Zimbabwe — At least 5 000 hectares of gazetted forests have been destroyed by veld fires since the start of the fire season in May this year, Forestry Commission deputy general manager in charge of the Conservation and Extension Division, Mr Abedinigo Marufu has revealed.
Mr Marufu said farmers clearing land or constructing fireguards and poachers trapping animals or smoking bees were responsible for the fires.
“Sometimes fires started in the process of making fireguards go out of control and end up destroying vast tracts of forests, grass, animals, crops, property and in worse cases, human life,” he said.
He added that the Forestry Commission had 800 000ha of forests under its custody in Matabeleland North stretching from Bulawayo to Victoria Falls.
Last year 110 000ha of gazetted forests were destroyed by veld fires. On a tragic note, at least 21 people were also killed countrywide in veld fires last year, with Mashonaland Central province topping the list of fatalities.
An average 96 691 ha of land per province were burnt in the 2010 fire year compared to 2009 that had an average 95 091 hectares.
According to the Environmental Management Agency, Bulawayo, Manicaland, Matabeleland North and Matabeleland South provinces lost less hectarage of land to fires in 2010 compared to 2009 statistics.
Mashonaland West province suffered the least while various types of infrastructure were damaged countrywide. These include 61 huts, forestry plantations in Manicaland province and citrus orchards in Mashonaland Central.
Mashonaland West province lost US$338 500 worth of seed maize. Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority lost poles valued at US$205 000. Matopo National Museum was gutted down by fire and Debshan Farm in Shangani lost 20 elephants and US$7 000 worth of property last year.
Veld fires are at their peak between July and September every year. Mr Marufu urged woodland and property owners and farmers to construct fireguards around their properties as soon as the wet season ends every year.
“We are working with the EMA, Environment Africa and the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Management to educate rural households and newly resettled farmers on the need to have fireguards around their properties. We are therefore running fire campaigns and doing demonstrations of fireguards in the communities and teaching the people how to use fire fighting equipment as well,” explained Mr Marufu.
This year has been declared the International Year of Forests and Zimbabwe will join the rest of the world in commemorating it. The day is usually celebrated on 21st of March every year.