Côte d’Ivoire: Management and Prevention of Forest Fires in Côte d’Ivoire (IFFN No. 20 – March 1999)

Management and Prevention of Forest Fires in Côte d’Ivoire
SODEFOR’s Forest Fire Protection Programme

(IFFN No. 20 – March 1999,p. 50-56)

The Forests of Cote d’Ivoire

The Republic of Côte d´Ivoire is located between 4° 20’N and 10° 50’N and 8° W and 2° W in the central part of the Upper Guinea forest block. Three main tropical climate zones can be distinguished:

  • Southern climatic zone or forest region with four seasons (two dry seasons and two rainy seasons) and annual rainfall ranges from 1600 to 2200 mm. Average temperature: ca. 28° C

  • Central climatic zone or intermediate vegetation zone with three seasons (one very short interseason)

  • Northern climatic zone or savanna region with only two seasons and average annual rainfall between 1100 and 1500 mm. A fourth climatic zone in the Western mountainous district is characterized by a higher rainfall as compared to the surrounding areas

The country is covered by different types of vegetation in relation with the climate: forest (South and West), Woodland (central) and Savanna (North). The forests of Côte d’Ivoire can be classified according to its two main ecological zones: the tropical rainforest in the humid south; and the savanna forest in the northern part of the country. Specifically there are:

  • Southwest and Southeast regions: moist evergreen forest

  • Northern regions: open savanna woodland and scattered pockets of dry forest

  • Going towards the northern direction, one meets successively the moist semi-deciduous forest zone and the dry semi-deciduous forest with patches of savanna vegetation

Each type of forest contains various types of species characterizing all tropical forest. These different types of forest are exceptionally rich in endemic plant and animal species representing a very high biodiversity. There are some original biotopes in the lagoon district (wetland and mangroves), in the forest-savanna and arid savanna lands.

The south-western part of the country still has major forest reserves estimated about one million ha including the TAI National Park (348.000 ha) which is the only extensive primary rain forest area remaining in West Africa.

It is difficult to obtain accurate and up-to-date information on the total forest area. The only certain fact is the regular decrease of the forest area due to the pressure of agriculture (encroachments) and fires.

The evolution of the closed forest zone

Although the forest zone area itself did not change at all (16 millions hectares), the structure of the forest has been changed due to anarchic agricultural encroachment and intensive forest exploitation. It has been estimated that the original forest cover was ca. 16 million ha of rainforest. The forest area decreased successively to 12 million ha in 1960, 9 million ha in 1969, and 6 million ha in 1973. Today the dense forest area in both zones is not known with precision. However, it is estimated that ca. 3.5 million ha represent the total gazetted forests, national park, and other residual forest area.

The tropical closed forest of Côte d’Ivoire has been exploited for its timber, and mainly cleared to create some important plantations of cash crops such as coffee, cocoa, rubber tree, palm oil, or subsistence farming, by a mainly rural population.

The use of traditional method of shifting cultivation has been practised. More than 60 % of the total closed forest area has been degraded by this method of cultivation, and the remaining forested area is understocked. The total area occupied by the bush fallow is estimated about 8 million ha.

In spite of the relative success in agriculture, many aspects of land use are not successful. The rate of deforestation is quite high and the clearing conditions are spreading as a consequence of defective land use.

The forestry domain is divided into two main zones: The Permanent Forest Domain of the State (3.5 million ha), and the Rural Forest Domain (12.5 million ha) destined to the agricultural land in the forest zone.

Slash and burn agriculture cover about 5 million ha and is practiced by the rural population. Some 150,000 to 300,000 ha of forest and bush fallow are cleared annually for shifting cultivation.

Actually the rural forest area is a succession of wood land, bush, bush fallow scattered by regenerative growth crop plantations.

The Permanent State Forest Domain includes classified forests and national parks and reserves. This zone is also occupied nearly 25% by illegal encroachment of farmers.

