Zimbabwe –– MATABELELAND South Province has so far recorded 22 veld fires that have destroyed vegetation on 27 538 hectares, a sharp decline compared to 79 incidents which saw 96 000 ha of land being lost during the same period last year.
Speaking during a media tour of fireguards in Bulilima and Mangwe Districts on Wednesday, the Environmental Management Agency (EMA)s environmental planning and monitoring officer for Matabeleland South, Mrs Amkela Sidange, attributed the decline in veld fires to the introduction of community fireguard projects.
Mrs Sidange said awareness campaign programmes the province was running also contributed to the reduction of veld fires.
We have so far recorded 22 fire incidents since the beginning of the year during which vegetation on 27 538 hectares was lost, which marks a sharp decline compared to 79 fire incidents in 2011, which resulted in 96 000 hectares of land being destroyed, she said.
Mrs Sidange said the worst affected district was Insiza which recorded 10 fire incidents.
Insiza is the worst affected district which had vegetation on 21 370 hectares destroyed, she said.
Mrs Sidange said they had intensified the fight against veld fires, which continue to dog the drought- prone province.
We have engaged communities in the fight against veld fires through awareness campaigns. In fact, through such programmes we are encouraging communities to set up standard fireguards.
We have since introduced pilot fireguard projects in Mangwe, Bulilima and Insiza and Umzingwane districts, said Mrs Sidange.
Journalists drawn from different media houses toured fireguard projects in Bulilima District, Webster A1 fireguard and Haygrange fire management projects in Mangwe district.
Watershed A1 resettlement, which lies on the eastern side of Plumtree, about 22km out of the border town along the Bulawayo-Plumtree Road, has 40 households.
EMAs district environmental officer for Bulilima, Mr Bhekimpilo Ndlovu, said farmers have so far cleared a stretch of 400km of fireguards.
This followed the 2009 veld fires which destroyed almost the entire farm resulting in loss of vegetation that include pastures.
He said villagers have since formed fire fighting committees to help monitor and manage fireguards in the area.
Webster A1 fireguard project, which is in ward 11 and measuring 2 555 hectares has 21 households.
In 2010, about three quarters of the farm was destroyed by veld fires, resulting in vegetation that include pastures being lost.
EMAs district environmental officer for Mangwe, Mrs Thandiwe Mlilo, said farmers had so far cleared a stretch of 403 km of fireguards in the district.
We are working with other stakeholders such as Forestry Commission, Mangwe Rural District Council and police in educating the local communities on the need to protect and conserve our resources using fireguards, she said.
Mrs Mlilo said since the beginning of the year, only 170 ha of land has been destroyed.
She said the most affected areas in Mangwe were those along the Bulawayo-Plumtree road and the railway line.
We have since engaged NRZ since steam locomotives start veld fires, said Mrs Mlilo.
Farmers at Haygrange fire management project, measuring 2 569 hectares, said in 2006 they lost six donkeys and 2 000 hectares of grazing land in three veld fire incidents.
Thirty-two farmers have so far been trained in fire fighting by EMA.
The chief executive officer for Mangwe RDC, Mr Nketha Mangoye Dlamini, urged communities to play a leading role in safeguarding the environment.
He also attributed veld fires to rampant poaching activities.
Mrs Sidange commended farmers in Bulilima and Mangwe for coming up with successful fireguard projects, saying they have since become models in the province.