Thursday, June 1, 2023

Fire season preparations begins

…stakeholders urged to join hands in fighting veld fires

Courage Dutiro

Veld fires pose a significant threat to human livelihoods and are a nuisance when they begin as they have adverse effects on human life as well as the environment.
Veld fires cause a significant loss in Flora and Fauna, and as such this results in a loss in biological diversity and can drive certain vulnerable species that are battling for existence into extinction.
Veld fires can also result in the loss of high value properties like farm tractors, houses, livestock, and food and in worst cases, loss of life.
When fires burn, they destroy most of the soil organic matter and also most soil microorganisms are killed and this will result loss of soil fertility which result in low yields.
The fires also have other serious adverse effects including soil erosion, river siltation due to soil erosion and poor ground water recharge due to excessive run-off.
To mitigate this, the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) Masvingo, recently hosted a veld fire management workshop with various stakeholders including the Forestry Commission, Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), Rural District Councils.
EMA Masvingo Environmental Education and Publicity Officer Munyaradzi Mtisi said the workshop was aimed at reviewing various strategies that were used last year (2022) in reducing veld fire incidences.
“Amongst the key strategies that were used in reducing the veld fires were robust awareness, fire guard construction, training of firefighting teams, issuing out fire guard orders to farmers and prosecution among others,” said Mtisi
He said there was also a collaboration between the Ministries of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement and Environment, Climate Tourism and Hospitality Industry that was established in 2021, aimed at reducing veld fires. This collaboration was implemented in 2022 with the aim of protecting the agricultural produce (crops and animals), agricultural equipment and human life.
“The mentioned structures being the custodians, managers and planners of the land were expected to champion the pre-suppression to suppression activities as set out in the fire action plan annex 1,”
“The use of the electronic media platforms was also used for the two-way reporting system in cases of veld fires. Historically most fires were recorded in communal, resettlement and safari areas, collaboration with local traditional leadership structure, local governance structures, road administration structures and protected areas management was upscale,” he added.
Mtisi said in 2022 the Agency issued out 203 veld fire orders against an annual target of 190.
In 2022, the Agency also established a model fire village at Born Domi farm in ward 1, Zaka district as a way of training farmers on how to prepare their villages for veld fires as this year’s fire season approaches the various stakeholders that were gathered agreed to intensify the execution of the strategies that were employed last year as well as implementing new strategies that were agreed in the meeting.
“Key stakeholders that are involved in the management of veld fires agreed to intensify on raising awareness especially in fire prone areas like Gutu. It was also noted that there is need to ensure that road sides are cleared as most fires were emanating from roadsides due to motorists throwing away cigarette stubs, some of which end up igniting fires on grasslands,” said Mtisi.
He said in preparation of the 2023 fire season, EMA has done a fire risk assessment model meant to identify fire risk zones in the country.
The modelling indicated that the country is at medium to high risk to veld fires.
The model report outlined that provinces that are highly exposed to the veld fires are Mashonaland West, Mashonaland Central, Mashonaland East and Matabeleland North and the districts that fall in extreme risk are Nyanga, Mutasa, Mutare and Chimanimani.
“The model also indicated Masvingo is low risk province when it comes to veld fires. The 2023 fire prediction model however indicates that Masvingo province has moved into a medium risk zone so EMA has decided to step up in terms of preparing for the 2023 fire season,” he said.
In 2022, Chiredzi district recorded the highest areas (24 377.73 hectares) destroyed by fires, followed by Mwenezi with 23 552.25 hectares and Chivi has 444.9 ha which is the lowest in the province.
A robust inclusive fire communication plan has been developed in collaboration with stakeholders and is in place. The plan is devolved to the village level from national level. It incorporates standing government structures and the civil protection in case of a disaster.
EMA Masvingo Provincial Manager, Milton Muusha emphasized the need for stakeholders to work hand in glove to reduce veld fire incidences saying EMA was ready to play its part.
He urged farmers to start preparing fire guards. These are belts of cleared land measuring at least 9 meters in width on either sides of a boundary fence that are cleared of biomass and at least 4.5 meters wide for internal ones.
EMA is therefore encouraging citizens to start the construction of fireguards around paddocks, woodlands, homesteads, croplands and farms.
Farmers were also urged to do hay baling, a practice of cutting grass to be used as livestock feed in the dry season, this will in turn reduce the fuel load during a veld fire.
They are also encouraged to harvest thatch grass, for use in thatching their homes or for selling to business entrepreneurs that are into construction.
The Environmental Management Agency through partnership with key stakeholders will be embarking on training residents and farmers on the proper practice of these sustainable practices, some of which can be used to generate income.

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