The lack of reliable data to find out the exact area, vegetational structure of each zone shows up the complexity of the situation. Forest lands are diminishing in area or have been degraded through overuse as result of increasing populations.

Forest Plantations

Because of the intensive degradation of the closed forest in terms of area and productivity it has been decided early in 1930 to establish artificial forest plantations in order to supply timber production in the future and to rehabilitate the degraded zones.

Industrial plantations: Industrial plantations were established to supply timber production in addition to that of natural forest. Before 1966, only 8500 ha of plantations were established mostly in the savanna zone for building materials and fuelwood.

Reforestation efforts have been intensified since 1966 when a State Reforestation Service (SODEFOR) was created to pursue large scale industrial plantation programs. Up to 1976, 22.400 ha have been reforested under a forest cover with some indigenous (local) species, and on cleared lands with various species (mostly teak).

From 1976 plantations were mainly established on clear-felled lands after removal of all remaining timber. Most species used attaining high production in short rotations such as Terminalia spp., Cedrela odorata, Gmelina and teak (Tectona grandis).

Some 44,000 ha were planted in the period 1977-1988 and about 45,000 ha since 1988.

Today, SODEFOR manages about 120,000 ha of industrial forest plantations in proportion of 45 % Teak, 40 % local species and 15 % other exotic species (Gmelina, Cedrela, Pinus, Eucalyptus, etc.).

Rural Reforestation: Some 15,000 ha of small plantation stands had been planted by the rural communities and individuals under the technical assistance of the forest services mainly in 1988 declared «Ivorian’s Forest Year» by the government of Côte d’Ivoire, to produce mostly building materials and fuel wood.

Forest Fires

In the rural land area of the central and northern part of the country every year bush fires are set by the rural populations for hunting or preparation of grazing resources within the forest. Even in the southern forested zone, fire was used to prepare croplands.

The fact of this large scale of deforestation in the closed forest area, and the man made desert process in the open savanna (Northern part of the country) there has been an influence on the closed moist forest zone climate. It has considerably changed and the dry seasons have become longer.

The process of clearing and burning provides conditions for forest fires in the evergreen and semi-deciduous forest zones. The consequences of these situations have been the outcoming in 1982 of the forest fire phenomena.

During the years 1982-1983, from December to March, vast forest fires occurred in closed forest zones (evergreen, and semi-deciduous forests).

The country had been surprised, traumatized and upset by the fullness of disaster with the following damages:

  • About 1.7 million ha of forest, bush fallow, and tree crops had been affected by the fires

  • 45,000 ha of forest destroyed

  • More than 100,000 ha of cash crops (coffee, cocoa, rubber tree, palm oil. etc.) were burned

  • 4000 ha of subsistence crops were destroyed

  • 21 people were killed

The fires went through 12,000 ha of industrial forest plantations and about 3000 ha had been partially or completely destroyed. The losses were very important for the country whose economic development is based on timber export and agricultural expansion. The losses have not been evaluated in detail, but the impact on the population was great. However, an estimation of the loss of 3000 ha of forest plantations on the basis of the establishment costs, was close to $US 40 million.

Since then, in every year the forests of Côte d’Ivoire experience forest fires with the degree depending on the severity of the dry season. However, the rate of disaster is less than the one of the year 1983.

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Fig.1. Villagers combatting a savanna fire approaching a forest edge in Côte d’Ivoire. Photo: J.G.Goldammer (GFMC)

Management and Prevention of Forest Fires since 1983

After 1983 management structures of this new phenomena have been created. The Ministry of Environment and forestry created the “National Committee for Forest Defense and Fight against Bush Fires”, with relays on the field (regional and department levels).

At the level of SODEFOR a department of the management and prevention of forest fire was instituted. In order to implement the fire protection office, and to start the management and prevention activities, a Canadian expert had been appointed by an FAO Technical Cooperation Project. This project was intended to initiate practical steps, to increase SODEFOR’s capability to plan, support, and manage forest fires.

