Patrick Chitumba, Midlands Bureau Chief
VELD fires in the Midlands province have destroyed more than 480 000 hectares in the past five years and have become one of the major challenges the province is facing.
The revelations come at a time when veld fires continue to threaten the sustainable management of natural resources thereby affecting critical economic enablers such as agriculture, wildlife and the forestry sector.
Officially launching the provincial fire week at Makate farm in Somabula last week, the Minister of State for Midlands Provincial Affairs and Devolution Cde Larry Mavima said veld fires are the major driver of land degradation and biodiversity loss.
“In the Midlands province veld fires destroyed a total 487 355,28 hectares over the past five years. The areas that have been mostly hard hit are Gweru (136 619,75 ha), Chirumanzu (120 099,02 ha), Kwekwe (87 622,1 ha) and Gokwe South (68 261,24 ha),” he said.
Cde Mavima said given the above normal rainfall experienced in the country during the 2020/21 rain season, there has been a significant growth of biomass in both natural ecosystems and croplands, thus the risk of veld fires is expected to be significantly high this year
He said it has been noted that land clearance for agricultural purposes, illegal gold exploration, negligent discarding of cigarette butts, smoking out bees, hunting, arson, improper ash disposal and unmonitored camp fires are among the major causes of run-away fires.
“Veld fires have in recent years not only caused the destruction of the environment and property, but have also sadly led to the loss of human lives in some instances. In addition, valuable crops, orchards, timber plantations and pastures have all been lost to veld fires,” he said.
To date, he said, a stretch of 95 km in fireguard length has been cleared of biomass in Gweru district, 120 km stretch of fireguard cleared in Shurugwi, up to 2000km stretch of fireguard in Chirumanzu with Kwekwe district registering an up to 45km stretch as at May 15.
“I encourage those districts and farmers who are yet to clear the fire guards to start now to avoid prosecution and imminent dangers associated with veld fires,” said Cde Mavima.
He said a total of 10 000 hay bales have been produced across the province of which 5 000 bales have been produced at Makate farm and in surrounding farms.
“A total 29 553 specially prepared thatch grass bundles have been harvested so far. Of these 27 000 were harvested by a group of women based in Ascot, Gweru. Thatch grass bundles are sold thus reaping financial gains in addition to biomass reduction,” said Minister Mavima.
He said the spread of veld fires is a serious threat to sustainable development and the attainment of the objectives of the National Development Strategy 1 (NDS1) with the potential to reverse the gains of the previous farming season.
“In order to reduce areas burnt by veld fires, there is need for everyone to participate in veld fire management programmes. Let us take this opportunity to share experiences in implementing veld fire management projects. This will also help in motivating other communities to replicate similar veld fire management projects in their areas and also give environmental education on the benefits of preventing veld fires from destroying forests, grazing areas and property.
Stakeholders must come forward and work hand in hand with the government in intensifying the implementation of national fire protection strategies,” he said.
Zimbabwe is in a high-risk category of 65,2 percent and an extreme risk category of 24,7 percent to veld fires due to
heavy rains received during the 2020/21 season.
Mashonaland West, Mashonaland East, Mashonaland Central and Manicaland are at extreme risk, while Matabeleland North, Matabeleland South, Midlands and Masvingo provinces are this year at high risk to the veld fires when they used to be in the low to medium risk, according to the Environmental Management Agency.
Cabinet last week revealed that veld fires remain the most threatening factor on Zimbabwe’s forests, pastures, crop lands, property, infrastructure and food security.