The recently established Agri Relief Foundation at the University of the Free State has donated firefighting equipment of almost half a million rand to farmers this week.
The relief foundation (ARF) handed over fire blowers and complementary equipment worth R445 000 to members of Free State Agriculture, Agri Northern Cape, Agri North West and Mpumalanga Agriculture.
“After last year’s devastating fires, and the fact that South Africa once again had a good rainy season with lush fields that make the risk for fires this year high as well, we decided to act proactively and provide producers with equipment to put out possible fires,” says Prof. Frikkie Maré, associate professor in the university’s department of agricultural economics and one of the directors of the ARF.
“The blowers can be used in both fire management and firefighting. This equipment is incredibly effective and basically blows out the flames. The advantage of the blowers is that they can easily be used on foot in areas where ridges and mountains prevent vehicles from entering with water sprayers,” explains Maré.
Elevated fire risk
According to the ARF, the governmental Working on Fire programme also warns that climate change is predicted to raise temperatures by 3 to 5 °C in some parts of South Africa’s interior.
A combination of higher temperatures and more frequent droughts will increase the risk of fires. In South Africa, wildfires are common and often cause extensive damage, often with great economic impact for the agricultural sector.
Commenting on the donation, Dr Jack Armour, commercial manager at Free State Agriculture, reiterated that fires in the Free State can cause entire farms to burn down. “This has a negative financial implication for the farmer. It is not only difficult for farmers to insure their entire farm against fires but after a veld fire, they often need to replace the pasture that was lost and sometimes they even need to reduce their herd.”
Free State Agriculture has welcomed the donation, saying that it will help people on grassroots level put out smaller fires while farmers wait for the fire brigade.
Sustainability of rural economies
The ARF aims to contribute to keeping producers on their farms and to maintain the sustainability of rural economies and food security.
The ARF has so far purchased 15 blowers each for the Free State, Northern Cape and North West, and six water firefighters for Mpumalanga. Yet, the land area prone to veld fires in South Africa is large and this equipment does not yet satisfy the existing need.
“The contribution of the ARF is a drop in the bucket, but I believe that every drop helps,” said Maré, who added that the foundation had decided to switch it approach to disaster prevention rather than trying to help disaster-struck farmers afterwards.
The foundation would welcome any contributions to its farmer-supporting fund.
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