SODEFOR’s Forest Fire Protection Programme

SODEFOR is a State company created in 1966 to build up plantations of exotic and indigenous species for industrial wood production. It has achieved by systematically establishing and managing over the last 30 years 120,000 ha of forest plantations.

Most of these plantations are standing in the semi-deciduous forest zone, where the risk of forest fires is very high. The previous forest fires had caused great damages to the plantations.

Since 1990, there have been few changes in the purposes of SODEFOR, which becomes also responsible for the management of the natural forest, and mainly the gazetted forests of the State Forest Domain.

The total area of the gazetted forests is estimated about 4 million ha, out of which ca. 2.5 million ha are in the rainforest zone and 1.5 million ha in the savanna region.

Objectives of the Forest Fire Protection Programme: At the beginning of the forest fire protection operations in 1983-84, only 10 forest zones where forest plantations have been established were concerned by the system. Minimizing the risk of building material and biodiversity lost in the situation of forest fires, the programme has been extended over the 2.5 million ha of forest. The main activities of the programme are:

  • Constitution of committees for prevention and fighting of fires by classified forest area

  • Training of field assistance, supervisors and committee members

  • Equipment of the fighting committee members

  • Preparation of fire prevention and fighting plans

  • Analysis of results and evaluation of the actions.

Action Plans: With the increase in forest fire events and their impacts on the forest areas (natural and artificial) that are under its control, it has become necessary for SODEFOR to implement a full service to deal with this new phenomena. This service manages the aspects of forest fire event all the year by analysis and evaluation of the activities and actions before, during and after the fire period. The practical preparation of each campaign of forest fire prevention is scheduled into different steps by the field assistance for each forest area (classified forest). These dispositions are:

  • List of field assistance and committee members

  • Checking out of the existing equipment and needs

  • Establishment of maps of patrols, roads, water stations, and high risk sites…

  • Awareness campaigns

  • Materialization and wedding of fire-breaks

Organization of a Forest Fire Campaign

Human organization: The forest fire is an important problem for SODEFOR. A chief fire manager is appointed at headquarters, and on the field there are fire protection assistant for each forest. The field fire protection assistant organizes and supervises the activities of prevention and suppression of forest fires for each gazetted forest area, with fighting committees. A committee is composed by 20 members and a perimeter of surveillance and protection. For each campaign of forest fire protection from December to March, SODEFOR mobilises about 1800 firemen organized in 90 committees, constituted by the people of the villages in the vicinity of the gazetted forests. Every year a workshop for building programmes and training is organized. Training is required for committee members in practical aspects of surveillance (patrols) and fire suppression.

Measures of fire prevention and sensibilization: The prevention guidelines are:

  • Sensibilization of rural populations living around classified forests about forest fires hazard. Some meetings are organized before and during the critical forest fire period of the dry season, and also radio messages on local languages

  • Establishment and control of related infrastructures (roads) and equipment. The most important equipment are bulldozers, tractors, vehicles, tanks and pump units. There are also some materials like hoses, smoke masks, and hand tools

  • Establishment and weeding of fire-breaks around forest plantations (50 to 100 m) and at the boundaries of natural forest (gazetted forest) zones

  • Elimination of fuel loads which easily ignite and increase the intensity of fire. Any action inside the forest land (natural or artificial forest) which can have a direct effect on the degree of inflammability must be avoid. Then, combustible materials such as unused timber from thinning operations are disposed outside the parcel.

Detection and effective fire fighting: The planning action begins by the determination of protection zones, the perimeter of surveillance; and the patrols mapping.

Perimeter of protection: A protection zone is determined for each committee and its area is about 1000 to 1500 ha for forest plantations and 5000 ha in average for natural forest block. Each committee has entire responsibility to keep a constant close watch over the entire block through regular patrols. The committee has also to execute all operations of prevention and to extinguish any fire occurred in their block.

Detection and surveillance: The assessment of a system of fire danger warning depends on the season (weather conditions: temperature, humidity) and the fuel loads. Fire detection is carried out through ground patrols and fixed stations (towers in some cases) by the committee members or special teams. Some of then are equipped with a radio system, motorcycles and bicycles. The detection occurs from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. every day during the period of two to three critical months.

