The company’s vast timber plantations at Charter estate in Chimanimani have been virtually turned into small pockets of maize and rapoko fields.
“About 2,500 hectares of our estate has been illegally taken over by villagers who have parcelled themselves pieces of land. Our hands are tied because the invasions are being coordinated by politicians,” said a estate manager who refused to be named for fear of victimisation.
The manager said the most affected estates were Zipras, Chinyai and Skyline where the illegal settlers have cleared all the timber and substituted the trees with maize and rapoko crops.
“At Skyline the invaders have also cleared all the indigenous trees which the company had left for soil conservations purposes. The soil in the area is very porous and is not suitable for any agricultural activity The area is also mountainous,” he said.
The manager said repeated high level efforts to engage the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) and the politicians concerned over the rampant environmental degradation in the area has not yielded anything.
The company’s official also accused the invaders of causing veld fires which has destroyed most of the newly planted trees. The councillor for the area, Micah Chimene said the issue of settlers in timber plantations has sharply divided the Chimanimani rural district council.
“I recently moved a motion in council for the eviction of the invaders from the plantations but our colleagues from Zanu (PF) are against the idea.
About 70 percent of our revenue cames from Border Timbers and if the estate closes down, the council’s coffers will be crippled,” said Chimene.