As winter comes to an end at the end of July and summer sets in, it brings with it conditions that can trigger runaway veld fires. These include dry veld, flammable materials, wind and heat. The end of July marks the beginning of the official fire season in Zimbabwe, which runs from July 31- October 31 every year.
Containing a veld fire can be one of the worst nightmares that farmers, especially those specialising in livestock, have to deal with. Veld fires pose an imminent threat to pastures. Loss of pastures due to veld fires means the farmer will have to supplement feeding until the rainy season or may have to pay money to rent for pastures. Either options will add an additional financial burden to the farmer. Veld fires can also destroy crops, livestock, property and even human life.
Whenever we are planning for the fire season at Chivara Farm, I often find myself reminiscing the wise counsel of the late musical legend, Oliver Mtukudzi, who on his album, “Vhunze Moto” in 2002, in the song “Moto Moto”, cautions that: “Usamirira kuti ritange rava rimi, kuti unzi moto” (Do not wait until it (a small smouldering stump) becomes a full blown flame to call it a fire or take action).
The message from Mtukudzi in the song is simple: the best way to fight a veld fire is to prevent it or put it off as early as possible.
Farmers should always put in place a comprehensive, stress-tested fire management framework as part of their risk management matrix. This will help them to better plan, prevent and fight veld fires whenever they occur. Such a plan may also include insurance cover for damages caused by veld fires and those damages that one is legally liable for in the event of a fire starting on your farm and spreading to the neighbouring farms.
There are some established best practices that farmers can adopt to plan, prevent, curb and fight veld fires.
The first step is to make sure that your fire-fighting equipment is fully serviced and ready before the onset of the fire season. The equipment includes fire-fighting hoses, portable fire pumps and tanks, beaters, fire hose reels and nozzles, among others. There should also be whistles and bells available for farmers to use to alert other farm occupants and neighbours whenever there is a veld fire outbreak. Such equipment must be stored where it is easily accessible in the moment of need.
Preventing veld fires must be a collective responsibility for all stakeholders because once started, fires can easily spread across farms and communities. It is therefore, always recommended that farmers should establish fire-fighting committees and teams in their farming areas.
These committees and teams should be the ones that lead the charge, not just in fighting veld fires when they occur, but also in educating the communities on best fire prevention and curbing methods.
In our farming area for instance, we have mobilised the youth to take a lead in ensuring the quickest responses to fire alerts and co-ordination in fighting veld fires.
It is also helpful for every farmer to undertake fire risk audits ahead of each fire season to identify risk areas, including possible causes of fire and take appropriate preventative measures.
Fireguards have proven to be one of the most effective and yet least cost ways of preventing and controlling veld fires. Fireguards must be at least 9 metres wide on either side of a boundary and paddock fence. Farmers can use locally available resources to construct their fireguards so that it remains affordable, for instance, use a tractor, ox-drawn plough or hoes.
Farmers should therefore pay particular attention to the main causes of veld fires in their areas. Some of the common causes include improper household ash disposal, deliberate lighting of fires, children playing with matches, reckless disposal of lit cigarette stubs and lighting fire at roadsides while waiting for early morning buses.
In instances where there is a veld fire breakout, livestock should be quickly moved out of grazing land to safe areas such as ploughed fields.
As a general rule, farmers should always make sure that there is sufficient water with adequate pressure to extinguish veld fires. In instances where water is not available in sufficient quantities or at adequate pressure for the control of major fires, sand can be used to control veld fires.
When it comes to veld fires, prevention is better than cure. Farmers should do everything to avoid having their investment go up in smoke.
Paswera badza hapanyepi! #263farmer , # farmersolutions
Sheuneni Kurasha is the Managing Director of Chivara Farm which specialises in stud breeding in boran cattle, Boer goats, Kalahari red goats and damara sheep, as well as dairy farming. For feedback, kindly get in touch on email: [email protected], WhatsApp: +263 772 874 523 or Facebook: Chivara Farm.