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Increasing trend of fire remains a threat to the Agri sector

15 February 2024 Daniel Stevens, Head of Agriculture at Santam
Daniel Stevens

Daniel Stevens

Effective risk mitigation and fire insurance key to safeguarding sustainability of farms

Crop production is carried in the face of continual uncertainties arising out of diverse natural and social elements. Normally, the utmost impact of all these elements falls on crop production. This makes crop yield one of the basic risks every farming business will be attributed to, and that is the uncertainty the farmer will have to face. This is the general condition across all nations, whether developed or not.

In the wake of what has been the most difficult period (October 2023 2024 to January) for Cape Town’s fire and rescue services in over four years, the Cape Winelands District Municipality has battled the most recent bout of flare ups. The increasing frequency and severity of veldfires poses a significant risk to the agricultural sector.

Fires not only cause severe damage to property, agriculture equipment and farming infrastructure, but in most cases also lead to loss of assets, livestock, crops and natural veld and grazing pastures.

Moreover, the issue of liability can be of greater risk to the future sustainability and livelihood of a farmer.

Increasing risk of veld fires as climate patterns shift
Environmental factors such as changing weather patterns and expanding human settlements mean landowners are dealing with more fires on a daily basis than in the past. By way of example, statistics released by Cape Town’s Fire and Rescue Service say their teams responded to 13,087 incidents between October 2023 and January 2024 – with more than half (55%) of these incidents being vegetation fires, a 19% increase in veldfires compared to the same period last year.

Additionally, these fires are often more extensive and devastating than similar events a decade ago. This trend was highlighted in the latest Santam Insurance Barometer report, where 45% of the agriculture focused business respondents singled out climate change as a top concern.

The domestic agriculture sector is more exposed to the systemic risk of climate change than any other sector. Drought, flood, hail, and wildfire can cause tremendous damage to both crops and farm infrastructure. By their very nature, farms are particularly vulnerable to wildfires and the devastation they bring goes beyond the farm and its livestock - entire communities and livelihoods can be affected.

For this reason, fire insurance should be a key consideration in any farmer's risk management strategy. There is a general misperception that fire insurance is expensive – but the risk of not having it could well prove even more of a cost. Fire insurance is an investment in the future sustainability of your farm, and a non-negotiable when it comes to safeguarding your legacy.

What is covered?
The crop insurance cover does cater for fire cover in selected areas. There is cover for visible damage to fruit/grains due to uncontrollable causes to insured orchards/fields, provided that proper firebreaks were prepared and maintained prior to damage. That is also the case for summer and winter grains. However, the difference is the cessation dates for cover. Fruit and summer grains cover ceases when the crops are harvested or destroyed and when the normal harvesting time for that insured crop at the discretion of the insurer has lapsed. For non-producing trees, cover ceases on 30 June. For winter grains the same conditions apply, however, cover ceases on 31 January or as soon as 50% or more of the seeds show signs of sprouting in the ear or once spontaneous seed-drop and/or broken stems occur, whichever occurs first.

The notification of the damage remains the responsibility of the insured and visible signs of insured damage must be reported within three days after damage has occurred.

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