The Songimvelo-Malolotja Transfrontier Conservation Area (SMTFCA) was formally incorporated into the Lubombo TFCA on the 2nd November 2004. The TFCA has an operational a Joint Management Plan and an Integrated Tourism Master Plan. The TFCA areas cover state forests, communal land and privately owned land. The total SMTFCA study area covers 91 215ha. The joint operations of the TFCA are managed by the Joint Task Group comprising of the two reserve managers, TFCA country coordinators and Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA), Barberton Tourism and Biodiversity Information Corridor (BARTOBIC) as well as Conservation Law Enforcement office in both countries.
Challenges of uncontrolled fires are not a new issue in the TFCA and the greater resource area nevertheless there has been a general increase in their occurrence from 5% of the land area in 2000 to 10% in 2010. This rise is increasingly impacting negatively on communities, industry, economy and development objectives of the TFCA.
Impacts are highlighted by the extreme and disastrous fire events of 2007 and 2008, considered the worst on record and resulting in declaration of the 2007 fires as a national disaster. Significant losses in plantation and natural timber with associated reduction in the forest industry productivity and employment were experienced. Over 20,000ha of pine and eucalypt plantation were affected with an estimated loss of US$45 million. Large areas of the reserves were burnt and wildlife losses were extremely high.In Swaziland alone the resultant closure of the Sappi Usuthu Pulp Mill and downscaling of Peak Timbers operations has led to 728 direct and 4,368 indirect job losses affecting the livelihoods of employees and their dependents..
In Songimvelo Nature Reserve another runaway fire occurred in the 2010 and caused damage to biodiversity especially in fire restricted areas of the reserve. Since then bush encroachment and invasive species have increased in the reserve especially the burnt areas. The viability of the conservation and forestry industry is currently under serious threat due to the impact of uncontrolled cross-border fires
Uncontrolled fires also contribute to environmental degradation in the TFCA through reduced habitats, biodiversity and high value and vulnerable ecosystems. This further impacts community livelihoods through reduced natural resource productivity and land use diversification options. Other issues involve greenhouse gas emissions, genetic resource losses, and human health by smoke inhalation.
Around the TFCA, as in many southern African nations, communities have not fully been involved in natural resource management and exploitation. Fire management is no exception and communities are perceived as the cause of most, if not all, occurrences of uncontrolled wildfires in the conservation areas. Recently an initiative of Community-based Fire Management (CBFiM) strategies have been established to address these fire issues. Programs usually replicate prevention and suppression policies of past decades with decentralized implementation to the communities. Not only do these intensive and costly strategies require resources beyond those available to communities, they do not adequately address community land use objectives and the beneficial use of fire to enhance these. As a result the uncoordinated use of fire continues and communities and other stakeholders continue to experience the impacts of uncontrolled wildfires.
Furthermore the occurrence of trans-boundary fires between Swaziland and South Africa and the use of fire (arson) to accentuate conflicts over land tenure have strained social relations between the countries, communities, plantation forestry companies and conservation areas
1. Mr. Seth Maphalala, Transfrontier Conservation Areas Programme, Swaziland National Trust Commission, P .O. Box 100 Lobamba H107, Swaziland Tel: +268 2416 3351/1179, Fax: +268 2416 1875, E-mail: tfca[at]sntc.org[dot]sz Webite: www.sntc.org.sz
2. Mt Jerry Myeni, Manager, Songimvelo Nature Reserve, Mpumalanga Tourism Parks Agency. Private Bag X11338 Nelspruit 1200 Tel:+27178840047, Cell: +27767414104, Fax: +27862927297, E-mail: Myeni.jerry64[at]gmail[dot]com