KATHMANDU / ODEMIRA / BERLIN – This investigation revealed a system of informal agencies and debt bondage that thousands of Nepali migrant workers face when working in Portuguese berry fields.

They are part of over one million pickers throughout Europe who harvest the fruits and vegetables Europeans buy daily in their supermarkets. Insiders exposed the power of the few European supermarkets to set low prices that contribute to the dire working conditions.

In Nepal, Avinash discusses the price for a “visa” to Portugal, where Kirti is already picking blueberries - with a 14.000€ loan on his back. In our investigation, we tracked the informal system of networks and agencies that „organize“ the labour force needed for Portugal's berry boom. 

Berries have become a favorite in European supermarkets in the last ten years. German and European customers like to buy blueberries, strawberries or raspberries all year long. Portugal provides for more and more of the produce. Many workers come from Southern Asia, from countries like Nepal. Portugal has a relatively liberal visa policy but has failed to organize the migration process. Informal networks and agencies fill these gaps and demand high fees from future workers. Many of them find themselves in situations of debt bondage as they need years to pay back loans of up to 15.000€ with the little money they earn by berry-picking.

However, the agencies are not the only ones who contribute to the precarious living conditions of Nepali migrants. Insiders from German and French supermarkets told us how uneven power is divided between the powerful buyers of big corporations such as Aldi, Lidl, Rewe or Edeka and farmers in Portugal and other European countries. As producers depend on supermarkets to sell their produce, supermarkets are able to set extremely low prices for the fruits and vegetables they buy. Farmers tend to pass this pressure on to their workers by cutting down on wages.

This investigation in Nepal, Portugal and Germany is part of the feature-length documentary „The Pickers“ about the failing food system in Europe.

📸 Photo credit: Sulav Singh Chhetri

Team members

Jonas Seufert

Jonas Seufert is an independent journalist from Germany.

Jonas Seufert

Bhrikuti Rai

Bhrikuti Rai is an award-winning Nepali journalist. 

Bhrikuti Rai

Cristina Arvelos

Cristina Arvelos is a journalist, writer, and producer based in Lisbon. 


Anne Kunze

Anne Kunze is a reporter for ZEIT based in Berlin.

Anne Kunze
€16,550 allocated on 17/03/2023

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