Harare — THE government has pledged to evict more than 300 farm invaders settled on timber plantations in the Eastern Highlands, amid revelations that the illegal settlers had prejudiced the industry of more than US$22 million this year.
Manicaland governor Tinaye Chigudu said there was no reprieve for new farmers who had settled on land disrupting primarily the operations of Border Timbers, Forestry Company of Zimbabwe and the Wattle Company in Manicaland.
Farmers resettled by government under the A1 fast-track land reform and A2 model scheme since 2000 have been cutting down trees for domestic use and burning grass willy-nilly.
Chigudu said he would hold consultative meetings with Lands and Agriculture Minister Joseph Made and the Minister of National Security and Land Resettlement, Didymus Mutasa, to sort out modalities on the way forward in evicting the new farmers.
The Manicaland governor lashed out at the illegal settlers following United States ambassador Christopher Dell's stinging criticism of the government's approach to land reform.
"The government's policy of land seizures and tolerance for chaotic disruptions on commercial farms led to the collapse in food production. The impact of the farm invasions has extended beyond the plight of the thousands of individual expropriated farm owners. The land grab has intensified the suffering of Zimbabwe's most vulnerable segments of society-the rural and urban poor," Dell said.
In response to Dell's stinging attack, Chigudu said the new farmers would be kicked off the plantations in line with the 'corrective measures' government was undertaking to normalise the situation on the farms.
"Government realised it was a wrong decision because some people settled where they are not supposed to be. Here in Manicaland, we are not going to have anyone interfering with the timber and wood industry operations," Chigudu said.
Chigudu's statements come amid reports that export timber worth more than US$22 million was lost due to forest fires caused by the illegal settlers since the beginning of this year.
Zimbabwe's Timber Producers Federation chairman Joseph Kanyekanye said reckless new farmers who illegally occupied the plantation since 2000 have been causing the fires.
A total of 3 233.1 hectares of trees were destroyed by forest fires between January and September 2005. Industry players said a total of 6 655.2 hectares have been destroyed by fires since the beginning of the decade, compared to 4 275.3 hectares destroyed by fire in the whole of the last decade.
"Fire damage in the last four years is greater than the previous 30 years put together," said Kanyekanye.
He accused government of turning a deaf ear to complaints.
"There is no reaction as the matter would be deemed political. The absence of policy and related lawlessness is encouraging illegal occupation of the plantations," Kanyekanye lamented.