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Inside a gated compound patrolled by armed guards, hulking towers and concrete buildings loom over fields where Silva Muthemba once grew maize and fattened his cattle.
The granaries and surveillance cameras in this corner of southern Mozambique were part of a wave of Chinese investment in overseas farms and agriculture companies a decade ago that sparked accusations of a land-grab as the Asian country tried to secure enough food for its future.
The Mozambique government teamed up with China’s Hubei province to develop the area, hoping to return productivity to levels recorded before the African nation's 16-year civil war. In stepped Hubei-based Wanbao Grains & Oils Co., which spent $250m on irrigation, machinery and preparation of the 20,000-hectare (49,000-acre) site to grow rice and corn.
But the project has become a lesson in the pitfalls of trying to start big farm projects in poor countries, a story of politics, protests and natural disasters that explains why China's model for agricultural investments abroad is moving more toward buying established brands in developed countries.
“We lost grazing land to the Chinese,” said Muthemba, standing next to his home on the wide plains of Gaza province near the mouth of the Limpopo River. “They said we were going to have jobs in rice cultivation, but we don’t.”
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