(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Rat catchers try to end arson

Mozambique rat

Albinio Matias, a Mozambican farmer, lost his daughter, Cassula, and his home to wildfires, which also damaged his crops for four consecutive years. Raising large domesticated rats could have saved him a great deal of pain.

“The fires were set by youngsters hunting for rats, and because our houses were close to the weeds they caught fire and I lost everything. I lost my daughter in 2006,” said Matias, who lives in the Macossa district of Manica Province in central Mozambique. Hunters would start fires to flush out rodents from the forests and the bush to eat, and the blaze would often get out of hand, he told IRIN.

Around 70 percent of Mozambique’s 20 million people live in rural areas where every year thousands are displaced or lose their possessions, homes and crops to these fires. Manica Province’s Forest and Wildlife Services said 43 wildfires were caused by rat hunters in 2007; in 2008 that figure rose to 60 and led to 15 deaths and the displacement of 200 families.

Raising rats

A new pilot project by the Initiative for Communal Lands (ICT), a local poverty reduction NGO, and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), to capture rats in the bush and forests to breed for consumption, has been delivering results.

The initiative is based on the success of a similar project in Ghana, another African country affected by wildfires. In Mozambique the districts in Manica hit hardest in recent years – Macossa, Sussundenga, Gondola and Barue – were the first to benefit, said José Monteiro, a field officer at ICT.

“We are teaching the population to raise rats in large cages, so they don’t have to set fire to the bush in order to catch the animals. People get the meat they are after, and we reduce wildfires.” About 500 families were being helped to build cages, Monteiro told IRIN.

“Our district has suffered so much due to wildfires, simply because people are hunting for rats. With the experience from Ghana we think we will be able to eliminate the fires. Now people don’t have to go out and hunt for the rats – they are right here in the community,” Teófilo Mendonça, district administrator of Macossa, told IRIN.

“This year we have already seen a drop in the amount of wildfires,” Mendonça said. “The rat project has already had an impact.” Government figures show Mendonça might be right: over 1.3 million hectares of land were burnt in Manica in 2008, compared to just over 60,000 in 2009.

“The time of forest fires has passed,” said Olívia Pablo, a Macossa resident who now tends to rats. Matias agreed: “I already see my suffering has diminished.”


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