Historically, land tenure has been controversial in Zimbabwe. At the moment the main legal challenge for rural communities is weak tenure rights over communal land which is state owned. Land grabbing and evictions driven by private actors getting land for mining or large scale agricultural projects such as biofuels are increasingly becoming an issue of concern. When acquiring communal land little or no effort is made to apply the concept of free, prior informed consent (FPIC). The Chisumbanje biofuels project is a case in point where villagers are fighting against loss of land to investors. There is need to pay particular attention to land ownership and use rights in communal areas.
At the moment the main legal challenge for rural communities is weak tenure rights over communal land which is state owned.
While the fast track land reform programme benefited some productive communities who accessed agricultural land, it also generated challenges related to implementation. The process lacked transparency and accountability and equity. For example, despite the one-man one-farm policy some leaders have more than one farm and some dispossess poor resettled families. Further, some agricultural farms have been abandoned or lying idle after beneficiaries failed to get support or inputs from government. These factors make a land audit as prescribed in the new Constitution necessary. However, the land commission has not yet been established to undertake the land audit. A lot of research and advocacy work is needed in the next five years to influence legal and policy processes in the land sector. Further, the rights of farmers are not fully protected by the law and the concept of intellectual property rights is not fully understood by communal farmers. Traditional seed exchange systems, organic farming, the environment and health may be under threat from genetically modified crops. Some cash crop farmers on contract farming require legal support so that they are not short-changed by get rich quick buyers and marketers of cash crops especially in the tobacco or cotton sector. These issues merit further research and advocacy in the coming five years in partnership with other civil society groups.
The water sector has its fair share of problems that require intervention in the next five years. For example, pollution of water bodies has led to loss of sources of livelihoods and ecosystems. Rivers, dams and underground water sources are heavily polluted and in some cases over-exploited thereby depriving downstream communities of access to adequate water resources. This is a violation of the right to water. The upstream abstraction of water from Save River and Odzi River by diamond mining companies in Marange and subsequent pollution of the same rivers downstream exemplifies the magnitude of the problem. While the law provides the right to water and equitable distribution, in practice many communities do not have access to clean and adequate water. Some villagers walk long distances to access clean water. Where necessary we will find action based ways of intervening to help protect the rights of communities.
Another issue of concern to us is poor forest management practices and the hemorrhagic loss of forest resources. With the advent of the land reform programme a lot of forests and vegetation on resettlement farms has either been cleared for agricultural land use, commercial exploitation for firewood, tobacco curing or through uncontrolled veld fires. Existing forest legislation in some is restrictive and does not adequately advance the rights of local communities. Yet forests contribute to food security, construction of houses, protection of soils and water resources. These challenges require sustained legal, policy and administrative interventions as well.
Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association ‘s Wildlife Programming
One of the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA)’s areas of programming under its current strategic plan is wildlife, which falls under the Land and Natural Resources Programme. However, apart from some work that was done during the formative years of the organization under the then Transboundary Natural Resources Management Programme (TBNRM), nothing much has been done on this very important sector which is integral to ZELA’s work on natural resources governance. The good news is that this is about to change.
ZELA is partnering with the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) under a European Union (EU) funded Project “Partnership for improved anti-poaching and compatible land use in community lands of the Lower Zambezi Mana Pools Transboundary Conservation Area”. In the partnership ZELA is looking at three areas:
- Providing legal support to Mbire Rural District Council in the development of a community wildlife conservancy in wards 1, 2 and 11
- Illegal wildlife trafficking
- Supporting the development of a productive and sustainable fisheries sector in the Lower Zambezi
In the wildlife sector the challenges we will tackle include the ever increasing poaching of endangered species and mining in national parks. The poisoning of elephants in Hwange National Park in 2013 demonstrated the magnitude of the problem. Allegations of poaching have also been levelled against powerful players all driven by growing demands for wildlife products for medicinal uses in Asian countries. The other challenge relates to escalating cases of human and wildlife conflicts in communities that live near conservancies or national parks where people lose live, livestock and crops. The problem is that in some communities the Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE) projects have failed. CAMPFIRE was one of the early models of ensuring that communities living near wildlife rich areas benefit from wildlife management. The programme was affected by a weak legal framework, mismanagement and misuse of funds by local authorities and poor project sustainability strategies. However, some CAMPFIRE projects were successful and led to community development. In response, we will continuously suggest and recommend workable community benefit sharing models in the wildlife sector. In the natural resources sector, the country is increasingly losing biodiversity, genetic resources, wetlands and other ecosystems due to unsustainable human practices. Environmental degradation and siltation of rivers is increasing. In the coming five years we will try to find innovative ways of promoting environmental and natural resources conservation and protection measures.