Home » Business » Chisumbanje Villagers Land Quandary [opinion]

Many villagers in Chisumbanje, where a massive ethanol project has been sited, may be in for significant prospects created by the venture, such as irrigation, jobs and seeing their countryside turn a lush green.

But they have other ideas.

For them, it is the immediate that matters, and their situation is becoming desperate.

Many years before the venture between Arda and Green Fuel to grow sugar cane and process it into ethanol for the purposes of blending with petrol, the people in the villages used to till the land around the present plant since the 1960s.

The land, though, belonged to the Arda which did not have the capacity to use it all.

The consummation of the deal between Arda and Green Fuel a couple of years ago meant that Arda needed to provide land for the initiative.

Thus began the acquisition of land in Chisumbanje, offending villagers’ sense of entitlement, and on a large scale, their means of livelihood.

The people held large tracts of land for extensive farming in this drought prone area which they used to cultivate food crops and cotton as a cash crop, as well as rearing animals.

Albert Rimayi of Matikwa village recalls that in 2010, around this time of the year, officers from the company came and took away the land the villagers considered theirs.

“They just came one day and started ploughing everything down. It was this time of the year, for harvesting, and we did not even have compensation for our crops that we destroyed,” he said.

“We had 12 hectares where we had cotton and maize and all that was gone,” said Rimayi.

The village did not like the developments.

Rimayi says that the village met to discuss the next course of action but they were told by the village head that they had received instructions by authorities to give up the land.

Still they were not convinced.

Villagers had mooted a demonstration when soldiers were allegedly deployed to the area.

The villagers were pacified.

It has become a nightmare for the Rimayi family.

Without land of their own, they now have to lease from those that have yet to lose their land.

The Rimayi’s lease a two hectare piece from a villager they only identified as Mutumbami and they will have to share the produce.

They have grown maize and cotton.

In Munepasi village, 79-year-old Manyaya Gwenzi lost 10ha, and was left with “nothing nothing”, as he dramatises his loss, although he still has about one hectare of land around his homestead which was left.

He, like others, has to go and lease pieces of land so that he may survive.

“We now survive from handouts from Christian Care,” a drought relief agency, he said.

Twenty-six others in Munepasi Village are facing the same predicament.

“What we need is land and I wish the authorities could resettle us somewhere. Initially I would not have wanted to move out but that will be better in the circumstances.

Trek to Mozambique

Watson Chinyamakwakwa the Munepasi village head revealed the shocking extent of the displacements.

“Some of our people are now crossing the border into Mozambique so that they may find land there,” he alleged.

From his homestead, Mozambique is just over 20 kilometres away.

As if that is not enough, revealed the traditional leader, there were some unidentified men who at the time were visiting the area and taking some notes although they have not bothered to explain their mission, leaving villagers apprehensive.

The majority of villagers have not found succour in employment here as they lack the skills, he said.

The same tale goes for Chinyamukwakwa village to the east, where Munepasi village head’s brother Phineas is leader.

In Madhwai Village, Ward 26, Sophie Magwaza (49) represents a powerless people that have lost everything. She used to till 8ha but now she has a small piece of land measuring 100X50 metres near the Green Fuel Plant. Others have got smaller pieces.

But the farmers from Madhwai Villagers near Chisumbanje Growth Point now have walk nearly 10km to where their new plots are.

With so many farmers being given small plots on the land adjacent to the plant, it resembles a gigantic coat of many colours as the farmers enjoy different levels of productivity.

Our Magwaza is on the less productive side for a reason. The area that she was allocated is swampy and was only able to cultivate it later on into the season when the torrential rains that the area received, like all others in the country, subsided.

However, by now she is comprehensively behind time with the rains gone, while her maize crop is barely knee length.

“I do not think that I will get anything from this,” she says.

She is set to join others in the queues for food aid, with her three grand children.

She still counts her losses.

“I had many cattle,” she claims, “and I lost them because of this development.”

“Five head of cattle died due to poisoned water issuing from the plant. I sold two because I could no longer keep them in the land that I had left,” she said.

“I have not had any compensation,” she says bitterly.

The Herald could not independently verify the claims around poison water from the plant.

Borrowed time

It emerges though that for all the bitterness, villagers knew what would befall them, sooner or later.

Authorities here point out that the villagers were living on borrowed time — and they knew it.

Local Member of the House of Assembly Enock Porusingazi explains: “My understanding is that Green Fuel has not taken land outside Arda land.

“The land the people were farming is Arda land. For a time Arda had no capacity and villagers moved in from the communal lands and settled in the area. They ignored Arda’s warnings on the land,” he explained.

He said the company had compensated some of the affected people, although it was yet to process compensations for some.

The company also offered to incorporate farmers in irrigation.

“Irrigation is a form of compensation in itself and the people tend to reap much from irrigated land, even if it is smaller, more than they did in their rain fed agriculture,” he said.

He pledges to stand by his people.

“As MP of the area I want to see that the people are resettled but with the aantage of irrigation. The best thing is a win-win situation whereby villagers have small plots that they will also cultivate sugar and use the mill as well.

“There should be special farmers who engage in out-grower schemes and sell to the company. This is a big project. Out-grower schemes are also being practiced in such countries as Brazil where we are getting this idea,” he said.

Arda chairman Basil Nyabadza reiterated that the land — measuring some 40 000ha of which only 9,5ha has so far been utilised — has always belonged to the State.

“The land belongs to Government,” that is the law.

He said land in the actual villages was not being taken away but the land in the estates where villagers had encroached.

He said when Government embarked on national projects its interests took precedence.

“People are compensated for the developments and improvements they would have made to the land, and the crops that would have been affected but they are not compensated for being moved,” he clarified.

He said villagers here were being compensated.

The Green Fuel project took off to some controversy and competing political interests but now Nyabadza feels the hurdles are all but being cleared.

“When we started the project there was much hostility and political bickering but now there is a g buy in from stakeholders, especially chiefs. The opposition is now in the minority,” he said.

Source : The Herald