How farmers can fight fire risk proactively by joining FPAs

How farmers can fight fire risk proactively by joining FPAs

Veldfires in South Africa have a devastating impact on agriculture and run into millions of rands of damages to property, food security, loss of human lives, livestock, game and grassland annually. One of the best ways to proactively fight fire risk is for farmers to become members of registered Fire Protection Associations (FPAs).

What’s more, if your agriculture client belongs to an FPA, Santam will offer them discounted rates on their insurance premiums. Santam Agriculture has a thorough understanding of liability cover and claims handling in respect of veldfires and compliance with the National Veld and Forest Fire Act of 1998.

Benefits of belonging to an FPA

There are numerous benefits for farmers to become members of a registered FPA:

  • FPAs are community-based natural resource management organisations for the collective management of veldfires, using local knowledge within the framework provided by the Act.
  • Co-operation in preventing and combating veldfires through the institution of the FPA, within the framework of an agreed veldfire management strategy.
  • Effective management of veld-fires requires organisational structure, strategy, plans, information, networks, skills, and equipment that can seldom be provided adequately by any one landowner alone.
  • Collaboration by FPA Members implies that resources are shared leading to the availability of more equipment.
  • The protection that comes from the enforceable rules of the association, as established in its constitution.
  • Improved communication among members about, for example, fire hazard conditions and risk management.
  • As an FPA member, no presumption of negligence would apply in case of a civil claim for damages where a fire has spread from a member’s land and caused damages or losses to the property or land of another person. The benefit lies in the fact that the plaintiff will carry the onus to prove negligence on the part of the defendant regarding the cause of the fire, or the spreading of the fire to other farms.

In the event of a veld fire, the landowner may call on a Work on Fire team for assistance. In the event of him/her being a member of an FPA, he/she only has to pay for the fuel of their vehicles to get to the farm and providing them with food (the variable costs). If the landowner is however not a member of an FPA, he/she will be responsible for all their costs such as the use of their equipment, clothing etc.

No local FPA? How to start one

Although the Act does not require farmers to belong to an FPA, the Act allows farmers who are already members of a Farmers’ Association in a specific region to form an FPA in their area. That FPA will lay down rules and regulations, which will be applicable to all members of the FPA. Such an FPA must be registered by the Department of Agriculture as an approved FPA by the Minister.

Are firebreaks necessary?

The Act stipulates, if a fire could start or burn on a farmer’s land, or if a fire could spread from their land, the landowner has to make and maintain a firebreak on the boundary of the land. FPAs do however, have the right to decide at their discretion, at a recognised or constitutional meeting, whether they want firebreaks in their area or not. The decision is subject to an application by the FPA to the Minister and any firebreak concessions must be done in terms of Section 15 of the Act. In terms of the Act, the Minister may exempt any owner or group of owners from the duty of making firebreaks and special conditions may be set for such an exemption. The Minister will register and issue a certificate if he is satisfied that there are capacity and representation.

Firebreaks:

  • Can be burned, cleared, ploughed, or the grass or vegetation can be destroyed using a chemical product.
  • Should be wide enough and long enough to have a reasonable chance of preventing a veld fire from spreading over the break.
  • Should take local conditions, such as the weather, climate, terrain and vegetation, into account.
  • Should be made by all owners (including a lessee) on whose land a hellfire may occur or spread.

Santam’s interpretation of the The National Veld and Forest Fire Act of 1998

  • If a veldfire originates next to public roads and the farmer acts within the law, by preparing a firebreak on the outskirt of his land or act within the rules of the FPA (of which he is a member), he will not be held responsible for losses or damages to other property.
  • If damages occur to property insured by Santam, Santam will hold the organisation or party whose duty it is to prepare firebreaks (according to the Act) responsible if they did not act within the Act.
  • The Act also allows a farmer to enter land in order to combat or extinguish a fire that is deemed to be dangerous to property, the environment, you and their workers.  According to the Act, a farmer may also destroy any trees, grass, crops or other vegetation in the process of firefighting, and may break into any premises and may remove any vehicle or other implements, in performing firefighting duties.
  • Natural causes of fire: If a veldfire was caused by lightning, the farmer cannot be held responsible, but can still be held accountable for losses or damage caused to other property if he/she did not act within the Act in respect of preparing firebreaks on the outskirts of the farm or act within the rules of the FPA of which he/she is a member.
  • It is essential that a client does not plead guilty to any charges of negligence, because if they do so they bind the insurer to a liability of which they may not be liable to pay.

Santam’s premium and excess incentives to FPA approved members

In view of the increased risk management and legislative benefits provided by FPA membership, Santam will be offering premium and excess incentives to members of approved well-functioning FPAs. The approval and grading of FPAs are being piloted in the Free State. Belonging to a First class Fire Protection Association is in everyone’s interests (government, landowners and insurers) as it demonstrates a clear commitment from all parties involved that they are on board to both mitigate the veldfire problem and that compliance governance issues are in order. Once this is formalised this process may be rolled out to other provinces. Santam will notify intermediaries and request that you spread the message to your clients.

If you’d like to know more about these incentives, speak to your relationship manager. For more advice tailored to intermediaries, visit our blog, where you will find more useful articles, such as how much legal liability insurance farmers should have.

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