Farmers, specifically those in the east and south-eastern parts of the country, have since the beginning of September borne the destructive effects of veld fires sparked by lightning and strong winds.
This compelled the Namibian Agricultural Union (NAU) to appeal to farmers to take all necessary precautions to avoid veld fires during one of the driest seasons in decades.
NAU says the first rains of the season are traditionally accompanied by heavy lightning and little rain; the ideal situation for starting veld fires, which could easily become run-away fires with devastating effects to the bone-dry rangelands of Namibia and could also result in livestock losses, something no farmer can afford at this stage.
The NAU therefore encourages farmers to ensure that their fire belts, especially along border fences are cleared and accessible for vehicles to drive along during veld fires. The areas around buildings and sheds, as well as workers’ houses should be cleared and farmers must ensure fire-fighting equipment is in good working condition, that two-way radios are working and that tanks are filled with water.
The NAU also encourages farmers to study the section about fire-fighting in the Occupational Health and Safety Manuel, which was recently released by the Agricultural Employees Association (AEA).
The manual can be accessed on the AEA website. The Namibian Fire Report is updated daily and can be downloaded from the NAU website at www.agrinamibia.com.
Minister of Agriculture, Water and Forestry John Mutorwa has also repeatedly urged Namibians to join in the fight against illegal veld fires, saying culprits who start such fires must be identified and criminally charged.
Uncontrolled forest and veld fires destroy some five to seven million hectares of land in Namibia annually. The fires are now a real threat again just ahead of the start of the rainy season.
Mutorwa further implored all farmers, all farm workers and all stakeholders to act swiftly and report any suspicious persons linked to the start of a veld fire, as “such fires are depriving the already drought-stricken farmers of Namibia of the little bit of immensely valuable grazing that is left.”
He warned that any official from his ministry responsible for the upkeep of the country’s forestries would be dealt with if found guilty of neglect. Despite the National Forest and Veld Fire Management Campaign driving home this message regularly, millions of hectares of valuable grazing are continuously destroyed, while the productivity of the land is compromised and even human lives are lost.Mutorwa says it is the duty of every Namibian citizen to report any illegal veld fire to the police or traditional authority in remote areas to put an end to the devastation caused by such fires. Regions most-affected are usually the Zambezi, the Kavangos, Omaheke and Otjozondjupa, but parts of Omusati, Oshana, Oshikoto, Kunene and Khomas also fall victim to these fires.
Some of the reasons for poor fire control and management practices, experts told New Era, are due to inadequate incentives to take control measures, because of unclear property rights in communal lands, inadequate co-ordination and co-operation between villagers, confusion caused by overlapping laws, traditional rules and inadequate skills and resources.
Veld fires destroy valuable timber and forest products, such as grass for grazing, grass for thatching, and animals. The damaged environment also has an adverse impact on the tourism sector, one of Namibia’s most important sources of foreign revenue.
The fight against uncontrolled forest and veld fires has become a multi-stakeholder commitment over the years and these include the Emergency Management Unit and various government ministries, together with the Namibia National Farmers Union (NNFU) and the NAU.