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Villagers dispute ethanol project land


Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai yesterday met stakeholders in the Chisumbanje ethanol project in a bid to acquaint himself with details surrounding a long-standing land dispute between Macdom Investments, a sugarcane company in the area, and villagers whose farmland was reportedly taken up by the project.

Villagers near the plant have accused the project of encroaching into their traditional farmland, but the company insists the land was set aside for the multi-million-dollar fuel plant by the former colonial government in the 1960s.

An estimated 86 village heads under Chief Gawadza were directly affected under the project’s expansion programme in 2008, losing their farmland to the fuel plant.

Tsvangirai assured the warring parties that he would take the matter to Cabinet so that an inter-ministerial taskforce committee is set up to resolve the dispute.

The plant is expected to start operating next April, with output projected to reach 40 million litres by November and 105 million litres at the end of the first season in March 2012, generating an estimated 10 000 jobs.

“I don’t think we are against the project. We want the project, but the problem is the project is going beyond its designated area,” said Tsvangirai after a tour of the plant together with senior party officials, MPs, councillors and affected villagers.

Speaking at the occasion, a company representative Graham Smith said: “The land in question was identified in the 1960s for commercial purposes.

“They (villagers) have been using council land to do their own cropping. They don’t have land anywhere here and that’s why we will give them 10% (4 000 hectares) irrigated land so that they will be able to sustain themselves.”

One of the affected villagers told Tsvangirai: “It is good you have shown us you have a human heart to listen to our problems. But we fear for our security because of police who come whenever we discuss the issue.”

At least 5 000 hectares of sugarcane have been planted to date on Arda estates at Chisumbanje and Middle Sabi under a Build, Operate, Transfer agreement with agricultural companies Macdom Investments and Rating Investments.

Sugarcane ethanol has been a success story in a number of countries worldwide including the United States, Brazil, China, the Far East and Europe.

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