20 July 2006

Zimbabwe: Veld Fires Destroy Timber Worth Z$1,5 Trillion - Minister

Bindura — Over $1,5 trillion worth of timber was destroyed last year in uncontrolled veld fires while over 22 000 hectares of plants and crops were damaged in 2004 and 2005 which are rated as the worst years in the country's history, a Cabinet Minister said yesterday.

The Minister Environment and Tourism Cde Francis Nhema told A1 and A2 farmers gathered at the launch of the National Fire Protection Strategy in Bindura, Mashonaland Central that the rate of fire damage was alarming.

Cde Nhema said high incidents of reported veld fires prompted his ministry, through the Environment Management Agency to engage stakeholders and assess the extent of damages and causes of the fires country-wide.

"Our findings have revealed that the damage caused by these veld fires increased enormously in the last four years in all land tenure categories and the resulting damage by fires...could not be allowed to continue," he said.

He said in 2004 about 10 925 351 hectares of land were destroyed while 2005 recorded 11 504 947 hectares of land damaged in veld fires.

"In the timber plantations more tan 12 percent of the national prime forest resource was destroyed and the equivalent of three years' harvesting has been lost.

"Consequently timber production is reducing, export declining and foreign currency earnings diminishing. Such loses come at a time when the nation is in dire need for foreign currency," he said.

He also chronicled how similar uncontrolled veld fires claimed seven lives of school children in Bulawayo last year.

"My ministry has established that veld fires are mainly caused by irresponsible behaviour by some of us. We have noted with concern that during land clearing people prefer to burn in the late afternoon and leave the fires unattended during the night," he said.

Cde Nhema warned farmers against smoking out bees and using grass as torches in the process.

Cde Nhema said some veld fires were caused by some people who use traditional hunting methods of burning grass to easily spot prey while some start fires at bus stops to warm themselves and leave the fires unattended on boarding the buses.

He also took a swipe at tobacco smokers, including drivers who throw away smouldering stubs and consequently start fierce veld fires.

"These actions result in uncontrolled fires that cause serious damage to our farming, plantation and wildlife industries and are a cost to the national economy and hinder Zimbabwe's economic recovery efforts," he said.

He urged chiefs to take leading roles in environment management saying they were the custodians of natural resources in their areas.

Cde Nhema said the A1 and hA2 farmers should organise themselves and construct fireguards around their properties and establish fire-fighting teams.

"I am convinced that the launching of this National Fire Protection Strategy in this province marks the beginning of a Mashonaland Central Province's war against uncontrolled veld fire," he said.

The province's Resident Minister and Governor Cde Ephraim Masawi whose speech was read on his behalf by the district administrator Mr John Chihobo enlightened the minister on various environmental problems bedeviling the province including gold panning and the need for a tertiary school on environment

The minister, besides suggesting home-grown solutions to the problems, pledged to work with the Bindura University of Science Education (BUSE) and establish a department for environment education.

Bindura Mayor, Advocate Martin Dinha who was among the invited guests also highlighted the problem of gold panning in the province but said environment programmes were proceeding well.

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