Protecting livestock, crop farms from fire outbreaks
Fire outbreaks have the history of leaving behind losses not only of property, but also lives. As the dry season comes in, to be followed by a period of harmattan, the Head, Agro-Economy Desk, FEMI IBIRIGBA aggregates practical measures as suggested by various professional insurers, scientists and experienced farmers on how to prevent losses of food crops, livestock and farm property.
Fire is a useful tool if controlled, but unbridled fire is a disaster.
Yearly, plantations and arable farms are destroyed in Nigeria through the activities of hunters, herdsmen, smokers and charcoal producers.
In January this year, it was reported that suspected herdsmen set ablaze the farm of a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Olu Falae, located at Ilado, Akure, Ondo State.
Herdsmen do this often to stimulate offshoots of pastures. It is a common phenomenon.
Also in January, a gory report of a 75-hectare rice farmland destroyed by a fire outbreak was also well publicised. The rice farm was located at Liman Katagum in Bauchi local government area of the state.
Just last week, between 50,000 and 80,000 hens died in a fire at an Illinois egg production facility in the United States, a spokesman from the owner of the farm said, as reported by the PoultrySite.com.
Approximately 350,000 birds were kept at the facility before the fire.
Mussman’s Back Acres provides more than 10 million eggs to retailers each year, but did not expect its operations would be disrupted.
Animal husbandry, cocoa, cashew, palm and orange plantations, as well as cassava farms have been burnt in Nigeria.
Olayiwola Olubamiwa, Executive Director of Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN), Ibadan, Oyo State, said, “The dry season is here with us. Fire outbreaks on cocoa plantations occur more during the dry season. The occurrences have done untold damages on Nigeria’s cocoa plantations. Some cocoa farmers have been reported in the past to commit suicide when their plantations got burnt. This is besides the national loss that such incidences cause.”
To avert such occurrences or minimise their extents and effects, experts have advised farmers to do the following.
Preventing fire with farm layout
Prevention of fire outbreaks on perennial crop plantations or annual food crops farms should start from the farm layout.
A good farmland layout should leave a driveway round the farm, and this should be constantly maintained. The space will not only make harvest easier but also make protection against fire outbreaks easier.
It will create a distance from other farms, and hence prevent the spread of fire from neighbouring farms in a case of an outbreak.
Clearing of bush around farms
Clearing the bush on the driveway and within the farm before the outsets of dry seasons is a preventive and proactive step.
Whether on a cassava farm or an orange plantation, clearing is a way to avert fire disasters and loss of food and investments.
Mr Kolawole Adeniji, Managing Director of NIJI Group, one of the largest cassava producers in the country, while suggesting preventive measures in a telephone interview with The Guardian, advised farmers to keep a fire line, weed and rake the line and ensure that their crop farms are weeded and raked at the outsets of dry seasons.
This, he claimed, is what he has been doing to keep his farm protected against fire.
Head, Agric and Micro Insurance/National Coordinator, Leadway Assurance, Mr Ayo Fatona, said proper farm keeping should always be done on the farms and farmers must keep areas clear of grass, weeds, and other debris that could easily combust and self-ignite fire.
He also buttressed the recommendation of Adeniji by saying that “Crop farmers should, as a matter of risk management, construct fire traces around their farms as these will prevent the spread of fire from surrounding farms into their farms.”
Installation of fire alarms
Installation of fire alarms on poultry and other animal farms is also recommended.
Most alarms trigger off on smoke detection. This can serve as an effective way of alerting farm owners and their neigbours to the danger of fire outbreaks.
Keeping of updated fire extinguishers on farms
It is a must for farmers to keep good and up-dated medium-sized or large fire extinguishers at farm houses to assist guards, workers or the owners themselves to combat and nip fire outbreaks in the bud.
Fatona recommended that fire extinguishers should be properly installed in strategic areas of the farm, such as the exit points of the farm buildings.
“Also install fire signs, explaining what people should do in case of a farm fire. And train some personnel on how to use the fire extinguishers on the farm in the case of the outbreak of fire,” he suggested.
In addition, the Leadway Assurance expert advised farmers and food processors to “Ensure you have a water source on the farm. This may be in the form of a borehole, irrigation ditch, water tanks, ponds or wells. This will greatly assist the fire department in the case of a fire outbreak on the farm.”
Handling naked fire with care
All farm owners and their hands should make deliberate efforts to guard against fire outbreaks by doing the above, and by handling naked fire with utmost care.
The necessity to protect their investments should motivate them to be proactive in taking appropriate steps to avert fire outbreaks.
Farmers should desist from the age long tradition of clearing their farms for the next planting season by setting it on fire, especially during the harmattan seasons.
This practice is known as burning off, and it may spread out of control, thereby spreading to and destroying adjoining farms.
Dr Olubamiwa, while recommending ways to prevent fire disasters on farms, said farmers should “avoid using fire as a tool for clearing the land for cultivation or burning down stubble and debris on the farm, avoid using fire as a means of flushing out game and hunting wild animals either from animals’ holes or on the land.”
He also advised bee keepers that “When you use fire to protect yourself against bees during harvest of honey, make sure you properly quench such fire after operations.
Other recommendation by the cocoa scientist include ensuring adequate fire tracing of about three metres wide round about the cocoa plantation at the onset of dry season; removing all dried debris, dead trees and other sources of firewood from the plantation during dry season; prohibition of smoking on and around the farm; ensuring that fire made to cook food on the farm is properly quenched before leaving the area; avoiding storage of petrol or other highly combustible products on your farm or in the surrounding bushes; and provision of portable fire extinguishers and other fire control materials and devices on the farm.
Early harvest of crops/good storage conditions
Fatona also advised that farmers should harvest their crops as soon as they are due, especially during the harmattan season, as they easily become fuel for fire for hunters who are interested in hunting for bush meat.
In most cases they willfully set fire on farms. This is usually applicable to the cereal crops like maize, sorghum, millet, etc. They should not be left on the farm to dry up completely in order to reduce the risk exposure.
In farm warehouses, where farm produce are stored, there should be proper aeration in order to prevent self-ignition of the produce in storage.
An example is cotton that can easily self-ignite fire if it is stored in a warehouse with high temperature and humidity.
Agricultural insurance, no doubt, is a smart way of securing farm investments against losses.
Insurance pools little resources together from different farmers through premiums and compensates any of them in cases of incidents (fire disasters).
Fatona the insurance expert added: “Finally after all have been said and done, farmers are advised to insure their various projects as most agricultural insurance policies in the market covers the risk and peril of fire.
Accidental outbreaks of fire in the farms may still occur after all the necessary preventive measures have been put in place by the farmers and it is advisable for farmers to uptake insurance policies to compensate them for possible financial losses arising from these accidental fire outbreaks.
Furthermore the uptake of these policies by the famers from Leadway Assurance Company will enable them have access to professional advice on how farm fires can be prevented and managed.”
Other suggestions from experts include: whenever farm machinery are about to be refueled, they should be done far away from open flames and in an open area where the fumes can easily vaporize; every farm should have a bush fire action plan that should be an integral part of the overall risk management of the farm.
The plan should include regular fuel reduction and adherence to good farm management practices.
They should also include regular fire drills for the employees of the farms; and the use of seasonal farm guards on cocoa, palm, orange and other plantations to prevent, tame or alert the owners to dangers is not only economical but also protective.