Agricultural scientists and researchers have called on farmers, agro-entrepreneurs and investors to take precautions against fire outbreaks on farms or storage facilities to prevent avoidable losses of crops and livestock.
Cases of fire outbreaks in forests and on farms around the world have begun since the beginning of 2020, making it imperative for farmers and farm investors to map out ways to proactively prevent such in Nigeria now that the dry season and harmattan are here.
Livestock, grains and other food crops in storage are susceptible to fire outbreaks when relative humidity is low and harmattan wind is combined.
While explaining ways to prevent fire incidents of cocoa, cashew and other cash crop plantations, Dr Olayiwola Olubamiwa, Executive Director of Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN), said fire outbreaks on plantations occur more during the dry season.
He suggested that “Our farmers should be aware of some basic measures towards preventing fire outbreaks. 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, apart from the national losses that such incidences cause.”
His recommendations to prevent such catastrophes on farmers’ plantations are that they should “avoid using fire as a tool for clearing the land for cultivation or burning down stubble and debris on the farm.
“They should also avoid using fire as a means of flushing out the game and hunting wild animals either from animals’ holes or on the land. When you use fire to protect yourself against bees during the harvest of honey, make sure you properly quench such fire after the operation.”
Dr Olubamiwa equally suggested that farmers should stop carrying firebrands from one spot of the plantation to another spot to start a new cooking fire, and they should ensure adequate fire tracing of about three metres wide round about their cocoa and cashew plantations at the outset of dry seasons.
The national president of All Farmers Association (AFAN), Mr Ibrahim Kabir, advised members of the association to, among other precautionary measures, apply controlled bush burning techniques by creating buffers between dry or inflammable materials and the area to be burnt.
He also warned members to avoid long open storage of harvested produce, saying, “If you have to store anything on farms, put in airtight confinements and check the stores frequently, and take extreme care of cooking and burning activities on farm settlements.”
Ayoola Oluga, Managing Director, Agrecourse, advised that “at every point, farmers need to make sure their farms have adequate water supply, such as an irrigation ditch, a water tank, or a pond. They also need to keep irrigation sources clear of combustible material.”
Head, Agriculture and Micro Insurance, Leadway Assurance, Mr Ayo Fatona, warned farmers and grain storage merchants to “Never permit smoking in or near farmhouses, warehouses, barns or flammable material storage areas.”
Specifically, Fatona said, “Construct adequate fire traces/breaks around the farm to prevent the spreading of fire from external sources to your farm, and provide adequate ventilation in places where crops are stored to prevent self-ignition or spontaneous combustion of stored products that have the tendency to self-ignite like cotton.”
The agricultural insurance specialist hinted that farmers and food store owners should always ensure that all electrical wirings on the farm are regularly inspected and maintained, and provide adequate fire extinguishers in all areas on the farm where tendencies for fire outbreaks exist and conduct frequent fire drills for all personnel on the farm.
“Never burn on the farm on windy days. The burning should be controlled and properly supervised, especially during the harmattan seasons. Keep water and fire-fighting tools handy during burning. Field burning should be conducted with appropriate safety precautions. Never use fumigants near open flames or electrical equipment and always refuel equipment outdoors, away from open flames and sparks,” he advised. He also advocated insurance coverage through reputable insurers.
Dr (Mrs) Adeboyin Aderounmu, Provost of the Federal College of Forestry, Ibadan, said from experiences, farmers should jealously guide their farms by carrying out about three-metre fire tracing around the farms and break or reduce canopy closure of trees on the farm.”
She added that “all litters and fuel materials should be gathered at one or two spots and monitored while burning. Burning of debris or other wastes should be early or later in the day when the wind would not be as dry as during mid-day.”
The college administrator suggested that whenever the naked fire is used, it should be totally put off, ensuring everywhere around the spot is wet with water, advising farmers to “Always make available fire-fighting materials.”
Prof. Shehu Garki Ado, a grain breeding specialist and current Vice Chancellor, Al-Qalam University, Katsina, said there are different ways to avoid farm fire outbreaks, and the first is to evacuate the produce from the farm as soon as they are harvested.
Farmers, he added, “can also burn the grass about a meter around the perimeter of the farm. This will prevent the fire from reaching inside the farm since the grasses along the perimeter of the farm had been burned. Smoking and throwing cigarettes tip without extinguishing the fire completely must be avoided. If necessary, watchmen can be engaged to guard the farm as long as necessary.”