The land under Nantipwiri Estate that President Joyce Banda ordered to be distributed to poor landless people of Thyolo district and Blantyre has mostly gone to a clique of well-to-do women, Nation on Sunday has established.
Consequently, the villagers who were supposed to benefit from the presidential directive are now mere labourers (a ganyu) on land that should have been theirs at least for two years before passing it on to others under the Presidential Initiative on Poverty and Hunger Reduction (PIoPHR).
Three village heads (VHs) we talked to on Friday, whose subjects were meant to benefit from the estate’s partitioning, claimed that of the initial set of 200 people who have received plots at the farm, only 68 are from the targeted communities.
“The rest are town women mostly based in Blantyre who come here with their big cars to hire our subjects as labourers on the land they grabbed from us poor people,” said VH Wiliyamu II, whose name is Ivy Chinthenga.
For example, Chinthenga said, out of 587 families in her village, only 10 people benefited.
PIoPHR national coordinator Flora Kaluwile confirmed that some of the beneficiaries are well-to-do people from outside the supposed beneficiary villages.
She said these people were roped in as partners and were not selected as individuals, but as farming groups.
Kaluwile said 80 hectares were shared among 150 smallholder farmers, with Thyolo providing 100 farmers and 50 from Blantyre. The whole estate has 260 hactares.
Going by Kaluwile’s information and based on total hectarage, it means that 180 hectares, almost 70 percent of the land, have gone to just 50 people who are outside the surrounding communities, leaving the targeted poor with just bits to share.
She said while farmers were supposed to be people surrounding the farm, some groups were also allocated land for demonstration. These are Bvumbwe Farmers Cooperative, Business Women Consortium, Umodzi Women Group, Youth Movement, Mudzi Transformation Fund, Chitsanzo Business Women, Women Association and Bvumbwe Demonstration.
“Some of these are meant to be investors with the intention to teach people in the surrounding villages modern farming methods,” said Kaluwile.
She could not, however, explain how the villagers are going to learn when they are only being used as labourers.
In fact, during previous interviews for earlier stories, the villagers said no one is teaching them anything, adding that they only received farm inputs.
But Kaluwile said: “Those villagers have their lands within the farm, but they prefer to do ganyu. Government has spent K80 million in farm inputs on the 80 hectares meant for the smallholder farmers.”
Meanwhile, tensions are high around the farm between the locals and the outside women’s groups over wage payments and what locals consider intimidation.
A villager from the area claimed in a separate interview that one of the women groups, Umodzi Women in Agri-Business, has brought misery to the labourers.
He accused the group of facilitating the arrest of his friend, Richard Zuze, who the women’s group hired to identify labourers to work on their land and supervise them. Zuze is being held at Bvumbwe Police Station after Umodzi accused him of misappropriating money meant to pay the labourers.
Bvumbwe Police officer-in-charge Ken Wetcha confirmed on Friday that Zuze was in custody, but said police have not yet opened a case against him as the women’s group has not lodged a formal complaint.
Asked why the police are detaining a man they have not charged with an offence, Wetcha said: “I cannot competently answer at the moment, but the issue involves money close to K900 000, which the women are accusing the supervisor of having inflated. We are yet to get to the bottom of it.”
Umodzi chairperson Monica Unyolo confirmed that Zuze was their supervisor and that he was indeed arrested. But she refused to divulge more details, saying police are in a better position to explain.
President Banda, on November 6 last year, directed that the land be distributed under PLoPHR—one of her many pet projects.
At the time of the presidential directive, the land in question was a subject of a legal dispute between its original owners Press Agriculture and their business advisers Deloitte & Touche (Malawi) on the one hand, and an interested buyer, Ralph Tseka, on the other.
The legal tussle remains unresolved.