Do you know where your Kit-Kat’s chocolate or the banana you just had come from? ‘The Enslaved land’ answers that question. This is a one year cross-border and data-driven investigation to reveal what is behind the agricultural model in the Latin American and African’s plantations. We show how poor countries are used to feed rich countries.“The Enslaved Land” was developed by eldiario.es, one of the most important digital newspapers in Spain, in collaboration with El Faro, in El Salvador, a reference for quality journalism and specialized reporters in Latin America. Eldiario.es won $23,100 (about EUR19,700) from the European Journalism Centre to fund the project. The project involved almost 20 journalist, developers, and designers working together to unveil the hidden face of the agroindustry in developing countries. We analyzed coffee and banana plantations in Colombia; sugar in Guatemala, cocoa in the Ivory Coast, and palm oil in Honduras. The choice was made based on a previous data analysis of 68 million records of ComTrade Database 1995-2014 for each crop. We revealed that these crops involve exploitative, slave-like conditions for workers, illegal business practices, and sustained environmental damages.The main findings are:1)The agricultural model has nurtured the cycle of planting in poor countries so that the product can be consumed in rich ones. This is an issue because these countries use a big part of their cultivable land to grow food that will only be exported (despite the fact that many of them suffer from hunger).2) In Guatemala: we revealed that 7 baron families have shared the sugar market for almost 30 years. They created a sugar cartel that controls prices, use their powerful political connections to block sugar imports and created a network of offshore companies to export their products without local control.3)In Colombia: we revealed how a large part of the lands bought by banana corporations are in dispute since they were stolen by paramilitary groups- that later sold them to the banana corporations. The investigation also shows that two companies control 60% of the business. 4) In Honduras: we revealed how the uncontrolled governmental promotion of African palm cultivation is destroying the country’s forests and natural areas. The investigation showed that more than 7,000 hectares of palm oil plantations in the country grow in protected areas. Two large companies, Dinant and Jaremar group, control half of the industry.5) In Côte d’Ivoire: we analyzed the conditions in which 40% of the world’s cocoa is produced. Behind the chocolate industry that generates billions worldwide, thousands of cocoa growers live in misery and more than one million children work with dangerous tools. Although the chocolate multinationals promised to invest more than USD 20 million to change the situation, these haven’t solved the main issue: poverty.
What makes this project innovative?
The Enslaved Land is a unique investigative project that combines cross-border journalistic investigation, data, and geographical analysis. It was published using a storytelling technique that allowed the users to understand the story as a whole. For us, the way the user reads and interacts with the data is as important as the investigation itself. Because of this, visualizations, maps, photos, and text are combined to offer a digital storytelling. The design was also innovative: the home page contains animated gifs, interactive graphics, and images to visually explain the plantations crops in the world. The stories were chosen after analyzing international trade datasets. The countries and hypothesis were selected because of the data. While developing the pieces, we used all the tools at hand: satellite images to investigate and visualize data, FOIs, and scrolly-telling as the method to narrate our stories. These are a few examples of innovation in each country:1. In Guatemala, we created a graph database of people linked to all sugar mills in Guatemala to offshore companies. Then we linked these people and entities with offshore companies in Panama, Virgin Islands or the Bahamas using companies registries, Panama Papers Data, official records and all public open sources available. These data helped us reveal links of 10 out of 12 sugar mills to offshore companies. We also scraped data from monthly production PDF’s published by the sugar industry. We extracted data from almost 400 PDF’s and created a dataset that shows how 7 baron families control 90% of Guatemala's sugar production since 1982. 2. In Colombia, we created a dataset with land restitution requests. We found that the Colombian municipality with most requests for land restitution was also the one with the most cultivated area. We combined the data with the voices of farmers arguing that their land was stolen. This is a story that was never told in the country and that had an impact because of the Peace Agreement recently signed.3. In Honduras, the key was to use geographic information to find and tell the story. We compiled with QGIS all land use atlas of every municipality (298) to know the surface of palm plantations and where they are located. Then, we crossed datasets and found that 7,000 palm oil hectares were illegally planted in national parks and other protected areas.
What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?
For eldiario.es, this was one of the most read investigations the news outlet has ever published: more than 100.000 page views (in the first two months) in the investigation website’s home. ‘The Enslave Land’ has been republished in different medias such as Ciper (Chile), Plaza Pública (Guatemala), La Sexta (Spain), as well as the media that carried out the research: eldiario. es and El Faro. Moreover, Guatemala's Tax Agency (SAT) asked for more resources to fight against the offshore activities of the country's sugar companies.The project has been discussed in several radio programs and was also analyzed as an example of innovative journalism in international news websites such as IJNet (International Journalist's Network) and GIJN (Global Investigative Journalism Network). In addition, the project was presented at the Global Investigative Journalism Conference 2017 in South Africa, alongside the world's best investigative projects and teams.We were also shortlisted as finalists for the Innovation Award at the European Press Prize 2018. Also, Latam Digital Media Awards 2017 nominated ‘The Enslave Land’ as one of the three finalists in the category of innovation due to the narratives techniques employed and the platform development.
Source and methodology
We focused our investigation on three different ideas to find and report our stories. We ask ourselves these questions for each country:1) How are labor conditions in these plantations? How much do the workers earn? How many hours do they work?2) Is there a concentration of the business or the land in a small group of companies or producers?3) Do these plantations cause environmental damages in these countries?Using these questions as a starting point, we set out several hypotheses to then check them through data analysis and journalistic work. Finally, the team traveled to the different areas to tell the story using the voices of the protagonists: the people.We have worked in countries where there is a considerable lack of transparency, open data, and public information. We battled with local governments with no accessible data, public workers who did not know what information they had and non-reusable public records. The whole project is composed of the overview piece and five different stories. Each story has different sources, focus, crops, and countries. Because of that, each one of the stories has its own methodology and impact, as we explained before.Main sources: UN Comtrade Database, FAO, NASA, ESRI World Imagery, Google Earth, companies registries of Colombia, Guatemala, Panamá, British Virgin Islands and Bahamas, Instituto Agustín Codazzi, Registro Único de Víctimas de Colombia, Unidad de Restitución de Tierras (URT) de Colombia, agriculture ministries of Guatemala, Colombia, Honduras and Ivory Coast, Instituto de Conservación y Desarrollo Forestal (ICF) de Honduras, Panama Papers Data, Centro Guatemalteco de Investigación y Capacitación de la Caña (Cengicaña), Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia (FNC), World Cocoa Foundation (WCF).
We used SPSS, Excel, Tableau and R for data analysis. QGIS and CARTO for geographical analysis and visualization. Open Refine, Kimono, Tabula, AbbyFineReader, and Octoparse for scraping, data cleaning and PDF extraction. Onodo and Kumu for graph visualization and analysis. D3 programming language, Raw, and Illustrator for data visualization.
Raúl Sánchez, Juan Luis Sánchez, José Luis Sanz, Esther Alonso, Belén Picazo, Ximena Villagrán, Iván M. García, Laura Olías, Nelson Rauda, Gabriel Labrador, Víctor Peña, Daniel Valencia, María Isabel Magaña, Alex Cedric Coulibaly, Alejandro Navarro, David Conde, David Ruiz, Ángel Perez, Arnau Sans