The Portfolio Committee on Youth, Indigenization and Economic Empowerment visited the Ethanol Project in Chisumbanje on 11 July 2014 with the main aim of verifying the existence of community projects that Green Fuel alleged to have initiated for the community. The Committee also held a public hearing later in the day to hear the views of the community regarding the Ethanol Project. This visit was part of the Committee’s enquiry into the Community Share Ownership Trusts (CSOTs) launched by government under its indigenization and economic empowerment policy. The CSOTs are meant to ensure that local communities benefit from the resources extracted from their areas.
Briefing by Green Fuel Management
The Committee was first briefed by Green Fuel management on the Ethanol Project as well as community projects that the company claimed to have initiated for the benefit of the community. The Committee was informed that the Green Fuel was the first large-scale ethanol producing factory in Africa producing anhydrous ethanol from sugarcane. In its partnership with the Agricultural Rural Development Authority (ARDA) the company has acquired 40 000 hectares of land earmarked for the project. Currently, only 9 375ha of land was being utilized with a total production of 6 million litres of ethanol per month. The Committee heard that the project had the capacity to produce 120 million litres of ethanol when the project was fully developed, which translated to $120 million per annum.
Green Fuel management informed the Committee that 10% of the project land was set aside for the community as part of its corporate social responsibility scheme. To this end, the Green Fuel officials told the Committee that the company had so far developed 1060 ha of land for farmers in the community at a total cost of $10.6 million. Of the above-mentioned hectarage, 250 ha have been set aside for War Veterans, 410 ha for out-grower farmers (“settlers”) and 400 ha for community farmers. The company said it assisted these farmers with land preparations as well as provision of inputs such as water, fertilisers etc.
The officials also indicated to the Committee that the company was also involved in infrastructural maintenance projects in institutions such as schools, clinics, hospitals; borehole rehabilitation, and setting up of a Technology Centre, Sewing Machine Workshop, bee project and indigenous tree planting project.
Tour of the Community Projects
On its guided tour of the community projects, the Committee was only shown some plots in the plantation which the officials said had been set aside for out-grower farmers and War Veterans. The Committee did not see the other projects which were mentioned by officials to the Committee during the briefing meeting in the morning.
Public Hearing at Chisumbanje Primary School
After the tour of the “community projects”, the Committee conducted a public hearing at Chisumbanje Primary School later in the day. The super-charged public hearing was well-attended by community members, numbering close to 1000 people. The community members; youths, women, out-grower farmers, Green Fuel Workers representatives, War Veterans and traditional leaders did not mince their words to the Committee. 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.
Below is a summary of key issues raised at the public hearing.
The issue of non-compensation by Green Fuel to affected communities in Chisumbanje Village, Chinyamukwakwa Village and Matikwa Village 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.
Grievances of Out-Grower Farmers
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 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 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 security tenure.
The out-grower farmers also accused Green Fuel of exposing them to harmful toxic substances, which has 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 they did not know how it accumulated.
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.
Unfair Labour Practices
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 AM to 6 PM 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.
Lack of Consultation
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.
Unfulfilled Community Projects
The Community was not amused by Green Fuel’s failure to fulfil promises that it made at the establishment of the project, especially those projects meant to benefit the community by alleviating poverty. Hence the community members questioned the government’s sincerity on its Indigenization and Economic Empowerment Policy and its current economic blue print, ZIMASSET, which both stipulates that investors should plough back 10% equity to the communities they operate from.
The information gathered by the Committee will form part of its enquiry into the indigenization and economic empowerment of communities through the concept of CSOTs. The Committee has already carried out a similar exercise with the mining sector and will be compiling a composite report to be tabled in the House in due course.