Reckless artisanal miners threat to livestock farmers

A SHURUGWI woman, Bester Mhosva, still recalls an unfortunate incident in 2015 when she had a miscarriage due to shock, after her nine cows drank water contaminated with cyanide and died.

VENERANDA LANGA

The water had been recklessly left at her five hectare farmland by illegal gold miners (makorokoza), who operate in the Shurugwi area and at times invade farms in search of minerals.

“I am a female farmer who owns five hectares of land, but I currently have a serious challenge where illegal miners invade my land in search of gold,” Mhosva narrated her ordeal with the artisanal miners, as they are now referred to.

“These artisanal miners encroach into farmland in search of gold and they dig deep holes, which result in cattle falling in. The holes are also a danger to humans, especially children that can fall into them,” she said.

Mhosva said the use of cyanide by the miners is the biggest threat to her livestock, which drink the poison and die.

“In 2015, I was eight months pregnant and the artisanal miners left holes with water which was laced with cyanide after performing their illegal mining activities at my farm. I lost nine cows and I was heavily affected to the extent that I developed hypertension and had a miscarriage,” she said.

Mhosva said the incident was reported to the Zimbabwe Republic Police and the Environment Management Agency, but nothing was done to bring the artisanal miners in question to book to date.

Her story is just one of the incidents that female farmers experience in situations of conflict between farmers and miners.

Women in farming feel that apart from funding challenges whereby it is difficult for them to get loans to support their farming activities from banks, illegal miners are also a menace that needs to be dealt with through amendments to the Mines and Minerals Act to ensure that it deals with farmer and miner conflicts.

Chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Mines, Edmond Mkaratigwa said the Ministry of Mines must be at the forefront of ensuring that artisanal miners follow laid down rules in their permits to ensure that they do not encroach on land that is designated for farming.

“There should be harmonisation of legislation on land and the Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill to ensure that they also look at the social impact of how people that are in agriculture are losing land to mining activities. There is a need to also assess the social impact on women,” Mkaratigwa said.

Marias Dzinoreva, the director of lands management and administration in the Ministry of Lands and Agriculture, said there is need for the Lands ministry to also submit its proposals for the Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill, which is currently before Parliament in recognition of the fact that the Mines and Minerals Act has certain prescriptions that seem to give precedence to mining over farming or agricultural activities.

“As the Ministry of Lands, we were clear that when we allocate land to beneficiaries, we are doing so in order to promote farming activities. We said that the Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill needs to address the conflicts between miners and farmers. We said that if a farmer is on their land and there is gold, the first right of refusal must be given to the farmer because she has a right over that land,” Dzinoreva said.

“We said if the Ministry of Mines were to give a mining permit, then the first person that should go and mine is the farmer because no one will be happy to see another person pegging a mine at their own piece of land without having been informed.”

He said whenever a miner starts operations on a piece of land, which is a farm; at the end of their mining activities they should rehabilitate the land.

“After mining activities, do not leave holes there, otherwise the farmers’ livestock might fall in there. We said land reclamation must be done. The main issue is to look at the Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill to ensure that the miner confines himself to what has been agreed in his permit so that they do not encroach on other people’s land.”

Dzinoreva said the ministry was experiencing challenges with artisanal miners who encroach into people’s farms, and farmers have raised issues of pollution and environmental degradation at their farms.

He said the laws must also consider issues of gender and social development to ensure that women are not sidelined in land and farm ownership.

Women and Land Zimbabwe national coordinator Thandiwe Chidavarume said her organisation has been lobbying for women land rights whereby more than 80% women in the country contribute to agriculture and therefore their activities must be protected.

Chidavarume said some of the areas that are affected by farmer and miner conflicts are Bubi, Chiwundura in Gambiza and Matimba areas, and Shurugwi.

“There is a lot of damage happening there in terms of water and air pollution and land degradation. We have noted that there are a lot of policy gaps that need to be addressed on challenges that are faced by women in mining. We want Parliament to push for the finalisation of the Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill to solve the miner and farmer conflicts. We also want the government to speed up the process of coming up with a land and agriculture policy to address these conflicts,” Chidavarume said.

“EMA must also be resourced so that their officials are able to be on the ground to deal with those causing problems. Stringent measures must be placed to curb environmental degradation at farms.”

She recommended that trespassers should be punished accordingly, so they do not continue with their activities after paying paltry fines.

The Mines ministry must also monitor the miners so that they implement what is in their environmental impact assessments (EAIs) in order to avoid causing environmental damage which affects farmers.

Apart from miner and farmer conflicts, women in farming also face discrimination when they apply for loans or during distribution of farm inputs.

Georgina Minizhu of Romac Farm in Gweru said it has been difficult for her to get funding for her farming projects.

“I have 26 hectares of land and therefore I needed a loan to buy cattle for draught power. Ten years ago, I was denied a loan at a local bank. I refused to leave and threatened to sleep at the bank until the manager gave me a US$1 000 loan which I used to buy four cows. Now I have 13 cattle after they gave birth,” Minizhu said.

“I think women in farming must be given equal opportunities with men because we are capable of success.”

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