Zimbabwe — A veld fire killed five herd of beef cattle in a kraal while three dairy heifers later died of shock, nutritional deficiencies and tick-related diseases after being relocated to a safer farm in the Midlands Province last week.
Midlands chief provincial livestock specialist Mrs Medlinah Magwenzi yesterday said the fire, caused by an electric pump burst, started at Hok Range, swept through Cinderella Estates and Annandale of Penda Farms and then Somabula sub divisions — leaving a trail of destruction.
“The cattle that died were in a kraal whose poles and dry dung caught fire leaving them trapped although some still managed to break free and escaped.
“Kraals and roofs at dip tanks and other farm infrastructure were also caught up in the inferno that burnt some PVC pipes for drip irrigation at one small-scale irrigation scheme in the area,” Mrs Magwenzi said.
She said the scorched area covered more than 3 000 hectares of prime land and pastures, which left many farmers without a choice but to transfer their livestock to safer neighbouring farms.
“All preserved stacks of crop residue, hay and stova were burnt to ashes forcing farmers to turn to buy-ins or zero grazing for their livestock.
“But the fact still remains that small-scale and communal farmers cannot feed their cattle from the bag productively because they simply do not have the capital to buy feed concentrates in the wake of the current liquidity challenges,” Mrs Magwenzi said. The farmers’ situation is also made worse by the fact that private tractor owners are charging between US$700 and US$800 to construct a fireguard around a farm of about 500 hectares while they are also charging US$35 to do the same for a hectare.
“The US$35 charge is for the dry rate, which means that the farmer will still need to buy fuel and this makes it even more difficult. They can not even think of using the wet rates while they cannot construct the fire guards manually,” Mrs Magwenzi said.
She added that it had become increasingly necessary for farmers to adopt home grown and cheaper solutions of fighting veld fires that included controlled burning in which they burn swathes of grass surrounding their farms so that veld fires would not find anything to fuel them should they break out.
Some crucial veld management tactics also include regular controlled burning of the top hamper in pastures to clear the dead grass that is later used as fuel by veld fires, Mrs Magwenzi said.
She said veld fires plus farmers’ incapacity to buy feed concentrates had seen the dairy sector in the province taking a severe battering and losing its traditional role as the leader of dairy farming in the country.
“Dairy production is fast dwindling in the province as the bulk of the communal and small-scale farmers are failing to secure cash to buy feeds that are selling for US$15 per 50 kg bag of dairy meal.
“We are actually training farmers to process crops such as lab, maize, velvet beans, cotton seed and sunflower into feeds that they can use in place of the concentrates in the wake of depleted pastures due to perennial veld fires,” she said. The province produced a lot of cotton, which made it easier for the farmers to make cotton seed cake while the relatively cool climate was also conducive for dairy farming.
“Most of the grazing land that used to complement the feed concentrates has been rendered useless by recurrent veld fires while tick borne diseases have also taken their toll especially for those farmers who are renting pastures,” she explained.
Mrs Magwenzi challenged the Environmental Management Agency to intensify its anti-fire campaigns and the Zimbabwe Republic Police to maintain an all-time presence in farming communities.
Recently over 20 elephants were burnt to death by veld fires in the Midlands province.