Peta Thornycroft – Telegraph.co.uk May 13, 2007
The man elected to head the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development has been accused of presiding over the ruin of his own farm in Zimbabwe and the collapse of many of the country's wildlife sanctuaries.
Francis Nhema, the Minister for Environment and Tourism, was put in charge of the 53-member commission yesterday, despite protests from Europe, America and human rights groups.
Opponents said the dismal record of President Robert Mugabe's regime in running its agricultural economy meant that it was not fit to take charge of global policy on rural development and sustainable agriculture.
Now The Sunday Telegraph can reveal serious question marks over Mr Nhema's personal record in managing the rural environment. According to the owners of the white-owned farm that he took over after it was seized by war veterans in 2002, much of it is now more like a wasteland.
The 2,000-acre farm in the Karoi district, north of Harare, used to grow 220 acres of maize and 200 acres of tobacco, irrigated by water from a dam on the farm, as well as beef cattle, pigs and sheep.
But Chris Shepherd, 42, who still holds the farm's title deeds, said that when he flew low over Nyamanda recently, he was shocked by its decline. "There were about 50 acres of appalling maize, which will produce nothing," he said. "The place looks dreadful. Two of the tobacco barns that burnt down after Nhema moved in have not been rebuilt. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw the destruction."
Mr Shepherd flew over the farm to check on the land that had supported his family, more than 250 permanent workers and their families, and 250 contract workers during the season. He said the only part of the farm still functioning successfully was some grazing land for cattle, which Mr Nhema had rented out to two white farmers allowed to remain in the area.
Mr Nhema refused to comment on the claims. "You must speak to my farm manager about anything related to the farm," he said, adding that he did not own all the land.
Last week the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, which monitors food security in sub-Saharan Africa, issued an alert that Zimbabwe had produced less than half the maize it needs to feed its population. Until 2000, when President Mugabe began seizing white-owned farms - which produced 40 per cent of the country's foreign earnings - Zimbabwe was a net exporter of food. But the agricultural infrastructure has since collapsed.
Little irrigation capacity remains and, with inflation of 2,200 per cent, its farming sector is on its knees. The catastrophe on the farm Mr Nhema took over is replicated on about 50 million acres of former commercial farming areas.
The country's wildlife, key to its tourism appeal, has also suffered through land reforms. Poaching has hit record levels, and scores of conservancies have closed.
The position to which Mr Nhema was elected rotates among regions and it was Africa's turn to choose who should lead the commission for the next year.
The decision infuriated Western diplomats. Ian Pearson, Britain's minister for climate change and the environment, said: "Zimbabwe's election will be seen as an outrage by millions of people who look to the United Nations for help to escape from poverty. They will asking how the body charged with promoting sustainable development can maintain credibility while being chaired by a representative of a government whose failed policies have destroyed its own economy."
But Mr Nhema defended the decision. "I think it's not time to point fingers. There is never a perfect method. It's always a method which is appropriate to each country. So it's important not only to look at Zimbabwe but to look at each other and see what we can learn.”
Last updated 16/05/2007