Magistrate Samuel Dzuze convicted Algernon Taffs of Chirega Farm, Dawie Joubert of Stilfontein, Mike Odendaal of Hillcrest farm and Mike Jahme of Silverton Farm after they appeared before a Chipinge court for judgment on their outstanding cases against under the Gazetted Land (Consequential Provisions) Act.
In his separate judgments the Magistrate found all four guilty and sentenced them to USD 800 fine each and ordered that they immediately moved out of their homes and vacated their farms by tomorrow (Wednesday) evening.
Odendaal of Hillcrest was the only exception as he was given one month to wind up his dairy business. The Magistrate said that if they failed to vacate their properties as ordered they would spend the next 2 years in jail.
“Under the Constitution of Zimbabwe everyone has the right to appeal but the Magistrate denied them this right saying there was no doubt in his judgment. Urgent applications are currently taking place in Harare on behalf of the evicted farmers,” said the Commercial Farmers Union in a statement to VOP Radio soon after the judgement.
“The farmers are desperately moving their life’s belongings into the local Dutch Reformed Church for safety,” it said, adding that the atmosphere at the court was very tense and there were many police in evidence.
The first to be convicted Mr Taffs was jailed for 2 hours before being released. He was personally told that he would be sentenced to 5 years if he failed to comply.
Meanwhile reports from Mutare say an ecological disaster is looming in the Odzi and Headlands areas in Makoni District where new tobacco farmers are indiscriminately cutting down trees to cure their tobacco.
Over a thousand contract tobacco growing villagers have gone on a tree cutting campaign to prepare firewood to cure their crop. Coal is considered to be best option for the curing process but the contractors and the villagers prefer a cheaper process.
Contractors are allegedly demanding that the villagers cut down at least 25 cords of firewood for curing purposes before they can be considered for a contract. The contracts exceed three hectares.
In Nyahawa- Bingaguru Resettlement at least 400 contracted tobacco-growing villagers are indiscriminately cutting down trees for curing purposes.
Wood fuel is considered cheap and viable as compared to coal and electricity which require more money.
The villagers say three hectares of trees are needed to cure one hectare of tobacco.
“The demand of 25 cords of firewood per each of the 400 villagers — will certainly transcend into an unmitigated environmental catastrophe as the existing few trees were being wiped out,” said a Mutare – based journalist.
The Forestry Commission and the Environment Management Agency (EMA) has now embarked on a programme to make tobacco farmers and contractors in the area aware of the Environment Management Act which seeks to promote the sustainable utilisation of natural resources.
Odette Chidiriro, EMA’s representative in Makoni District said: “The area has recorded an unprecedented high demand for firewood, because the contractors have set it as a pre-requisite requirement for the farmers to qualify for the scheme. The situation is environmentally disastrous.”
Chidiriro said corrective measures should be taken urgently to save the area from becoming like Seke and Chihota communal areas where indigenous trees were extinguished.
“Tobacco farming related deforestation has become a major headache in the area. If the farmers are left to cut down trees to meet the tobacco curing demand, then no tree will be left,” she said.
“We have summoned the companies involved and villagers and told them to stop it and to find an alternative to firewood.”
Chidirio said they were in the process of assessing the impact with the aim of taking punitive measures against offenders. EMA can penalize offenders through fining -which ranges from level one ($5) to level 14 ($5 000).
An environmental committee that involves the local traditional leadership, councilors and villagers has been set up to assist in curbing the problem.
“Deforestation is not the only negative environmental ramification of tobacco production, but in turn causes soil erosion due to loss of vegetative cover and contribute to climate change,” Chidiriro said.