Farmers in North West and Free State are crying out for help after veld fires have crippled their livestock and grazing land over the past few weeks. In some parts of North West where fires are still raging, farmers have been told to double up as firefighters to help minimise the damage.
Livestock farmer Martin Wipplinger in Brandfort in the Free State lost 500 hectares of grazing land, 300 sheep and 20 pregnant heifers to the veld fires.
Estina de Swardt, Wipplinger’s farming neighbour, said they were still not sure as to how and what caused the fire. “There are still investigations being conducted around it. At this stage, we cannot yet determine the cause but they are finding out.”
“We are also waiting for satellite pictures to come through. The estimated value is about 20-30 thousand hectares, but we cannot be exact yet,” De Swardt said.
He added that there were about 200 to 300 sheep and 50 cows that were affected. They also lost some houses that caught fire.
According to the Free State agriculture department farms in town such as Brandfort, Dealsville, Soutpan, Tweespruit, Van Stadensrus, Zastron, and Fouriesburg were the hardest hit.
Extent of damage still unknown
“The extent of the damage is yet to be established following assessments conducted on the ground which is estimated to take a duration of up to three weeks to complete,” the department said in a statement.
The agriculture MEC Saki Mokoena said the assessment by his team will determine the extent of the damage and what actions the provincial government would take.
“The level of the disaster will open avenues for us on how we can help. We know agriculture as a sector plays a key role and we are duty-bound to protect our economic space. We are working with the farmers, we understand and see the pain they are going through.
‘This is a serious economic setback with a threat to the jobs of the people. However, farmers have told us that they need all the workers in the medium term while the long-term remains uncertain,” he said.
Farmers can be firefighters
Meanwhile, North West farmers have been urged to learn firefighting skills to fight off fires themselves while awaiting help from fire services.
The chairperson of the North West provincial legislature’s portfolio committee on economic development, environment and tourism, agriculture and rural development, Bitsa Lenkopane, said it was important that farmers know the basics so that they can protect their livestock.
“It is important for farmers to equip themselves with necessary skills as firefighters to protect and safeguard their livestock, instead of only waiting on the department of agriculture and rural development to assist them long after there are severe damages to properties and loss of livestock,” she said.
Lenkopane spoke to communities and farmers during a visit to the affected farms in the Ganyesa area near Vryburg where over 90 000 hectares of grazing land were gutted by fire.
According to Lenkopane, the department did a preliminary assessment of the area to determine the extent of damages, and the estimated cost of damages after the initial assessment as of 28 August 2023 is in excess of R39 million.
“We urge the department of agriculture to consider climate-smart indicators that will result in reviewing farming methods for example looking at climate-smart agricultural practices applied by farmers throughout the province,” she said.
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