As the planting season fast approaches, there is little joy for most households in Chisumbanje and Chinyamukwekwe villages, in Chipinge South constituency were challenges of forced displacements that took place years ago to pave way for the sugarcane investor, Green Fuel remain unresolved.
Land is a contentious issue in these parts, and more so for over 2 000 households who are currently in dire need of arable land to self-sustain and end the cycle of being perennial recipients of food aid.
Despite the fact that the region is one of the driest in the country, drought-resistant small grains have always sustained communities there but the challenge now is since the displacement by the ethanol project investor, many households have not been compensated their land.
In 2011, about 1 794 households displaced were in need of land to sustain their livelihoods but since then the figures have gone up leaving over 2 000 households in need of land, a local advocacy group, Platform for Youth and Community Development says.
Of the 1 794 total, 1 060 were from Chisumbanje while 734 were from Chinyamukwekwe.
“To date only 545 households out of 1 060 have been compensated in Chisumbanje in form of some small plots to farm and those in Chinyamukwekwe can safely say have all been compensated,” Claris Madhuku, member of the District Ethanol Implementation Committee, a committee set to address the land dispute between the villagers and the company said.
In August this year several households were given plots by the company, under an arrangement between the government and the company to compensate villagers but only a limited number benefitted.
But for those that received the plots, there is little hope the land will be utilized effectively, experts warn.
“Some arrangement between the government and the company ensured some plots were disbursed to some villagers but the biggest problem is that these people have been idle for the past 10 years and we cannot expect that this will change anything. On top of that, more and more people still need land. Government is doing less in terms of capacitating these communities,”
“There is no economic activity here. No sufficient land, no jobs and the situation is just dire,”Madhuku added.
But there is an air of satisfaction at government level, as Green Fuel’s ethanol project is bearing fruit and is now central to petrol blending in the country yet the surrounding community plunge deep into poverty.
In June this year, while speaking at the handover ceremony of plots, Manicaland Minister of State, Dr Ellen Gwaradzimba assured the villagers that the long standing land dispute will be finalized and will restore their livelihoods but this is taking too long.
Poverty is fast tearing the moral fabric of this conservative community.
At Checheche growth point for instance, strip-dancing is now in vogue among young women who are left with no economic opportunities and boys as young as 13 years are seen paying ZWL$ 5 to have a glimpse.
Owners of these conclaves of immorality are licensed to operate here leaving little community leaders can do to stop the vile.
“The Green Fuel project resulted in the dispossession of local people from their farming land and other land-based livelihood activities, and is surely going to increase the burden from hunger and starvation,” read a document published earlier this year by a local empowerment group, PYCD.
PYCD is identifying victims that were displaced and empowering them in business management courses and entrepreneurship.
“These women are not used to being idle. Before this they would till the land but now they have nowhere to plough. We are having a continuous program of empowering them now. We are having the pilot project targeting those that were displaced by Green Fuel were we will train them for six months and currently this first group of 12 women is in the second month of training,” a member of PYCD, told 263Chat.
With weather forecasters having already predicted a much friendlier rainfall pattern for farming this year, most villagers in areas such as Chinyamukwekwe, Chisumbanje and Machana in Chipinge South can only watch the sprawling green sugarcane fields on land once theirs, while they hope food aid arrives earlier come harvesting season.