EASTERN NEWS | Green Fuel, farmers clash

MUTARE - Green Fuel (GF) has come under heavy criticism from irate farmers and grain millers for undermining winter wheat crop in Middle Sabi by refusing to cull millions of quelea birds that roost in the ethanol producer’s sugar cane plantations.

GF — co-owned by government — is blocking the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wild Life (ZimParks) authorities from extinguishing the birds, which are feasting on the cereal and severely affecting yields in Chipangayi.

The birds — adapted to eating seeds and grains — are threatening to cut by nearly half the 700 hectare wheat crop under irrigation by the farmers, who are contracted under government’s command agriculture programme.

Over 3 000 hectares of sugar cane plantations are offering the birds a safe haven.

Efforts by ZimParks to control the birds by spraying mist have been futile.

Local farmers have since sought the Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe (GMAZ)’s intervention, as ZimParks’ Quelea Birds Control Section has been completely overwhelmed.

GMAZ chairperson Tafadzwa Musarara said: “We chartered an aircraft from a company called AgricAir, a company that specialises in aerial sprays. The programme was being supervised by ZimParks. We only came in with funding to hire the aircraft.”

“As millers, we thought the loss of wheat to quelea birds will ultimately affect us. We will need to replace the wheat by importing, which will cost us foreign currency. We felt duty-bound to come in and assist,” Musarara said.

However, GMAZ’s efforts were blocked by GF, which threatened to sue owners of the plane, AgricAir.

GF alleged that the mist sprayed by the plane contained chemicals which could damage their sugar cane crop.

Efforts were then made to change the chemicals, but GF allegedly shifted goal posts, claiming the bees necessary for pollinating the cane would also be affected.

“We assured them that we would bring in more bees, but we realised that it had nothing to do with the chemicals,” Musarara said.

The AgricAir plane has been grounded for days.

ZimParks ranger Dudzai Manyau confirmed that his team was on the ground, but had been unable to use the plane following the lawsuit threats.

“They are on the ground as we speak. They survey and identify where the birds would roost and spray them as part of their efforts to support farmers so that there is no huge loss of crops and the country does not suffer.

“They were, however, unable to use a more effective method of using an aircraft because the sugar cane plantations where they are roosting are private property and we would need permission to do that, which we currently do not have,” Manyau told a gathering in the area.

A miffed Musarara told the Eastern News that he was disappointed that a government energy project was now threatening food security.

“I don’t think we would like to promote fuel production at the expense of wheat.  We can’t. It’s unacceptable. It speaks to food security and to the land reform. We hope that the local leadership will be able to resolve this, otherwise this is a ticking time bomb,” he warned.

With each bird consuming about 16 grammes of grain a day, approximately 100 hectares of the crop has already been destroyed.

“They have already destroyed an estimated 20 percent of the crop,” Sikhumbuzo Todhlana, chairperson of the wheat farmers grouping, said.

He said they have no other option available to control the birds unless GF gives them permission to control their population.

“There is no other way because the birds roost in the sugar cane plantations… this company has to allow us to spray these birds. We just have to sit down with them. Use of mist blowers is now increasingly ineffective because the birds are getting used to them.

His assessment of their relations with GF is damning.

“The coming in of sugar cane production in this area is a threat to wheat farming because of the birds and this has been worsened by the non-cooperation of our neighbours,” Todhlana said.

And according to Todhlana GF has no valid excuse to back their decision to bar the spraying.

“They are just being cruel. There is no other explanation,” he quipped.

Musarara added: “We heard that their fear was that if we spray these birds the whole village was going to descend on their sugar cane plantation to pick up the dead quelea birds.”

“This is unsustainable. It can’t go on. This country needs wheat. We have a shortfall of 240 000 tonnes and above this year and we can’t lose this area.

“The quelea birds are such that if you don’t spray them now, the normal progression is they would have multiplied three times by May-June next year,” he said.

And local farmers have indicated they would not dare plant wheat next winter as the birds would completely decimate their crop.

Musarara said GF’s decision was now a threat to other small grain crops.

