The Sunday Mail
Internal and cross-party fighting are behind recent attempts to paint a picture of community disgruntlement with the Green Fuel ethanol project in Chisumbanje and Middle Sabi, The Sunday Mail Extra has established.
Investigations over the past week indicate some senior figures in the ruling Zanu-PF, as well as local politicians from opposition political parties are inciting some people – many of whom are bused in – to disrupt visiting delegations touring the vast sugar cane plantations that feed the ethanol plant.
Recently, a small group of villagers told the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Youth, Empowerment and Indigenisation as members toured the estates and plant that they had not benefited from the mega-project.
One of them, a James Maphosa, claimed to be speaking on behalf of embittered war veterans allegedly displaced by Green Fuel, which was borne out of an agreement by businessman Mr Conrad “Billy” Rautenbach’s Macdom and Rating Investments and Government’s Agricultural Rural Development Authority.
However, war veterans Chisumbanje district chair Cde Rephias Kugoda this past week said:
“We are aware of the community visit by the Parliamentary Committee on Youth, Indigenisation and Empowerment in Chisumbanje on 11 July. We did not send any representatives to speak or act on our behalf at this occasion.
“Please be advised that James Maphosa was not in any way representing us or our views as the war veterans. James Maphosa was speaking in his own capacity and not on behalf of the War Veterans’ Association of Zimbabwe.”
Further inquiries by this publication found that Green Fuel has dedicated at least 250 hectares of the land it is leasing from ARDA in Chisumbanje to a group of war veterans.
A representative of the former freedom fighters said:
“They gave us 125 hectares to plant what we want. We asked them to manage the land for us and they are growing sugar cane on it. Last year we harvested around 150 tonnes per hectare from that land and we understand that this output is nearly double what other sugar cane growers get in the Lowveld. We did not pay anything, Green Fuel did all the work for us and they even give us free water for irrigation.
“We are very happy and what we can only desire right now is to get more land because we have seen that a lot can be done here as long as there is irrigation.”
Local MP Cde Enock Porusingazi said:
“People are crying for bigger portions of land and as the company progresses, it will increase.”
Green Fuel corporate social responsibility manager Ms Nicole Mollet declined to comment this past week, saying “we prefer to address all allegations directly with the community as opposed to through the Press. I will contact you when we have a formal comment in response to the recent media attention”.
However, a senior manager at the plant outlined the various community development and empowerment programmes being undertaken, at a total cost to date of more than US$10 million.
“Ten percent of all new land has been developed and passed on to the community for their own use. When all the phases of the project are complete, this will translate into 4 500 hectares under flood irrigation in Chisumbanje and Middle Sabi and will benefit more than 18 000 families at a cost to Green Fuel of about US$50 million.
“To date, we have revived and/or installed new pumping units and waterways for 18 irrigation schemes covering nearly 2 000 hectares in Middle Sabi. Water is available all year round and for the first time many farmers here are planting three crops a year.”
The manager said they also had
“a community sewing workshop, a technology centre primarily targeting school children, training workshops in collobaration with institutions of higher learning, provided assistance to schools under Chief Garawa, partnered local clinics and many other initiatives that have been well-received”.
He went on: “We employ 4 500 people, mostly from the local community and this figure rises to 6 000 in peak production periods. More than US$2 million goes directly into the local community every month as salaries, rentals, transport and procurement.
“Banks and cellphone towers have opened in Checheche, which has recently been upgraded from a growth point into a town and local businesses are thriving. Take a walk through Checheche and see the amount of housing development going on, which is testament to the fact that money is getting into the hands of ordinary people.”
He said bagasse, a by-product of ethanol production, would soon be used as feedstock to reduce the cost of rearing livestock in the community.
To date, Green Fuel has put 9 500ha of land under sugarcane for the plant that runs non-stop to meet national ethanol requirements as per the mandatory 20 percent blending level authorised by Government.
The firm projects that by 2020, Green Fuel will employ 30 000 people to work the plant and 45 000ha of sugarcane estates.
Before that, Green Fuel says it will build a dam that will feed irrigation schemes that can benefit more than 100 000 families.