Veld fires an issue of national concern in Zimbabwe.
June 15, 2021
By Wallace Mawire
Zimbabwe’s environmental authorities and other concerned stakeholders are intensifying efforts to eradicate incidences of sporadic veld fires which are now reported to have become an issue of national concern given their wanton destructive nature, according to Mangaliso Ndhlovu, Minister of Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry at the recent 2021 national fire week launch, a few kilometres out of Harare.
According to Ndhlovu, each year, the country loses over a million hectares of forests and grasslands depriving wildlife and livestock of pastures and leaving the country counting loses of property, crops and life.
He said that the annual average burnt area from 2010 to 2020 was 1 million hectares.
It is reported that an average of 60% of the total burnt area has been under the A1 and A2 resettlement areas established under the country’s land reform programme.
“Of the 18,000 A2 farmers, only about 400 have 99 year leases, which leases have specific clauses on environmental protection. This creates a possibility of massive information gap on the responsibilities of farmers in their properties,” Ndhlovu said.
Every year, the second week of May in the country is set aside for education and awareness raising on the dangers associated with veld fires and strategies for their prevention.
It is added that statutorily, the veld fire season in Zimbabwe stretches from 31 July to 31 October each year.
Ndhlovu said that what it basically means is that the veld fire season ends when the country receives the first effective rains to break the fire triangle, but the period has not differed significantly in reality despite the effects of climate change.
According to the National Fire Management Strategy and Implementation Plan of 2006, the National Fire Week Launch is meant to raise awareness amongst communities on the need to prevent veld fires by undertaking pre-fire suppression measures such as fireguard construction, biomass reduction and early controlled burning.
The theme for this 2021 national fire week commemorations is “Veld Fires and Food Security- Protect the harvest”, a theme with a focus towards revealing the nexus between veld fire management and sustaining food security.
“The country’s agricultural yield projection for the 2020/21 season indicates a bumper harvest, one of its kind in 37 years, which we should all celebrate and judiciously protect,” Ndhlovu said.
He added that as the country celebrates the projection of a good national crop yield, citizens should be cognizant of the environmental factors which dominate landscapes and it is not yet time to relax.
“We should therefore all work together to prevent catastrophic losses to our harvest from veld fires,” he said.
The environment ministry says that it has already begun a comprehensive awareness programme with the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement through their Agritex extension services.
It is reported that every farmer is expected to construct their fireguard in compliance with the laws of our country.
The minister added that over the past 10 years veld fires have led to over 100 fire related deaths.
“This is too big a figure to ignore. No life should be lost to veld fires because one life lost is one too many. Life is precious and hence we should thrive as a country to prevent loss of life,” he said.
It is reported that the 2021 veld fire prediction undertaken by the Ministry through Environmental Management Agency (EMA), using biomass as indicated by the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) as a proxy for fuel load, and the previous fire behaviour as indicated by the burnt area in 2020, shows that the country is generally in the high risk (65.2%) to extreme risk (24.7%) to veld fires, compared to medium (43.3%) to high (23.1%) risk in 2020.
It is added that following the heavy rains received, there is high biomass even in areas that traditionally have low biomas implying that, the country is highly vulnerable to veld fires in the 2021 fire season. The Provinces at extreme risk are Mashonaland West, Mashonaland East, Mashonaland Central and Manicaland while the two Matabeleland Provinces, Midlands and Masvingo are this time around at high risk to veld fires.
“Given this background, l call upon all stakeholders to find a niche in the veld fire management strategy, especially landowners, occupiers, users and communities at large, as they remain key actors in veld fire prevention,” Ndhlovu said.
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