The Sunday Mail
This year veld fires have not been as raging, prevalent and destructive as they were in the past eight years, and this is due to an unlikely reason.
Apparently, because of the adoption of Pfumvudza/ Intswasa – a climate smart conservation agricultural method – most farmers did not burn their biomass, primarily grass, as part of land preparations for the 2020/2021 summer cropping season, according to the Environmental Management Agency (EMA).
Veld fires are blazes that get out of control and destroy swatches of forests, grasslands, animals, people and property.
At least 806 000 hectares were destroyed in this year’s fire season — July 31 to October 31 — from a total of 1 178 fires recorded, compared to 1,2 million hectares gutted by 1 508 veld fires in the same period last year.
It is the first time in close to a decade that less than a million hectares have been destroyed by veld fires.
The highest figure on record is the 1,3 million hectares that were gutted in 2012.
Sixteen lives – the majority of whom were minors between two and five, including the elderly above 70 years – were unfortunately lost in the same year.
However, three lives were claimed this year.
“There has been increased efforts in veld fire management by EMA and its partners in fire-prone areas. Compared to last year, there is a decrease of about 30 percent on total area destroyed and 21 percent on fire incidences recorded during the 2020 fire season,” explained EMA’s environmental education and publicity manager Mrs Amkela Sidange.
“The coming in of the Pfumvudza/Intwasa farming concept discouraged burning of biomass during land preparation, which in previous fire seasons remained a major cause of a number of veld fires. . .
“Two of the lives lost to the veld fires this year are from Mashonaland East and one is from Mashonaland West.”
Ordinarily, fire helps recycle nutrients contained in old and dead trees.
But sometimes, due to negligent human behaviour, it becomes increasingly difficult to control it.
EMA is now maintaining a presence on the ground throughout the fire season.
“Unlike in the past, we did not use fire to clear our fields this time around. Some of the grass in the fields has been used in construction projects that we are undertaking. Also, we have preserved the fields as grazing lands for our livestock,” said Goromonzi-based farmer Jefta Mukonori.
Taurai Mangwiro, a Murehwa farmer, agrees.
“We are working closely with EMA. Our fields are protected with fire guards. Similarly, most of the people in this area have joined Pfumvudza, thus they are active in their respective fields.”
The agency has been aggressive in promoting the construction of fireguards throughout the country.
Likewise, harvesting of hay bales and thatch grass in different communities has also been instrumental in protecting prime lands.
“As EMA we give incentives to communities with bee hives as a way of encouraging the protection of the veld from fires, and as livelihood options,” said Mrs Sidange.
Veld fires often destroy pastures necessary for livestock restocking, including tree plantations.
There are also instances where maize and wheat fields have been destroyed.
Most of the veld fires are attributed to improper disposal of cigarette stubs, smoking out bees for honey harvesting, lighting fires on the roadside, land preparation, hunting, deliberate lighting of fires (arson), children playing with fire and improper household ash disposal.
EMA’s Environmental Impact Assessment and Ecosystems Statutory Instrument 7 of 2007 makes it illegal to light a fire outside residential and commercial premises during the fire season.
“Veld fires have negative effects to the environment and society at large because they reduce land cover, resulting in soil erosion, changes in the hydrological cycle, increase in overland flow or surface runoff and modifications in various ecological processes.
“Soil erosion leads to siltation of rivers and dams, thus reducing their water carrying capacity. This is likely to induce floods in low-lying areas,” said Mrs Sidange.
She encouraged communities to quickly report all veld fires that they come across to prevent further loss of life and property.