The Sunday News
ONE of the seldom addressed but thorny issues is the grazing conflict that usually pits resettled farmers and the neighbouring communal lands. In fact livestock farmers who have been unfortunate enough to get farms sharing boundaries with communal lands have had a torrid time all the way in most cases, trying to keep unruly neighbours out of their farms.
This is almost an age old conflict which has scaled new heights after the resettlement programme of year 2000. Most, resettled farmers are having it hard especially those with farms which are adjacent to communal lands.
Resettled farmers have their paddocking fences vandalised every day as livestock farmers from the communal land want to let their animals into these resettlement farms. The resettlement farms generally have been grazing when compared to communal areas, due to proper rangeland management principles which were instituted by previous owners and adopted by the current ones.
The unfortunate effect of this grazing conflict is that if it goes on unchecked and the trespassers are left to do as they please, the resettlement farms get degraded and quickly become unusable like some of the communal lands. I know one resettlement farm in Mangwe District which shares boundaries with communal areas under Matobo District, which has become difficult to use because the neighbouring communal farmers constantly vandalise the fences such that the resettlement farm is always overstocked at any given time and it has become severely degraded affecting its carrying capacity.
The import of this week’s submission is to acknowledge the existence of the grazing conflict in such farms and seek to proffer solutions so that beneficiaries of such resettlement farms can be able to be productive without the hindrance brought about by nuisance neighbours.
It is my submission that the relevant Government department responsible for resettlement land should capacitate the beneficiaries to be able to develop and enforce by-laws that protect their areas from trespassers.
In communal areas, grazing management conflicts are usually arbitrated by traditional leaders who are the custodians of the communal lands. However, in resettlement areas, such traditional leadership structures do not exist in most areas and in place where they do, they are usually weak and lack the requisite natural authority to enforce by-laws.
It is against this background that communities in the resettlement areas need to be capacitated to develop and enforce by-laws which will help to keep the autonomy of their farms. Otherwise if the current situation in some areas where farmers from communal areas cut fences of resettlement farms and drive in their animals, with impunity, is allowed to persist, the resettlement farms will soon be reduced to the state of most of our communal lands – severely degraded, unproductive and extremely reduced in carrying capacity.
Fingers will then be pointed to these resettlement farmers as being unproductive when in fact it is the hostile neighbours who have made their stay in these farms untenable. It is common knowledge that grazing lands have always been sources of conflict since time immemorial but letting the conflict to just rage on without measures and solutions being tried, is counterproductive.
It is my conviction that Government departments such as the Department of Lands and Rural Resettlement have relevant pieces of legislations which can be activated in such circumstances and beneficiaries of the land reform get protected from trespassers.
This is therefore a call for the department to help such farmers who are facing challenges from problematic neighbours and help protect their farms from intrusion such that they can utilize the land and be productive as expected by the Government. Otherwise these beneficiaries will be held hostage by unruly neighbours who are usually daring and spoiling for a fight in most cases. In the Mangwe example that I alluded to above, the resettled farmers tried to replace the fences that had been cut and these two did not last a week.
As I write, this particular farm is just as good as unusable to a livestock farmer because it is overstocked with livestock from the neigbouring communal areas and by as early as April the grass is already depleted. This means for as long as this type of conflict exists, these resettled farmers will never be productive and they will never enjoy the benefits of their farm. Such a situation cannot be left unchecked as it is very retrogressive. Uyabonga umntakaMakhumalo.