CONTROVERSY continues to stalk the multi-million-dollar Chisumbanje ethanol project with the latest being 116 settler farmers who are crying foul over the Billy Rautenbach-owned company’s alleged failure to pay them for three years’ worth of sugarcane.
Farmers who spoke to the Zimbabwe Independent on Wednesday bemoaned the company’s failure to honour a contract to pay them for supplying the cane used in ethanol production, saying this had impoverished them and consequently their children had been forced to drop out of school.
“There is so much injustice going on here,” said Wilson Chibeza, a spokesperson for the affected farmers. “They (Green Fuel) imposed on us a contract insisting that they would pay us at the rate of US$4 per tonne of sugarcane, but we have not received any payment for the three years they have been taking our crop. We have even tried to get help from our Member of Parliament and district administrator but to no avail.”
The farmers say Green Fuel invaded their land in 2008 and destroyed their crop. Despite interventions by an inter-ministerial team led by former deputy prime minister Arthur Mutambara in 2012, a contract to pay them was only hammered out last year, they say.
The conflict is part of a series of long-running confrontations that have dogged Green Fuel since it commenced operations in 2008 before suspending them and then renewing them again last year. Tensions rose last September after villagers invaded 663 hectares of land which they said belonged to them.
At the time, a representative of the community, Claris Madhuku, said the land was still the subject of dispute and villagers felt Green Fuel had violated recommendations of the Mutambara inter-ministerial taskforce by moving onto the land without the consent of the community.
Madhuku said the company had taken over 2 600 hectares of land from the community comprising 694 households, and as a result villagers wanted compensation.
“We want to be given the proceeds from two hectares of sugarcane per household from the company land in addition to the 0,5 hectares each household will be given to farm other crops. That is what war veterans in the area were given and we expect the same,” Madhuku said.
The company is still to fulfil remaining promises of jobs to locals at the plant as well as parcelling out the 240 plots of land measuring 0,5 hectares to the Chinyamukwakwa households affected by the ethanol project.
Green Fuel spokesperson Lilian Muungani had not responded to questions e-mailed to her at the time of going to print.