“Today it’s wheat but tomorrow we don’t know what else they are going to destroy. And they can migrate from here to Mash West, Mash East so we can’t be closing down all wheat fields because somebody doesn’t want to cooperate by giving access to National Parks,” Musarara said.

He said the decision was going to cost the nation hundreds of thousands in scarce foreign currency as it would have to import the grain.

“This is unsustainable and doesn’t help the milling industry because whatever the bird ate, we have to replace it with imports and issues of foreign currency challenges is a matter of public record,” Musarara said.

He said the decision was only going to sour relations between the GF and its farming neighbours.

“Then of cause ultimately, which has nothing to do with us, the stand-off will continue between GF and local farmers.”

GMAZ has been offering support to the community through a fund it created to support grain farmers that are battling wildlife pestilence.

“What we have done as an industry is that we resolved at our wheat indaba in September that we will try to assist farmers who are facing problems with wildlife. Those affected by wild animals coming in to destroy their fields including quelea birds.

“So, we came up with a budget where each miller would commit a dollar of every tonne that they are going to buy so came up with a preliminary budget of $200 000,” Musarara said.

GF’s corporate communications official, Nicole Rautenberg, had not responded to emailed questions by the time of going to print.



Talented filmmaker shines at ZIFF

A TALENTED local filmmaker’s zero-budget short film has placed him on the map after coming third at this year’s edition of Hi5 Non Dialogue Short Film Competition at the Zimbabwe International Film Festival (ZIFF).

Thabiso Dauda Phiri said he was humbled by the recognition his film — A Tale of Old Lovers — received at the event that was held in Harare recently.

“It’s hard to survive from day-to-day, let alone find resources to properly finance a production,” he said of the production.

Phiri, who first found success as a student after scooping an Inxusa Theatre Award for best playwright for his play Generation of Bondage in 2014, is currently engaged as a screenwriter for popular local television series Wenera.

Derby Bheta claimed the top gong with her film Things we do for Love with Sydney Tarevashe coming second with A Thousand Men in a competition that had over 30 entries.

“It’s really great to get that recognition from such a platform, it means I’m doing something right,” said Phiri.

The film was produced by Red Carpet TV and FAME Magazine with the help of a production crew consisting of Samantha Tariro Chitapi, Blessing Chigwenhembe and Talent Silas.

Phiri was particularly scathing about the behaviour of bigger names in the local film industry.

“This industry is full of people who monopolise everything from resources to opportunities. Working for someone they will just enslave you and not appreciate what you do for them.

“I honestly find it hard to single out one filmmaker or policy maker who is out there to better the industry. They are all conniving to pursue and satisfy their selfish ends,” Phiri said.



Millers move to curb subsidised grain abuse

Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe (GMAZ) has moved to curb abuse of subsidised and cheaper Grain Marketing Board (GMB) grain by ordering that all purchases go through one bank account.

Speaking on the side-lines of a winter wheat field day in Middle Sabi, GMAZ chairperson Tafadzwa Musarara said while they have no monopoly to purchase all the grain from GMB, the arrangement would allow fairness, transparency and easy auditing.

GMAZ is a grouping of about 100 of the country’s biggest private millers.

Musarara said the move was targeted at allaying fears that unscrupulous dealers could abuse the subsidised grain facility by buying under the guise of being millers and resale to GMB at a profit.

GMB buys grain from farmers at $390 per tonne and sells it to millers at $250.

Government has defended the decision, arguing that it would keep farmers viable and save the country foreign currency by not importing.

Musarara said: “We have appointed Metropolitan Bank to be our financial advisors. So, as a bank, they of cause work with audit companies,” Musarara said.

He said the transactions were going to be audited in line with banking regulations.

“So, in this case, even as media, you will get a credible report from the bank who is our financial advisor. And we can publish it and show who bought what. You will be able to track.”

Musarara said while his association had no monopoly over the grain purchases, the public would know exactly how much grain his association’s members would have bought and how much of it would have been milled.

“We have no control over the entire grain but we did this for our sake so that we address the concern you are raising — for transparency . . . every bank is audited so we will be able to account for who bought what and then milled,” Musarara said.

