MUTARE – Government has vowed to drive out illegal settlers from farms and timber plantations, as part of efforts to attract foreign investors back to the agricultural sector.
Under former president Robert Mugabe’s rule, the agriculture sector had become a preserve for the indigenous blacks, as the 93-year-old leader violently drove out white commercial farmers.
But in an unusual and unlike Zanu PF stance, minister of State for Manicaland Monica Mutsvangwa said the country could not afford to go it alone and needed to end the chaos in the once-thriving agricultural sector.
“We need foreign investment and anybody who has money will not come to our country if there is discord and policy inconsistency…the moment they see inconsistencies, no one will want to invest. We need to create that investor-friendly environment and we need to create that environment in Manicaland,” she said.
She said her first area of focus would be to bring sanity in the province’s agro-based areas in order to attract foreign direct investment back into the agriculture sector.
“Forests are an area we need to look into. We continue cutting our trees. We continue having people illegally settled in the areas and what will happen? Where will we get our timber? We want to build this country. We start importing? No!” she said.
Mutsvangwa said she had the blessings of the Lands minister, Perrance Shiri, to clean up the sector.
“I’m glad the first meeting we had with…Shiri was very clear. He gave us a mandate to go through with this…at this stage where we are as a country, we need foreign direct investment,” Mutsvangwa said.
She said the amount of development the country requires to regain its international glow could not be achieved by local resource mobilisation only.
“We need investors to come into our country. The amount of infrastructural development we require cannot be done by government local resource mobilisation. That’s one thing we should be clear about.”
She said Manicaland Province had enough potential to benefit everyone and just needed prudent management of its resources and assets.
“We have so much to make everybody look good. It is endowed with so much minerals there is no reason our children should not be going to school and there is no reasons why people in Dangamvura shouldn’t be having water, there is no reason why people shouldn’t be owning houses, there is no reason,” she said.
Manicaland’s timber plantations have been particularly under huge threat from illegal settlers.
Timber producer Allied Timbers Holdings has lost profitable use of 3 106 hectares, while 4 882 hectares of Border Timbers Estates are illegally occupied.
On the other hand, the Wattle Company is fighting to regain control of 2 050 hectares while Mutare Board and Paper Mills has lost thousands of hectares to illegal settlers.
In total, the province has lost productive use of more than 10 percent of its paltry 87 000 hectares.
These illegal settlements have already cost investments in downstream industries like paper mills and from supposedly Zimbabwe’s all-weather friend China, which was willing to invest US$20 million in a new plant but only if the sources of raw materials are cleared of squatters.
Timber producers had secured funding to set up arguably the biggest paper manufacturing plant in southern Africa valued at $20 million under a joint venture but lost the deal after the Chinese financiers set a precondition that the source of pulpwood that would be supplied to the mill should be protected from illegal settlers.
Illegal settlers have also managed to chase insurers off the timber plantations, threatening the existence and viability of the whole agro-based industry and its downstream sectors.