How changing fire management policies affect fire seasonality and livelihoods

Abstract

There is a long history of fire management in African savannas, but knowledge of historical and current use of fire is scarce in savanna-woodland biomes. This study explores past and present fire management practices and perceptions of the Khwe (former hunter-gatherers) and Mbukushu (agropastoralists) communities as well as government and non-government stakeholders in Bwabwata National Park in north-east Namibia. Semi-structured interviews and focus groups were used in combination with satellite data (from 2000 to 2015), to investigate historical and current fire management dynamics. Results show that political dynamics in the region disrupted traditional fire practices, specifically a policy of fire suppression was initiated by colonial governments in 1888 and maintained during independence until 2005. Both the Khwe and Mbukushu communities use early season (i.e. between April and July) fires for diverse interrelated historical and current livelihood activities, and park management for managing late season fires. The Mbukushu community also use late season burns to prepare land for crops. In this study, we use a pyrogeographic framework to understand the human dimension of fires. This study reveals how today’s fire management practices and policies, specifically the resurgence of early season burning are entrenched in the past. Understanding and acknowledging the social and cultural dynamics of fire, alongside participatory stakeholder engagement is critical for managing fires in the future.

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    FIRMS: https://earthdata.nasa.gov/earth-observation-data/near-real-time/firms/active-fire-data.

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Acknowledgements

We are extremely grateful to the Khwe and Mbukushu communities, and all the stakeholders in Namibia for willingly sharing their knowledge of fire with us and for taking part in this research. We thank the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) in Namibia for the granting of the research permits, and the Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC) organisation in the Zambezi region that made this work possible. This study forms part of PhD research at the University of Cape Town in the Plant Conservation Unit within the Department of Biological Sciences, and was funded by the GreenMatter Fellowship, National Research Foundation (NRF) Scarce Skills Scholarship, the Alliance for Collaboration on Climate and Earth Systems Science (ACCESS), and the African Climate and Development Institute (ACDI) for which the authors are grateful. We also extend our appreciation to Louis Liebenberg for providing advice during the research phase, and to Dr Adele Julier for reviewing and providing insightful comments that greatly improved the paper. Special thanks to Lise Haansen for always providing valuable advice, resources and information concerning the greater Zambezi region.

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Humphrey, G.J., Gillson, L. & Ziervogel, G. How changing fire management policies affect fire seasonality and livelihoods. Ambio (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13280-020-01351-7

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Keywords

  • Early burning
  • Fire management
  • Political history
  • Pyrogeography
  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Traditional fire knowledge