Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

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Oranges turn into lemons at Matonga’s Chegutu farm

Oranges turn into lemons at Matonga’s Chegutu farm

Saturday, 31 July 2010 20:45

EVERYONE loves oranges unless they have turned into lemons, as they seem to
have done at a citrus farm a few kilometers outside Chegutu owned by former
deputy Minister of Information Bright Matonga.

Visitors to the farm will discover that oranges can become sickeningly dark
brown in colour or look so unhealthy that from afar they easily put-off
would-be consumers.

This is the reality that confronted The Standard news crew that visited
Matonga’s farm last week. The citrus plantation, previously known as
Chigwell Farm which used to generate between US$3 million to US$4 million
annually under the management of Chegutu commercial farmer Tom Beattie is in
an advanced state of neglect.

Things have become so bad that weeds grow luxuriantly in the orchard,
chocking the life out of the withering orange trees.
Workers were last week frantically trying to repair a broken water pump.

A worker at the farm last week offered a strange explanation for the failure
to irrigate the orange trees which are exhibiting all the signs of
water-related stress.

“Pombi yakarumwa nemakonzo (The pipe was eaten by rats),” quipped the man we
found at the farm last week.
“We hope if it’s fixed we can irrigate some of these oranges. You can’t sell
them in this state.”

The man was right.
 The oranges are not the sweet and delicious fruit that one associates with
the famed Zimbabwean orchards which thrive, thanks to the sunny weather
conditions that prevail in many parts of Zimbabwe.

Some of Matonga’s oranges, which are not being sold, are  so tiny, blemished
and disfigured that they literary leave a sour taste in one’s mouth. Others
are rotting in the trees.

“My friend, these orange trees are just wild trees growing on their own,”
said one young man we found in Chegutu last week.
“If they don’t beat the competition posed by the weeds, they die.”

In fact, one needs nerves of steel to navigate the orchard which is turning
into a snake infested jungle.
Any weeds one can think of are competing for space with orange trees.

The Standard was told by a fear-stricken worker that dangerous snakes were
finding a safe breeding ground in what should have been a thriving citrus
exporting farm.

“It’s a miracle that no one has been bitten by snakes here,” said a worker.
The worker feared that the plantation could also be posing a fire hazard.

Part of the orchard is now a bush where people, affected by the frequent
Zesa power cuts, gladly pick firewood.
On Friday Beattie described what had happened at his former citrus
plantation as a disaster.

“The orchard is finished, you need a bulldozer to clear the orange trees.
They are a write-off,” he said.
“Seventy-percent of the trees are dead; they can’t be resurrected. I am
disappointed, they put people who have no money to run the orchard.  They
can’t look after the trees, yet they expect to reap oranges.”

Under proper management, Beatie says the orange trees planted in 1990 should
have provided juicy oranges for between 25 to 30 years.
“But the trees won’t produce because they haven’t been watered, he (Matonga)
can’t afford the water,” said Beattie.

“The orchard needs to be sprayed weekly, or sometimes fortnightly depending
on the circumstances.
“The trees must be fertilised, each tree requires between one and half to
two kg of fertiliser.”

“For the 110 hectares taken over by Matonga, around 80 to 90 tonnes of
fertiliser are required every year.
“Matonga can’t buy this amount of fertiliser; he has no money. So what has
he succeeded in doing is turning oranges into lemons.”

With emotion in his voice, Beattie added: “The orchard has not been managed,
these people were sent to destroy, nothing else. They were told, we hate
this white man, destroy his property and they did that.”

A fuming Matonga yesterday refused to respond to accusations that he had run
down a once thriving citrus farm. He instead launched  a blistering tirade
against this journalist for “specialising” in negative stories about him. He
also threatened to lodge a complaint with the police for alleged

“You wrote about my divorce, and now you want to write about my oranges. You
only see the negative.
“You went to my farm without my permission, took pictures. That’s an
invasion into my privacy; it’s like entering my bedroom. I will report you
to the police.
“Why did you choose only oranges, why haven’t you asked about the 100
hectares of sorghum, eight hectares of sugar beans, 100 hectares of seed
maize on my farm. You should be ashamed of yourself, go ahead write what you
want, I am not bothered.”

While Matonga says The Standard is manufacturing stories about him, vendors
in Chegutu whose livelihood depends on selling oranges purchased from the
orchard are not impressed either.

They now travel about 8km to a farm owned by one “Madzongwe” where they buy
their oranges for resale. Madzongwe refers to Senate president Edna
Madzongwe who invaded a farm owned by a Canadian couple last year.

“Who wants to travel a long distance to buy oranges when a citrus plantation
is a stone’s throw away,” said a middle aged woman, who was struggling to
sell a pack of small oranges dubbed “Orange-tonga” a bastardised term used
to refer to oranges from Matonga’s farm.
We inquired about the origins of this “orange-tonga” variety.

“Oranges are known to be sweet. But if you see the kind of oranges that we
started to get from the new farmers, you will understand why they earned
this name. They are tiny and juice starved. They are also not sweet.
Somehow, all oranges falling in that grade are now called orange-tonga.”
True to her saying, if you travel along the Harare-Bulawayo road these days,
you see this so-called orange-tonga variety being sold by the roadside.
The oranges, sold for a dollar or two for a small pack, are tiny and
unappetising. They are mostly shunned by travellers.

A disenchanted vendor selling the oranges gave a grim assessment of the
“The people who buy my oranges are mainly those who are coming from the
rural areas. Some of these people have not eaten oranges for the past five
years, so they can’t really complain about their taste,” he said.

It is alleged that Matonga, in expropriating the farm from Beattie, grabbed
US$860 000 worth of farming equipment. The case is in the courts.



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