The Zambian government has failed rural communities to benefit commercial farming, says Human Rights Watch.
The Zambian government has failed to protect the rights of its rural residents displaced by commercial farms in the Serenje District, said human rights organisation, Human Rights Watch (HRW).
This non-governmental organisation released a 101-page report – “Forced to Leave: Commercial Farming and Displacement in Zambia” – investigating “the impact of commercial farms on residents’ rights to health, housing, livelihood, food and water security, and education”.
The relevant commercial farmers acquired land while ignoring legal provisions meant to protect the environment and ensure compensation for those communities who have lost their land, according to HRW.
Farmers whose families have farmed on the land for generations where displaced without due process or compensation, said Julian Nnoko-Mewanu, researcher and author of the report.
According to the HRW, the Zambian government has been negligent in enforcing laws on land acquisition during the process of promoting large-scale agricultural investments in an effort to diversify and reduce rural poverty.
Many commercial farmers operate on “farm blocks” and government has promised to build roads, irrigation, and other infrastructure serving multiple farms. Laws and policies control how land is converted from “customary” to “state” status.
According to government, farm blocks in the Serenje District were converted from “customary” to “state” status long ago and multiple advocates and traditional authorities said these processes were faulty and should be considered void.
FORCED TO LEAVE
Zambian law states that government officials and investors are responsible for investments and traditional leaders should consult affected communities before agreeing to land transfers.
However, rural residents claimed they were not informed about commercial farms and no effort was made to protect their rights.
Residents displaced by commercial farms lost access to food, water, shelter and schools, says the report.
Families were relocated to areas with poor soil quality, can’t grow sufficient food and were moved away from water sources.
HRW has called on the Zambian government to protect the rights of rural residents in commercial farming areas and to enforce all relevant laws and policies. The body also suggested that government should adopt a customary land administration bill and update its land policy.
Nnoko-Mewanu, researcher on women and land at Human Rights Watch, said government should take dramatic and rapid action to ramp up enforcement of its own laws and regulations.