Mutare — A Manicaland-based environmental watchdog has called on government to facilitate an outgrowers scheme for the Shangani community which faces eviction from its ancestral land in order to pave way for a multi-million-dollar Lucerne grass farming project.
Lucerne grass is used for hay and cow forage.
Over 12 000 families from Chilonga and Mutomani areas in Chiredzi were recently dealt a huge blow after government gazetted Statutory instrument 50 which legalises their eviction from ancestral land.
The eviction will pave way for Dendairy's multi-million-dollar project targeting 10 000 hectares of arable land for Lucerne production meant for supplying local and foreign markets.
Villagers have been at loggerheads with authorities as they fear being deprived of their land just like the 2014 Chingwizi saga, where more than 3 000 villagers from Chivi and Masvingo were allocated a mere hectare of land for livestock, farming and construction of dwellings.
In a joint statement dated March 4, Green Governance Zimbabwe Trust (GGZT) together with Women's Academy for Leadership and Political Excellence, Institute for Community Development in Zimbabwe, Masvingo Centre for Research, Advocacy and Community Development, Matabeleland Institute for Human Rights, Heal Zimbabwe Trust and Advocates4Earth, condemned the imminent evictions of the Shangani families in Chiredzi District.
The civil society groups noted the move deprived the Shangani people of their agricultural, religious and cultural heritage.
"We are following with concern developments in Chiredzi District where the government of Zimbabwe has approved eviction of Shangaan families from their ancestral land to pave way for lucerne grass farming.
"It is our conviction that this decision, to evict over 1 000 households, infringes on fundamental rights and freedoms set out in the Constitution.
"Distressingly, eviction is a legacy of injustice and a repetition of history for the Shangani people. They were displaced in the 1960s by the colonial government to pave way for Gonarezhou National Park and later moved to their current location in Chiredzi," reads part of the statement.
The groups urged government to facilitate a small holder Lucerne outgrowers scheme for Chilonga and Mutomani villagers hence improving their farming production standards.
"We urge government to actively involve the Shangani community in the lucerne project plans and project lifecycle through a structure for an Outgrowers Scheme and stimulate local development in line with the devolution agenda.
"We are demanding for responsible and sustainable investments which promote local content development in solidarity with the Chilonga community and other communities displaced without proper compensation. Corporates must be stopped at all costs from evicting local people of their communal land, whilst people and community rights must be placed before profit.
"We are calling on the respect of Business and Human Rights (BHR) principles through the promotion of sustainable investments, transparency and accountability and the respect of obligations set by the Constitution to protect fundamental human rights from violations," reads the communique.
The watchdogs urged the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) to intervene by ensuring compliance to due process so as to avert violation of rights and also facilitate litigation process to protect Shangani community's rights.
"Zimbabwe should similarly uphold regional treaties like the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR), the United Nations International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
"The Zimbabwean Government must also consider domesticating the Kampala Declaration on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) though a national legislation in order to establish a comprehensive national framework to address internal displacement.
"Internationally accepted standards for development induced displacements like the Free Prior Informed Consent (FIPC) principles should be adhered to, with due diligence for displaced communities to resettle in serviced areas with schools, clinics, hospitals, roads and other infrastructure.
"While the State can legally and compulsorily acquire land, or any right or interest in such land, this should be done with respect to its sacrosanct duty to protect its citizens and promote their wellbeing," said the environmental rights groups.
They added that in line with Section 71 (3) of the constitution government must ensure upright compensation for improvements effected on land payable before acquisition of their land.
"Further, Section 13(2) of the Constitution provides that government national development programmes (like Lucerne production in this case) must involve local people in the formulation and implementation of development plans and programmes that affect them.
"Significantly, Section 16 Constitution compels government to ensure local people benefit from their land and other resources.
"It further imposes an obligation to promote and preserve cultural values and practices, as well as enhance dignity, well-being and equality in Zimbabwe.
"We call on all progressive forces to resist this impending injustice by invoking Section 74 of the Constitution, that no persons may be evicted from their home or have their home demolished, without a court order made after considering all circumstances," reads the statements.
Outgrowers schemes are not easy to implement but once initial constraints are overcome, they provide firms with an opportunity to control supply while helping local farmers improve production standards.
As both sides stand to gain under small holder production system, contract farming appears to be the right way to turn around African agriculture to be market oriented.