Veld fires a threat to food security

By Lazarus Sauti

Veld fires are proving to be one of the greatest biodiversity challenges in Zimbabwe and other southern African countries as they lead to the destruction of pastures, forestry resources, livestock, property and sadly human lives.

In its 2010 report the SADC regional fire management document said veld fires have become a major environmental and human welfare concern in the region.

In Namibia, for instance, the councillor of Kahenge constituency and chairperson of the Kavango West Regional Council, Joseph Sivaku, recently said veld fires were destroying pastures in areas such as Rupara, Nzinze and Rundu, thereby threatening food security in the country.

According to the Zimbabwean Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate’s permanent secretary, Prince Mupazviriho, more than 700 veld fires incidents have been recorded in Zimbabwe since the beginning of the fire season on July 31 this year, destroying over 435 000 hectares of forest.

“Veld fires are also a colossal menace to people,” said Tirivanhu Muhwati, a climate change scientist.

The Environmental Management Agency (EMA) added that a million hectares of land, which grants a source of goods plus ecosystem services, principally for rural communities who constitute close to 70 percent of the population, is being lost through veld fires annually.

A smallholder farmer in Makoni District, Chengetai Zonge, said veld fires are not only destroying pastures, forestry resources, livestock and property but also threatening food and nutrition security in Zimbabwe.

She said deprived rural communities are worst affected as their livelihoods rely heavily on forest and rangeland-based products, goods and services.

“For farmers to survive, they need the environment, but veld fires are putting poor rural communities, already victims of periodic droughts, pests and diseases, into a serious crisis,” said Zonge, a facilitator with the Rural Women’s Association (RWA), said.

Women and Land in Zimbabwe advocacy officer, Sharon Chipunza, also said veld fires cause far-reaching environmental degradation, leading to severe food production shortages and further impacting on food price inflation.

“Zimbabwe is an agri-based economy and food security is sternly threatened seeing that maize, wheat as well as small grains like sorghum, rapoko and millet and livestock are destroyed in veld fires,”  said Chipunza, adding that the impact of veld fires has been amplified due to changing weather conditions.

Climate change projects coordinator for Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS), Tawona Nyabeze said that the forest ecosystem and agriculture sectors submit to negative effects of climate change, especially those related to rainfall, pests and diseases, veld fires and anthropogenic activities.

Tafadzwa Mupandira, an ecologist, said one effective ways of strengthening fire management strategies and environmental policies was to ensure that ecosystems continue to provide goods and environmental services on a sustainable basis.

“Veld fires continue to negatively affect crop production and livestock rearing; accordingly, Zimbabwe and other southern African countries should strengthen their fire management strategies and environmental policies to effectively curb veld fires, save the environment and boost food and nutrition security,” he said.

Muhwati urged farmers and environmentalists to share ideas and solutions on how to tackle veld fires, protect the environment and amplify food and nutrition security in Zimbabwe.

Projects officer for Friends of the Environment, Augustine Mukaro, said his organisation is working with Fire Fight, a local organisation that makes fire beaters in making sure there are firebreaks in most communities in the country.

“Although firebreaks cannot completely protect farmers against large spreading veld fires, they play an important role in containing and controlling fires.

We are, therefore, working with Fire Fight in ensuring that there are firebreaks in most parts of the country and our goal is to curb veld fires, protect the environment and save people from all risks,” said Mukaro

Mukaro said Friends of the Environment is also educating local communities to enhance awareness on fire management so as to foster environmental stewardship as well as change their perspectives on how to view trees.

“Communities should view a tree as a business, a source of money.

As Friends of the Environment, we are educating local communities to protect trees, fight the plague of veld fires as well as encouraging them to utilise indigenous knowledge systems to guard the environment and increase food security in the country,” he said.

Environment, Water and Climate minister, Oppah Muchinguri, also believes community participation for integrated biodiversity management is critical in safeguarding the environment as well as augmenting food and nutrition security in the country, a fact supported by environmentalist Admire Betera, who also urged the government and its development partners to promote programmes that encourage natural resource conservation.

October 2017
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