Chief Mukungule of the Bisa people, situated in Zambia's north-central Muchinga Province, awoke one morning to a shocking revelation: more than half of his chiefdom had seemingly vanished into thin air.

The chief now finds himself seething with anger, leveling accusations against the government for transforming his chiefdom into a farm block without his consent. In the process, this action threatens the livelihoods of his people, the delicate balance of local wildlife, and the integrity of the surrounding environmental ecosystems.

The Chief’s recent public outcry comes after an arduous and desperate eight-year struggle to have the Mupamadzi North Extension Farm block in Mukungule Chiefdom revoked.

He claims that the extension was initiated using a letter bearing his forged signature. The implications of the Mupamadzi Farm Block plan are far-reaching, as it has encroached upon approximately 60% of his territory. This includes villages like Mwansabamba, Kaluba, Chipundu, Kashaita and even Mukungule area where his palace located.

Francis Kapyanga, Mpika Central Member of Parliament, acknowledges the establishment of the farm block, describing it as “bizarre.”

“We have started the process of engaging government and other stakeholders like the Frankfurt Zoological Society and the community over this issue of the farm block and his Excellency the President should help us revoke that title which affects over 2,000 people”, he disclosed.

A Source of Controversy

The farm block has been a subject of contention since its establishment in 2015.

In December 2022, Evans Muhanga, the Ministry of Tourism Permanent Secretary, reportedly communicated with his counterpart in the Ministry of Agriculture, urging the cancellation of the farm block due to unlawful encroachment into the Mukungule Game Management Area.

Among the primary concerns raised by the Ministry of Tourism is the anticipated adverse impact of the farm block on the region’s natural habitat. Consequently, the Ministry is proposing a reconfiguration of the farming block to exclude the game management area.

The Mukungule Game Management Area (GMA) No. 39, located in Chief Mukungule’s village, covers an approximately area 1,900 square kilometres. It is situated adjacent to the North Luangwa National Park and was established and officially designated in 1998.

North Luangwa National Park itself was founded as a game reserve in 1938 by the colonial Northern Rhodesia Government and later gazetted as a national park in 1972.

Until the emergence of the farming block scandal, the North Luangwa protected ecosystem of about 22,000 square kilometres of virtually untouched landscapes was home to unique and diverse species and is one of the last large undisturbed regions in central Africa boasting the presence of all the Big 5 – lions, elephants, leopards, buffalo, and Zambia’s only surviving black rhino population.

A Key Ecological Location

From an ecologically perspective, the Mukungule GMA serves as the watershed for three of Luangwa’s key perennial rivers - the Munyamadzi, Mwaleshi and Lufila rivers, which with the Luangwa River, if impacted by industrial and farming activities, may result in negative effects for millions of downstream users.

Mpika District Senior Wildlife Warden Jarton Shawa says the Tourism Ministry’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife is mandated to manage Zambia’s wildlife estates, which comprise National Parks, Game Management Areas, Wildlife and Bird Sanctuaries.

“The farming block affects the game management area and negatively impacts on our game management plans” he disclosed.

In a follow up, ZEMA said that large scale developments like farm blocks require Strategic Environmental Impact Assessments while individual farms within the block are also required to undertake their own Environmental Impact Assessments outlining their intended land use activities.

Despite there requirements, no known Strategic Environmental Impact Assessment for the 134,000 hectares farm block exists.

Meanwhile, various agricultural developments and activities are already underway in the disputed farm bloc, while the necessary statutory requirements such as the need for impact assessments, have been ignored.

Environmental activists spoken to have noted several instances where ZEMA has not acted to enforce environmental protection laws. Some examples include Lochinvar National Park, Kasanka National Park, Nsumbu National Park and more recently, Lower Zambezi National Park.

Forged Letter?

In an interview, Chief Mukungule insisted that he was not consulted on the formation of the farm block and disregards the letter used by the Ministry of Agriculture as proof of the Chief’s consent.

“My subjects and I were not consulted on this development, and this cannot be accepted in my chiefdom”, he stressed.

The chief further claimed that the letter filed with the Ministry of Agriculture, said to have been penned by him, is a forgery which he does not recognise.

“I have only seen that letter used by the Ministry to form this farm block now, I never signed it!” he charged.

The typed letter, signed and dated 9th June 2014, is referenced ‘Land Allocation to the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock as a Farm Block’.

The "disowned" letter bearing the Chief's signature reads–

“I Richmond Mboloma, Chief Mukungule of Mpika District, Muchinga Province on behalf of my people and my Royal Establishment on this day of June 2014, wish to allocate [the] 134,000 hectares of land to Department of Agriculture for the purposes of Agriculture establishing a farm block to enhance the agricultural development in my Chiefdom”.

The 134,000 hectares of Mukungule land claimed by the farm block represents more than half of the Chief’s village. It has witnessed the establishment of several private farming projects with survey beacons distributed within villages.

Villagers Shocked As Chief Demands Punitive Measures

In the event that the disputed farming bloc is allowed to proceed as currently planned, an estimated 2,000 local residents and villagers face eviction.

When asked about the beacons and whether the villagers knew that their homes were now allocated within a farm block which belongs to private developers, most villagers expressed shock.

Headwoman Kapela said generations of her family have lived in the village and the news of a farm block was new to her.

“We are traditional leaders because of this land and if it is taken then there is no longer a Mukungule Chiefdom,” she said.

In addition to cancellation of the farm block, Chief Mukungule has demanded punitive measures for erring officers.

“…in addition to cancellation of the farm block, whoever was and is responsible for this unacceptable act of bringing instability and disruption of peace in my chiefdom, should be visited by the rightful arms of the laws of the land” Chief Mukungule demanded.

Meanwhile, farmers who have bought land in the farm block, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that they were victims in the debacle as they acquired the land through legal means. They hold legitimate titles to the land.

“We have titles and if the farm block is cancelled, we should be compensated fairly for the investment and time we have spent on the land since we established ourselves here”, one of the landowners said.