Fire suppression: When a fire is detected the members of the concerned committee are informed and have to take appropriate dispositions of fight to extinguish the fire. The necessary equipment and the water tankers are made available for the operations.

Suppression report: A report is made for any forest fire detected and fought with the following information:

  • Source of ignition

  • Origin of fire

  • Time of detection

  • Size of the area affected

  • Intensity of fire and damages

  • Total area covered by fire

Principles of action

As we know, forest fires are caused accidentally or intentionally by humans, we decided to increase the responsibility of all rural communities around each gazetted forest area. Contracts are established and concluded with then through fire committees in order to participate to the forest protection measures. The contracts are remunerated monthly (during the four months of the dry season). The remuneration is inversely proportional to the size of the area affected by fire. The basis of payment are:

  • 500,000 F CFA ($US 1000)/month by committee for 0 ha burned

  • 400,000 F CFA ($US 800)/month for less than 5 ha

  • 200,000 F CFA ($US 500)/month for less than 10 ha

  • 50,000 F CFA ($US 100)/month for less than 20 ha

The average cost of surveillance is about 3000 F CFA ($US 7)/ha/year for forest plantations and 1000 F CFA ($US 2)/ha/year for natural vegetation.

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Fig.2. Experimental fire Côte d’Ivoire conducted in the frame of FOS/DECAFE in 1991
(see references at the end of the contribution)

The Evaluation of the SODEFOR’s FFMP Programme

The average annual cost of the forest fire management and prevention is estimated about $US 1 million, including payment of the fire fighting committees, equipment, infrastructures, training and previous measures of prevention. Early in 1992, SODEFOR decided to undertake an in depth evaluation of its experience in the management and prevention of forest fires. The key to the success of its forest fire management and prevention strategy has been the nature of the relationship that is set up between the rural population living around gazetted forest and the foresters (SODEFOR’s agents).

Tab.1. Assessment of land and forest fires in Côte d’Ivoire from 1983 to 1998
distributed over 20 gazetted forests managed by SODEFOR

1 Number of fires on which suppression action was taken
2 Total area affected by fires including natural and artificial forests
3 Total area of forest plantations
4 n.d. = not determined

Mr. Brou Oura
Directeur Technique, SODEFOR

BP 3770
Abijan 01
COTE d’IVOIRE Fax: ++225-44-02-40
Tel: ++225-44-46-16


Additional Information on Fire in Côte d’Ivoire from the IFFN/GFMC Archive

Côte d’Ivoire hosted a major fire research programme in 1991: The project “Fire of Savannas” (FOS/DECAFE) was part of the project DECAFE (Dynamique et Chimie Atmosphérique en Forêt Equatoriale). The overall aim of FOS/DECAFE was to investigate the contribution of gaseous and particle emissions from savanna fires to the regional and global emission budgets and to clarify the role of fire emissions on tropospheric ozone formation. The interested reader will find the most important results of FOS/DECAFE in the two following publications:

Lacaux, J. P., J. M. Brustet, R. Delmas, J. C. Menaut, L. Abbadie, B. Bonsang, H. Cachier, J. Baudet, M.O.Andreae, and G.Helas. 1995. Biomass burning in the tropical savannas of Ivory Coast: An overview of the field experiment Fire Of Savannas (FOS/DECAFE ’91). J. Atmos. Chem. 22, 195-216.

Lacaux, J.-P., H.Cachier, and R.Delmas. 1993. Biomass burning in Africa: An overview of its impact on atmospheric chemistry. In: Fire in the Environment: The Ecological, Atmospheric, and Climatic Importance of Vegetation Fires (P.J.Crutzen, and J.G.Goldammer, eds.), 159-191. J. Wiley & Sons, Chichester, England.

Please also check the fire report from Côte d’Ivoire published in 1996 in International Forest Fire News.

IFFN No. 20
Country Notes

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