Environmental Management: Midlands loses thousands of hectares of vegetation to veld fires

By Tinaani Nyabereka

GWERU – Midlands province has seen massive destruction of vegetation last year due to veld fires most of which were caused by human activities.

Most cases of wild fires happen in resettlement areas where people were given A1 and A2 pieces of land during the Land Reform Programme.

Most of the land belongs to absentee landlords who hold it simply for speculative purposes, while those who live there have little means to fight the fires.

Environmental Management Agency (EMA) Midlands provincial education and publicity officer, Oswald Ndlovu said most of the fires could be attributed to human activities.

“Most veld fires are caused by human activities such as opening up new arable land using fire, deliberate lighting of fires for hunting purposes, gold panning, careless throwing away of cigarette stubs and improper ash disposal.

“Of late, veld fires have resulted in severe environmental degradation which also translates to diminished livelihoods. In Midlands province, a total of 114 035.04 hectares of land were burnt in 2018. This, however, translates to a 0.26 percent reduction from the 2017 record of 126 652.68 hectares,” said Ndlovu.

He encouraged people to make fire guards in their areas in order to avoid large scale destruction of vegetation and land.

“Fire guards are belts of land measuring at least nine metres in width on either side of a boundary that are cleared of all combustible material such as grass, shrubs and leaf litter. These can be made using ox-drawn ploughs or using tractors.

“Engaging in projects such as beekeeping, hay-baling and thatch grass-harvesting not only helps in income generation, but in reducing fires as well. Hay-baling and grass-combing projects help to reduce biomass. In 2018, a total of 368 001 bales were made countrywide with an estimated value of $552 001.

“In Midlands, a total of 67 770 bales with an estimated value of $101 550 were produced. In 2018, thatch grass-harvesting was done throughout the country at community level as a way of biomass reduction and improving livelihoods,” he said.

Statutory Instrument (SI) 7 of 2007 (Environmental Impact Assessment and Ecosystems Protection Regulations) criminalises the deliberate starting of open fires between 31 July and 31 October, failure to put in place a standard fireguard of at least 9m and passing or driving past a fire and failure to report a fire to EMA, police or fire brigade.

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