Desperate farmers set forests ablaze to avert losses


FORTY-SIX-YEAR old Jeremiah Chimombe (not real name) of Wedza is a bitter man. In February this year, he lost five of his nine cattle to January Disease also known as Theileriosis.


Despite several appeals to government to intervene and arrest the problem, Chimombe feels neglected as nothing so far has been done to rectify the problem.

The tick-borne disease is dominant in the rainy season and as summer approaches, the communal farmer has resorted to detrimental means to avoid further loss of his livestock.

“I had no option but to employ such measures. I had to burn all the grass in the plains so as to destroy the ticks that are the major causes of the disease. I cannot afford to see the remaining cattle perish as a result of the disease. We appealed to government but there is no swift reaction to the problem,” he said.

Chimombe is one of the many farmers in Mashonaland East that have resorted to burning forests in a bid to kill the ticks that caused the death of thousands of cattle last rainy season.

However, this control measure has resulted in thousands of hectares being destroyed by veldt fires.

The main affected districts are Chikomba, Wedza and Goromonzi with government estimating that more than 2000 cattle died between December last year and March this year.

Speaking during the Mashonaland East Agricultural Show held in Marondera recently, Chimombe said the unavailability of dip tanks and chemicals in the rural area has resulted in farmers resorting to the use of fire as a measure.

“The ticks breed and multiply in the grass. Most of our dip tanks are dilapidated and those still functional are idle due to shortage of the chemicals.

We have gone for years without dipping cattle and those with one buy on their own and spray their livestock,” he said.

“Someone urged us to burn the grass thereby destroying the ticks in the process. I pray it works, I have never lost such a number of cattle in my lifetime.”

The Environmental Management Agency recently said it recorded a shocking 16.8% increase of hectarage of land lost due to veld fires since the beginning of the 2018 fire season.This means by first week of August, 69 958ha were destroyed in 232 veld fire incidents against last year’s 58 193ha recorded in 147 incidents in the same period.

The fire season starts on July 31 until the onset of the rain season.

EMA Mashonaland East publicity officer Astas Mabwe said they have received reports of farmers who lost their herds torching forests and said they are currently mobilising relevant government authorities to visit the affected areas.

“There is a surge in veldt fires in the province after experiencing high death rate of cattle due to an alleged tick borne related disease.

The reports we are getting from farmers suggest that there is misinformation pertaining to the control of the tick especially in Wedza and Chikomba,” he said.

“Farmers say they are being urged to burn all grass to control the tick.This could be the reason for the rise in uncontrolled fires. As a regulatory authority, we will visit those areas together with other relevant government departments because it is an offence to start a fire outside a residential area from July 31 October every year.”

In the 2017 fires season, the province lost more than 62 000ha of pastures to veldt fires with the an increase being expected this season following the advent of the tick-borne disease.

Of the 2017 recorded 254 fire incidences Chikomba came out tops as the most district ravages with veld fires. Chikomba is also characterised with cattle ranches and harbours a number of cattle rearing farmers.

According to EMA 90% of fires in Zimbabwe are anthropogenic (originating from human activity) and 10% natural.

Meanwhile, Mashonaland East resident minister David Musabayana has allayed fears of another January Disease outbreak saying government has since moved in to deal with problem.
“We are going to ensure that this won’t happen again through campaigns where we urge people to dip their livestock. We are appealing to those with dilapidated dip tanks to approach their district offices for repairs. Moreover, government has dispatched a specialist veterinary doctor within each district in a bid to arrest the problem,” he said.

Statutory Instrument 7 of 2007: Environmental Management Act (Chapter 20:27) provides for communities not to leave fires unattended, defines the fire season, no starting of fires outside residential or commercial premises during the fire season, adequate veldt fire suppression measures and for communities to investigate and report fire incidents to EMA and the police.

Chimombe and other farmers are aware of the crime they are committing. However, due to neglect by relevant officials, the poor farmers have resorted to illegal means to protect their source of wealth. For now, the forests will be destroyed and both the province and country is set to record the highest veldt fire rate.