After the fire

23 10 2015

Agriculture is not an exact science and sometimes things go wrong. The tobacco seedlings we’d sent to a customer near Headlands, an hour and a half to the east of Harare, had been well received until he informed me that we were some 160,000 seedlings short out of a total of some 500,000. I was more than a touch bemused. This warranted a visit to try and ascertain what had happened.

Leaving early this morning before the traffic had got going I arrived at 8h30 after a rough 20km south of the main Harare-Mutare road. The lands were impressive and well farmed in contrast to the derelict farms I passed along the way.

Not a lot happening

Not a lot happening

The farmer, young by my standards, had recently been allocated the farm by the government meaning that sometime in the past another farmer had been kicked off it though there was no evidence that I could see of habitation. I had to give the new farmer his due – he’d worked hard to get his project going starting pretty much from scratch and had got a substantial loan from a Chinese farming company that wanted his tobacco. The company has apparently been in the area for about the last 10 years. Of the missing seedlings there was no sign. Whilst we have absolutely no legal obligation to seedlings once they leave the nursery I did feel bound to meet him half way on the cost as I’m pretty sure he’ll be back next year. I made it clear that I expected him to check the quantities when they arrived (he admitted they hadn’t) and I made clear that this was not going to happen again.

On the way back I noticed a small burnt area near the main road and stopped to take some photos of the flowers that had bloomed after a recent fire. They didn’t need a loan to make the most of life; just a fire!

Winter’s parting shot

19 08 2012

Just when we thought a particularly cold winter had finally moved on it throws a parting shot. I was about to take the duvet off the bed yesterday and store it for next winter when a bitterly cold wind sprung up and it was back to wearing a fleece all day. By yesterday afternoon it had become overcast too and I didn’t even bother taking my model glider out of the Land Cruiser at the microlight club. It didn’t help that as I turned down the track to follow the runway I came across a raging veld fire that had been INTENTIONALLY lit! It was bad enough that there didn’t seem to be much purpose to it and fire guards are required by law to have been burnt by the end of June, but on a day with a really strong wind! Now that really got the bad humour going.

Of course where there is destruction there is opportunity and the herons had not wasted time getting in on the action and searching the scorched ground for rats and other animals unfortunate enough not to have escaped the fire. There were black-shouldered kites and black-breasted snake eagles also cruising hopefully above the burnt veld. I caught this heron as it cruised by no doubt looking for better “action”. It’s not a brilliant photo but I do love the way the low light has sculptured the wings and body.

A grey heron cruises past

What is wrong in this picture

6 06 2012

The view from my house

This is the view from my house some 4km north of Harare, Zimbabwe. Lucy asked me some time ago if I ever get tired of it. I didn’t hesitate; it was a unequivical “No!” But all is not what it seems.

The enlargement at 1 (you will need to click on the main picture to see it clearly) shows the Great Dyke, a geological feature that runs down the centre of Zimbabwe and is the source of major mineral wealth. It is also where we paraglide, or used to in the days when there were more than 5 pilots left in a country larger than the UK! The actual launch site is not quite visible in this photo. What IS remarkable is that this feature is 60km away and reasonably clearly visible. On a clear day it is much more visible than this.I took this photo on the 5th May and as you can see there is a certain amount of smoke around already as we head into our dry winter season. A large proportion of the country WILL burn and the view will disappear (click on this AFIS link for the latest satellite imagery of fires in Southern Africa – it is quite sobering). Of course not only does the view disappear but a substantial amount of the biomass does too and soil fertility plummets. While the world faces iminent food supply issues and much is being discussed on how to solve it, a lot could be done by just implementing good farming practices in this part of the world.

The hillside pictured at 2 is all of 600m away and this too will become nearly invisible at the height of the fire season in October. When I first moved into this house some 7 years ago this hillside was considerably more forested – about as much as one can see at 4. As you can see there are few trees left. The deforestation in this area and elsewhere accelerated considerably with the collapse of the Zimbabwe dollar and the decline of the electricity generating system. At about the same time paraffin (kerosene to the Americans) was subsidised and a lot of poorer people used it for lighting and cooking. That no longer being the case they resort to cutting down trees for fuel. It is illegal but the law is not enforced and of course the wood is free. There are moves afoot by various NGOs and tobacco companies (tobacco takes considerably heating to get cured) to address this deforestation problem but there will be quite a few years before the effect becomes noticeable.

The enlarged area at 4 shows what the bush looked like at 2 when I moved into this house.

It is disappearing very fast.

The enlargement at 3 shows what the bush must have been like before the land grab started in 2000 when the area was well maintained. The particular farmer who owned this land had game running on it – it has long all been “removed”. Paradoxically the more remote parts of the country where the commercial farms are now derelict are showing considerable bush regeneration.

5 is my lawn – or what remains of it. By the time the rains start in mid November (hopefully, nothing is certain in this part of the world, the weather included) there will be just dust and a few very desiccated grass blades. I just don’t have access to enough water to keep it going. Driving through some of theĀ  Harare suburbs you wouldn’t think that there is a water crisis! Sprinklers abound for those who can afford to get boreholes drilled. There is plenty of water in the municipal reservoirs but little of it actually gets into town. It requires pumping you see and of course that requires electricity which is erratic to say the least and is not going to improve any time soon. There’s no money for that because we as a nation just don’t produce much of anything these days. A lot of households rely on water to be delivered which they then store in large plastic tanks.

There has to be some good news visible in this picture and there is; a bird at 6. I have no idea what it is and I didn’t even see it until I downloaded the picture from my camera. Birds still abound in Zimbabwe and chances are if you take a photo of some scenery there will be at least one in the picture!

Yes there are many problems in our everyday lives in Zimbabwe but that goes for just about anywhere else too. At least the currency we use is reasonably stable now. It should be – it is the US dollar! And whenever I get down about the future I sit on the verandah and take in the view and no, I don’t think I ever will get tired of it!