Sweet dreams of Mkwasine sugar estates turn bitter
DREAMS by locals of becoming successful sugarcane farmers after the government acquired Mkwasine Sugar Estates as part of the land reform programme in the year 2006 are gradually fading for over 300 outgrower farmers.
Before Independence, Mkwasine was known as Little England due to the number of successful white outgrower farmers.
More than 20 farmers in the area owned private aircraft. The estate, then owned by Hippo Valley and Triangle Limited, was producing over 850 000 tonnes of sugarcane before the government seizure.
The farmers grabbed the thriving sugar crop which was in the fields. Outgrower farmers are now struggling to meet the standards set by white settlers, they are also struggling to maintain structures left by the settlers and they are now producing between 400 000 and 500 000 tonnes per annum.
Tongaat Hulett Zimbabwe withdrew its employees, who used to manage issues of service delivery, including water purification and management of roads in 2017 and left skeleton staff which they later withdrew.
Currently there is a health time bomb due to a shortage of clean water, worsened by the absence of an authority which can manage issues of service delivery in the area without conflict. The road network is also dilapidated.
Mkwasine Management Committee (MMC), a body selected by farmers to spearhead development issues, is facing resistance from individual farmers disturbing the smooth running of the estate which is now in a sorry state.
Chiredzi district development coordinator Lovemore Chisema told The NewsHawks that the state of Mkwasine is depreciating on a daily basis and there is a need for all stakeholders to come together and find a solution which can restore the status of the once thriving estate.
“This is an issue we are seized with at the moment, but it is complex since farmers are the ones who should find a solution. It seems the MMC is facing challenges which should be addressed by either dissolving it or they should start provide the services needed since individual farmers are paying monetary contributions to the committee,” said Chisema.
A sugarcane farmer from Mkwasine told The NewsHawks that indigenous farmers abused money when the government allocated them plots with sugarcane crop when land reforms was introduced in the sugar industry. He said they then failed to maintain the plots, resulting in poor yields.
“We have no one to blame but ourselves. We are not good at farming sugarcane, it needs a lot of concentration, but if you look at it most of us are cellphone farmers who are not concentrating on our fields. Farmers rely on supplies of inputs from Tongaat Hulett which are paid later on a higher scale. As l speak, Mkwasine is now crumbling, l can say the almost 9 000 hectares under sugarcane is being underutilised with most farmers now concentrating on other crops,” said the farmer.
Blessing Mahwerera, Mkwasine management committee secretary-general said they are facing challenges of supplying clean water since ZESA removed some of its transformers, resulting in difficulties in pumping water in other areas. He said his committee is in the process of buying a new grader to maintain roads in the area.
“Our roads are under the jurisdiction of Chiredzi Rural District Council but we are in the process of acquiring a grader to maintain roads which does not fall under council. We are facing challenges in pumping water due to shortage of power transformers, but we are trying as a committee to address issues of service delivery. Most farmers are harvesting between 50 to 80 tonnes per hectare meaning we are not far from meeting the required target,” said Mahwerera.
Great Zimbabwe University professor and sugarcane expert Munyaradzi Shoko said the Sugar Act of 1963 is the main factor hampering outgrower sugarcane farmers since the law favours the miller, Tongaat Hulett.
He said farmers should push for its amendment. He also said farmers should improve their farming skills so that they meet Tongaat Hulett standards.
“Farmers are negatively affected by so many factors, chief among them the 23% mill door price. Our university offered a training course to sugarcane farmers to improve their skills, hence the need for them to practically apply those skills so that their yield can improve,” said Shoko.
Just like the status of Hippo Valley and Triangle Estates, Mkwasine used to have a state-of-the-art golf course, tennis courts and swimming pools and a country club. They are however now dilapidated. Cattle are being herded onto Mkwasine Golf Course, which is now a bush.