Chisumbanje Villagers Voice Grievances on the Green Fuel Project


In a super-charged public hearing on 11 July 2014 the Chisumbanje community members, numbering close to a 1000 people condemned Green Fuel for unfulfilled promises. The public hearing had been organized by the Portfolio Committee on Youth, Indigenization and Economic Empowerment with the main aim of verifying the existence of community projects that Green Fuel alleged to have initiated for the community. The community members; youths, women, out-grower farmers, representatives of Green Fuel Workers, War Veterans and traditional leaders did not mince their words to the Committee regarding the nasty treatment they were getting from Green Fuel. They informed the Committee that while they did not object to the project per se, they had burning grievances which had remained unresolved despite several government delegations that had visited the area in the past dating back to the Government of National Unity (GNU) when government set up an Inter-Ministerial Committee to look into their grievances.  

The issue of non-compensation by Green Fuel to affected communities in Chisumbanje, Chinyamukwakwa and Matikwa villages became very emotive and thus captured the mood of the community regarding the Ethanol Project. Most villagers whose land (fields) was “swallowed” by the project have not been compensated up to this day despite undertakings by Green Fuel to do so when the project was first established. The Affected villagers told the committee that as a result of the expropriation of their land, they no longer had any source of income as their livelihood depended on small-scale farming, especially cotton. 

When the project was first established, displaced farmers were not given a chance to harvest their crops but instead they were promised compensation, which has not been forth-coming.

Some villages who were displaced by the Green Fuel Project had businesses such as grocery shops and grinding mills but were never compensated for their investment despite undertakings by Green Fuel to do so. 

Even those villagers who were accommodated in the Green Fuel project as out-grower farmers bemoaned the unsustainability of the size of their plots, measuring 0.5 ha. They said before establishment of the Green Fuel Project they each had 10 – 30 ha of farming land which was sufficient for them to produce adequate food for their families and surplus for sell. Moreover, the out-grower farmers also expressed fears regarding lack of security of tenure over their allocated plots in the plantation. They said there was no clarity as to who the land belongs to. Hence they recommended that they be given permits or some form of security of tenure.

The out-grower farmers also accused Green Fuel of exposing them to harmful toxic substances, which have a taken toll on their health. They also said the company was releasing these toxic substances into the river system, thus affecting their livestock and the ecosystem.

The out-grower farmers also complained about the pricing model of their sugarcane, which they described as day-light robbery. The current price was pegged at $4 per tonne. Green Fuel did not allow them to sell their sugarcane to other buyers offering better prices. The out-grower farmers told the Committee that Hippo Valley was buying sugarcane at an average price of $70 per tonne. 

The out-grower farmers also informed the Committee that they had not been paid for their sugarcane by Green Fuel since 2010. The reason they were given was that they owed the company $2.4 million, the debt which they did not know how it came about.

The community also informed the Committee that the Ethanol Project had taken up grazing land for their animals. Livestock farmers said they had no alternative pastures to graze their cattle and as a result they were forced to sell their cattle at give-away prices.

The other bone of contention regarding the Ethanol Project was the issue regarding employment opportunities to the locals. The community was angry that most of the employees at the company, especially general -hand workers, were from other provinces at the expense of the unemployed youths in the Chisumbanje community.

Workers representatives at Green Fuel accused the company of unfair labour practices and flagrant violation of workers’ labour rights espoused in the law. The Committee was told that the Company was averse to the existence of a Workers Committee and standard labour practices such as affiliation to a labour union.

The Committee was also told that seasonal workers were made to work for long hours from 6 in the morning to 6 in the evening for a daily rate of $2.50. Ill-treatment of workers was also cited as rampant at the company.

The community was up in arms with the company for its reckless drivers who have caused 15 fatal accidents of minors in the area. Members of the community said the company did not even have a courtesy to assist with burial costs but arrogantly referred parents of victims to its lawyers. 

Members of the community were also riled by lack of adequate consultation by the company of all stakeholders in the affected community. They accused the company of selective consultation which they said was done just for window-dressing purposes. The Committee was told that the Committee that had been set up by the Inter-Ministerial Task-Force Committee during the GNU was  disbanded by the local MP, Hon. Porusingazi and the current Minister of Energy and Power Development, Hon. Mavhaire. As a result, this has deprived the community a platform through which to raise their grievances and share ideas on how best the company should serve the interests of the local community.

The company owners and management were also accused of arrogance and their lack of respect to traditional leaders and lack of appreciation of cultural customs and values.

 

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