By Andrew Mambondiyani
28 July 2016
(mongabay.com) – Lyben Minyizeya’s homestead in Chisumbanje in eastern Zimbabwe resembles a dumpsite for disused tractors and other agricultural equipment. The broken and rusty machinery reminds him of the good old farming days.
In this farming community near the border with Mozambique, it is sizzling hot in summer. Baobab, acacia, and mopani trees are sparsely scattered around the area, part of Manicaland province’s lowveld grassland ecosystem.
Until recently, Chisumbanje had thriving cotton and maize farms that sustained many households. During harvesting time each year trucks carrying bales of cotton shuttled between Chisumbanje and ginneries in the city of Mutare 230 kilometers to the north. But the cotton trucks have been replaced by trucks ferrying sugarcane and ethanol, and some of the cotton fields have been turned into sugarcane plantations to feed a giant ethanol plant that became operational in 2011.
Since then the livelihood of local people, already thin, has become dire. Community members offer a litany of complaints against Green Fuel, the company that owns the plant. They say the company has grabbed land and displaced families without compensation, polluted water supplies, impounded livestock, and failed to pay its workers. Things have gotten so bad, they allege, that some women have been forced to exchange sex for access to land. The villagers’ plight has been worsened by the current El Niño-induced drought wreaking havoc on the country, which has killed most of their livestock, wiping out their main remaining source of income.
“I lost my land to Green Fuel. And my source of income is long gone. I am no longer able to send my children to school and feed my family,” Minyizeya told Mongabay.
Green Fuel is a joint venture between two private Zimbabwean companies, Macdom Investments and Rating Investments, and the Zimbabwean government’s agricultural development arm, the Agricultural and Rural Development Authority (ARDA). The project is comprised of more than 9,000 hectares (34 square miles) of sugarcane fields and an ethanol plant forecast to cost approximately $600 million upon completion in 2020.
With the capacity to produce up to 120 million liters of ethanol per year and 18 megawatts of electricity, according to the state newspaper The Herald, it is reportedly one of the biggest ethanol projects in Africa and the only one in Zimbabwe. [more]