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Uncontrolled bushland and forest burning must stop, says FQM

KALUMBILA, ZAMBIA – The slash and burn system of farming is a historical farming method in Zambia. The practice consists of cutting down trees on part of a forest to clear space for an agricultural plot.After allowing the cleared foliage to dry, the farmer then burns the downed trees and immediately crops the land. After burning, the resulting layer of ash provides the land with nutrients that help fertilise the soil.  Two to four years later, the farmer moves to new areas as agricultural yields on the cleared plot fall as a result of weeds, insect pests, plant diseases, and declining soil fertility.

Although this practice has been part of Zambia’s farming methods for hundreds of years it has an adverse effect on the land and the climate. The slash and burn method results in deforestation as trees are cut down, soil erosion, and release of carbon in the atmosphere which contributes to global warming. In Zambia the practice is responsible for about 90 percent of deforestation.
The slash and burn method of farming prevails because it provides farmers with a few years of fertility and is cheaper than buying fertiliser. Most farmers that practice it are small-scale farmers who do not have access to fertile lands and do not have much income.

Uncontrolled bushland and forest burning must stop, says FQM

While slash and burn farming seems to be a cheaper and a faster way to clear land in the short term, in the long run it proves to be costly as farmers will be getting less yields because of the degradation of the soil. As a result, they will have less income and less food security. Helping small-scale farmers move away from slash and burn agriculture toward more sustainable methods of production is a critical goal both environmentally and developmentally.

Conservation farming is a common solution to slash and burn farming. Conservation agriculture is a management system based on three principles that should be applied in unison in a mutually reinforcing manner: minimum physical soil disturbance (minimum tillage), permanent soil cover with live or dead plant material (mulching) and early planting. Conservation farming has several benefits: it improves soil structure and protects it against erosion and nutrient loss.

It does not involve much labour as farmers do not have to clear the land before they can plant. Under conservation agriculture, farmers will produce healthy yields in a sustainable manner.  It is also an environmentally friendly method of farming as resources are used efficiently and the significant reduction in fossil fuel use under no-till agriculture results in fewer greenhouse gases being emitted into the atmosphere and cleaner air in general.

Although conservation farming is a better and more sustainable farming method than the slash and burn method, slash and burn farming method remains a popular farming method in Zambia.
As the world, including Zambia, faces more threats from climate change it is important to educate the farmers about the dangers of slash and burn farming and adopt anti-burning campaigns.
First Quantum Minerals recently launched its an intensive anti-burning campaign to stop indiscriminate burning.

Through its campaign it aims to educate and inform the public about the dangers of burning both to the environment, their health and their economic status. “People and communities are suffering because of burning. And probably the single most important thing we can do is encourage people to stop burning. Burning grasslands and trees is burning Kwacha,” FQM director of operations Matt Pascall said. The anti-burning campaign has the slogan: Stop Burning: Be healthier, wealthier and happier.

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