ILLEGAL gold panners operating at Matopos Research Institute Farm are threatening international research work aimed at improving agriculture in Southern Africa and beyond, through land degradation that has affected studies on crops and caused the death of pedigree breeding livestock.
The Minister of State in the Office of the President and Cabinet in charge of monitoring and implementation of special agriculture-related programmes, David Marapira has given panners an ultimatum to vacate the property, situated in Matobo District, in three months.
The farm comprises an area of 28 000 hectares leased from the Rhodes Matopos Estate. Matopos Research Centre is part of the Command Agriculture programme that yielded bumper harvests countrywide and resulted in Zimbabwe recording a grain surplus.
At least US$300 million that was used to import grain annually will be saved and channelled to grow other sectors of the economy, in line with Vision 2030.
The centre is run by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (Icrisat), an international organisation that conducts agricultural research for rural development
Minister Marapira, whose task is to ensure the monitoring and implementation of Government programmes focusing on Command
Agriculture, mechanisation and irrigation development, matters relating to environmental and fire management as well as climate change, expressed concern over land degradation in the farm during his visit yesterday.
He said there is need for the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development working with the Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Ministry, police and the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement to come up with proper mining policies that protect the environment.
“There is serious land degradation by illegal gold panners at the Matopos Research Institute Farm. All the areas which we have travelled from the main road to Matopos right to Gwanda road, we saw a high magnitude of destruction caused by illegal gold panners,” he said.
“The purpose of my visit is to appreciate the extent of damages to the environment and come up with solutions which require the Ministry of Mine and Mining Development, Environmental Management Authority (Ema) and the Ministry of Environment together with our security organs to come together and stop illegal mining activities.”
The minister said even miners operating legally should be regulated to protect the environment.
“There is need to come up with proper mining policies because from the meeting I had with stakeholders those policies are not there to stop illegal mining activities, which can also regulate all miners operating legally. It looks like even those operating legally are not looking at the issue of preservation of our environment,” he said.
Minister Marapira heard complaints from local farmers who are losing their cattle, which are dying after falling into pits dug by illegal gold panners.
“The farmers have raised concern that they continue to lose cattle to illegal settlers as they are digging pits resulting in cattle falling into those pits and dying. We have pedigree cattle which are kept here at Matopos by farmers contracted to produce pedigree cattle.,” he said.
Minister Marapira said Matopos Research Institute Farm is an essential national and international asset which seeks to enhance livestock production and other crops in Zimbabwe and the region.
“As Government we have to stop all this. We don’t allow mining activities in Government farms. If you look at the state of the farm, it is neglected and it seems the responsible ministry is not looking after this 28 000ha farm,” he said.
“We should stop mining in national parks because if you look at the state of the environment, our wildlife animals fall into these pits dug by illegal gold panners.”
Minister Marapira said police should be deployed to the farm to evict the illegal settlers who are wreaking havoc on the environment.
“When I come back in three months’ time all this land should have been returned to normal use. All illegal settlers should be evicted and graders and bulldozers should come and destroy these structures used by gold panners,” he said.
“We will make sure security agents are deployed because we don’t want illegal mining at this farm.”
One of the farmers affected by illegal mining activities, Mr Andy Groenewald said he lost 50 cattle in the last two years to illegal gold panners.
“We need law enforcement agents because our properties are riddled with illegal mining activities. Gold panners are digging pits resulting in our livestock falling into those holes. We need support from the police and Ministry of Mines and Mining Development and other relevant Government departments,” he said.
“As farmers we are facing major challenging of our cattle being trapped by illegal gold panners. This year so far, I have lost 17 cattle and 50 in the last couple of years. In the past few weeks, I lost four beasts after they fell into pits and died.” Chronicle