruitful so far and the Finnish journalists visited a rural school where a positive impact can already be seen. Primary school students who used to sit on the ground during their lessons could now boast of brand new school desks bought from community funds. A local leader testified of how his community received their 20 per cent share of taxes from forest exploitation last year, saying, “In 2012 we received one hundred thousand meticals (almost US$3,000) which we used to buy these desks for our local school. It was possible thanks to Prodeza assistance,” he said to the Finnish journalists.
In addition to visiting various places and talking to people, the journalists had also brought some souvenirs and other gifts for local children. Footballs, exercise books, pens, pencils and other school kits were given to pupils in different schools.
“It is not enough to solve the lack of material we are facing, but it will help the students and motivate them to proceed at school,” said a teacher at a rural school in Mocuba District.
The main objective of bringing this group of Finnish journalists to Mozambique was to create and increase the interest of Finnish media in Mozambican and African issues as well as to create a network between Finnish and Mozambican journalists. Judging by the opinion of the group, there was no doubt that the objectives were reached.