Disaster as fire destroys wheat worth US$800 000 in Zimbabwe

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Wheat valued at close to US$800 000 was destroyed in 20 separate incidents last week, with preliminary investigations pointing to possible acts of sabotage in most cases.

Veld fires have so far accounted for more than 250 000 hectares during the current fire season, which began on July 31.

Extension officers deployed to assess damage caused by the fires have concluded that most of them originated inside wheat fields, signalling possible sabotage.

Chief director for Agriculture and Rural Development Advisory Services, Professor Obert Jiri, said the rate of fire outbreaks reported last week was “alarming”.

“After our extension officers’ inspections, it was clear that in most cases, the fires were not from the veld but started infield, pointing to possible sabotage, and we want our farmers to be on the lookout,” said Prof Jiri.

He said there was need for awareness campaigns to educate the public about the dangers of starting fires during the dry season.

“In Zvishavane district, gold panners started fires for an unknown reason, which later spread, destroying 50 hectares of wheat in different villages after failing to contain them.

“In Mazowe, two teenagers were caught after starting a fire in the middle of a wheat field, with the intention to smoke out bees for honey.

“Fortunately, the farm workers contained the fire before it spread across the 30-hectare field.

“A quarter hectare was razed in the process.”

Farmers are now being encouraged to speed up harvesting to avoid further losses.

“Farmers need to use combine harvesters provided by Government so that they remove their cereal from the fields on time.

“They also need to take note that the rainy season is fast approaching and this may damage the crop.”

Zimbabwe Farmers Union executive director, Mr Paul Zakariya, described the prevalence of wild fires as “worrisome”.

“This is the first-ever season we have had such high numbers of fires in wheat fields.

“There is suspicion that some disgruntled elements might want to disrupt the projected bumper harvest. We need to act collectively to counter such people.”

Mr Pieter Gertenbach, a Mvurwi farmer, was left counting losses last week after his 35-hectare wheat field that was supported by the Presidential Inputs Scheme was reduced to ashes at his Pembi Chase Farm.

“This is an act of sabotage, no doubt about it,” he told The Sunday Mail.

“Some people are deliberately trying to fight the President’s efforts to improve agriculture.

“This was not a wild veld fire that started out of nowhere; the fire started from within the field.

“We had proper fireguards around the field.”

Mr Benedict Chagumuka of Machewe Farm in Mvurwi also lost 15 hectares of wheat to fire last week.

“The fire started in the middle of the field. After inspecting the field, I could tell the source of the fire. Sadly, I did not have insurance for the crop,” he said.

Environmental Management Agency’s environment education and publicity manager, Ms Amkela Sidange, said the organisation was ramping up public awareness campaigns.

“Even though we are witnessing a surge in fire outbreaks, on our part, we started our fire campaigns as early as May. As we speak, we have even erected fire-warning colour-coded signposts and billboards along all our major highways,” she said.

“We also impose hefty fines on all those found on the wrong side of the law.”

— Sunday Mail


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