Zimbabwe — ALL wildlife conservancy land in Zimbabwe should be used for wildlife farming instead of crop production, while farmers settled under the land reform programme should take up the land use options available in those areas, a government official has said.
Ministry of Lands and Rural Resettlement Secretary Sophia Tsvakwi said this week prior to 2007, all land was gazetted as agricultural land and farmers resettled in those areas were encouraged to take up crop farming despite the land use options available in the areas. However after 2007, land resettlement in conservancies was no longer a prerogative of the Ministry of Lands but of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Management. “After the wildlife based land reform was approved in 2007, all conservancies were handed over to the Ministry of Environment and resettlement in conservancies no longer falls under the Ministry of Lands,” Tsvakwi said. Tsvakwi was giving oral evidence before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Natural Resources, Environment and Tourism chaired by Maxwell Du-be , Tsholotsho South legislator. Dube had asked her whether the government was allocating land in forestry plantations and wildlife conservancies. “My ministry is no longer responsible for allocating land in conservancies. The ministry handed over conservancies which include Chiredzi River Conser-vancy, Gwaai Valley Conserv-ancy, Save Valley Conservancy, Midlands Black Rhino Conser-vancy, Malilangwe Conservancy, Bubi Intensive Conservancy and Bubiana Conservancy and from 2007, resettlement was handled by that ministry,” she said. She added that those who had been allocated land before the approval of the wildlife-based land reform policy were legal settlers who received their offer and confirmation letters from the Lands Ministry. “Since allocation of land resettlement since 2000 was done for agricultural purposes, we had discussions with the Ministry of Environment so that they take on board those who had been allocated land prior to 2007 so that they adapt to the available land use options such as wildlife farming. This was necessary because crop farming in some of these areas was not viable.” The Committee was worried about the influx in illegal settlers especially in conservancies, highlighting the incidents in Gonara-zhou and in forestry plantations in Manicaland. Statistics from Parks and Wildlife Management Autho-rity show that more than 3?000 families have invaded the Gonarezhou National Park while another 1?000 invaded Save Valley Conservancy. Resettled farmers have been practicing incompatible land use to areas meant for wildlife conservation for years and people resettled on horticultural estates (fruit trees), coffee estates, tree plantations and conservancies have resorted to crop production. In complying with wildlife policy, the Ministry of Lands stopped issuing 99 year leases to farmers in Gwaai area. “As a ministry, we have stopped issuing 99 year leases for farmers in Gwaai because under the wildlife policy, they should get the 25 year leases from the Ministry of Environ-ment, which is the agreed position becau-se they say conservancies are a business,” Tsvakwi said. Wildlife-based land reform policy provides for partnerships betwe-en the public, private and community sectors. In the context of the wildlife industry. The Committee also expressed concern that the timber industry was under siege becau-se of legal and illegal settlers who have destroyed plantations, planting maize and potatoes, while most forestry land had been burnt down due to veld fires believed to have been started by these settlers. “The ministry is aware of the problems in these areas and we are working with the Ministry of Environ-ment and Natural Resources Manage-ment to come up with a forestry land policy but people had already been allocated land in some of these areas. “However, since we started these discussions, the lands ministry has since stopped allocating land in plantations,” said Tsva-kwi. Director for Land Acquisition, Valuation and Estate Manag-ement, Marius Dzinoreva, said the ministry had prioritised the need to come up with a policy to solve the problems being faced in plantations especially in Mani-caland. “Within the course of the year, the policy would have been finalised,” Dzinoreva said. The invasion of conservancies has resulted in an upsurge in poaching activities and veld fires in conservancies, while 12?000 hectares of forestry have been destroyed as illegal settlers have contributed to the cause of fire outbreaks in plantations.