Wegholveld fires, which have been raging for almost three days in the Amalia and Vryburg area in the North West, have farmers on their knees.
The fire broke out in the area on Sunday and farmers were still struggling to put out the fire by Wednesday morning. Livestock deaths were also reported and the flames engulfed infrastructure.
“There is nothing left. Our people are tired and discouraged. We pray for our farmers who sit with their hands in their hair. Thousands of prayers go out. We believe there will be help and a solution,” writes Jolandi Muller on the Amalia village group on Facebook.
According to Boeta du Toit, executive general manager of Agri North West, approximately 45,000 ha of pasture has already burned down. This is estimated at R2.9 billion in damage.
“A total of 368,000 ha of pasture has burned down in the past six weeks. With the fires that can still break out, we easily expect to lose more than half a million ha of pasture. This is 5% of the total area of the province,” says Du Toit.
According to Du Toit, the farmers are dependent on themselves, with little or no help from the state, to bring the fires under control.
“The local municipalities do not even belong to the fire protection association, as required by law. The umbrella fire protection associations in the rural communities consist mainly of farmers.”
The road between Vryburg and Schweizer-Reneke is currently closed due to the fires.
On Tuesday, the National Animal Protection Society (NDPA) deployed disaster response teams to the scene of the fire to help the animals in need.
“On the way to the scene, their team of inspectors found a herd of cattle trapped between the flames and a fence. Fortunately, the team managed to cut the fences and lead the cattle to safety,” says the NDPV.
“The NDPCA is committed to making sure no animal is left behind. We work tirelessly to save all animals.”
The SPCA in Mafikeng and Kimberley also provided assistance.
Where will help come from?
Agri SA says the devastating effects of continuous fire outbreaks in the Free State, North West and Northern Cape will be felt long after the fires have been extinguished.
“Wildfires can cause great damage to plants, animals and communities and also threaten food security. In response to the destruction of vegetation, emergency response efforts are needed to assist farmers with fodder. The damage to soil health, the disruption of ecosystems and the change in natural fire patterns can have long-lasting consequences,” says Christo van der Rheede, outgoing executive director of Agri SA.
“The recovery process is largely dependent on rainfall. Sufficient rainfall is of key importance for revitalizing vegetation, restoring soil fertility and replenishing water resources. With sufficient rain, the recovery process can be speeded up considerably.”
According to Van der Rheede, these devastating fires hit the agricultural sector at a time when farmers are already facing tremendous challenges, including load shedding, deteriorating infrastructure, rising labor and input costs, and threats to their rural security.
“Due to all these challenges, farmers are currently liable for an estimated R205 billion debt – a high burden which means that those affected by the fires cannot absorb this latest tragedy. For our nation’s food security, this should concern everyone.
“Agri SA will continue to make every effort to help these farmers recover. At the same time, we appeal to members of the public to help us provide relief to these communities who guarantee our food security.
Agri SA’s Disaster Relief Foundation donates money to Free State Agriculture and Agri North West to help with the relief effort for the agricultural sector.
“Donors who contribute to this cause are eligible for a section 18(A) certificate. The money collected will be used for the purchase of animal feed and transport expenses. Every donation, no matter how small, can have a significant impact on the livelihood of the farmers and farm workers affected by the devastating fires.”
Donations can be made here.