There have been concerns that the heavy subsidies were going to be abused by dubious millers for personal benefit.

Estimates suggest that government’s budget deficit will increase by nearly $120 million this year due to the maize subsidy.

So far, GMB has this year received over 500 000 tonnes of maize from farmers who benefited under the Command Agriculture programme and the Presidential Inputs Scheme.

GMAZ has agreed to buy 800 000 tonnes of maize from the State for $194 million this season — $242,50 per tonne.



Communities demand speed in mining law amendment

MINING communities across Manicaland are mooting petitioning government over the completion of the amendment of the country’s mining law, which they argue will address the shortcomings of the outdated legislation.

The Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill has been in place since 2015 but has not been able to become law with communities continuing to suffer due to the implementation of the archaic 1963 Mines and Minerals Act.

Zimbabwe Diamond and Allied Workers Union (Zidawu) director Cosmos Sunguro said keeping the Act was now a liability as it was no longer speaking “to the aspirations, demands and expectations of Zimbabweans against a background of global best practices”.

Sunguro said communities were increasingly becoming impatient with government over the acknowledgement of some of the rights the amendment would help address.

“After all the consultations that were done around the law, we feel that Parliament should not go for another break without finalising this process and offer a little more respect to indigenous communities,” Sunguro said.

Arda Transau Relocation Development Trust member Tawanda Mufute said the Act was a colonial relic that no longer had space in a free nation.

“The law was meant to disempower locals from having any right whatsoever to their natural resources or fair compensation in the event of being moved and we cannot continue to allow this law to continue ostracising us as a people,” Mufute said.

The Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyers Association which is coordinating the mobilisation of signatures for the petition, wants the amended law to include clauses on small-scale and artisanal miners, rural communities affected by mining activities, corporate social responsibility by mining companies, and rehabilitation of the environment after mining activities.

Penhalonga residents, who risk being relocated to pave way for diamond mining, want it in place to protect their rights for fair compensation.

“The amendment of this law is our only hope at some level of protection otherwise we risk going through the Chiadzwa experience where you are promised heaven on earth without any binding legal instrument to hold the companies to account for the same promises,” Janet Musiringofa said.



Rusitu ex-students donate sports equipment

OVER 30 former students of Rusitu Secondary School — some of whom left the institution 20 years ago — on Saturday handed over $1 200 worth of sports equipment to their former school.

The school will take delivery of two soccer uniforms, a netball uniform, a volleyball uniform and balls during an invitational tournament involving the host school, its former students, Biriiri High and Ndima Secondary School.

Tawanda Masvaire, who was coordinating the resource mobilisation, said they decided to trace their footsteps back to their former school after seeing them participate at a near similar football tournament hosted by Biriiri High’s soccer legends in July in a worn-out jersey.

“We were really touched to see our former school participate in worn-out uniforms.

“They were the best team at that tournament with very exciting talent and we thought we could support in our own small way,” Masvaire said.

He said while their engagement is beginning with sports, he hoped to improve relations between the school and its former students in other areas.

“There are other ways for former students to stay engaged with their school like helping students pick a career, helping them find jobs and participating in community service opportunities.

“Donations that come with a financial commitment are the toughest and we have passed that test of commitment for now,” Masvaire said.

He said the former students were pushing to change age-old perceptions where schooling is viewed as a business transaction between parents and schools but as an investment by both towards human development.

“We want our children and current students to change their view of educational institutions. The school helped shape us into responsible family members, employees, employers and citizens in general and we would like it to continue doing that going forward,” he said.

Innocent Dube, another former student and now an educationist, said they are also going to make a donation to a Reverend at the school for his input in their spiritual growth.

“We are grateful for how the institution shaped our entire personalities and we are hoping that this will be just the start of a fruitful engagement,” Dube said.

There are plans to host a short soccer clinic and career guidance workshop for over 500 students at the school.

Masvaire said they were also eager to enhance students’ enterprise, employability and financial literacy.

“This will be very important for them to overcome the social and financial challenges, young people often face and also help them provide for themselves and their families.”

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