Namibia: 30 % Reduction in Fire Incidents in three Years (IFFN No. 19 – September 1998)

30 % Reduction in Fire Incidents in three Years

(IFFN No. 19 – September 1998,p. 67-70)


The Namibia-Finland Forestry Programme (4 years) was initiated in April 1997. This Programme also encompasses Forest Fire Control as one of its components. The Pilot Project on Forest Fire Control for East Caprivi (meanwhile: “Integrated Forest Fire Management”) was started in March 1996, more than one year before the new Programme. The aim of this project is to transfer the responsibility of forest protection to the users and beneficiaries of the forests, i.e. local communities.

Traditionally the protection of the environment in the local communities belonged to the community itself. The colonialization of Namibia disrupted however this tradition, and the ownership and management of all forests were reverted to the Government.

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Fig.1. Open fire-degraded stand of Zambesi Teak in the Caprivi Strip, Namibia. Photo: J.G.Goldammer

In 1996 an effort to remedy this situation was launched and the Directorate of Forestry decided to develop a National Forest Strategy for Namibia. This strategy recommended that the Government should return most of the forests to their original owners i.e. to the local communities. One of the problems foreseen was that while the system to legalize the transfer of ownership was being set-up, the forests were being destroyed. The destruction was going on at an alarming rate, and was mostly done by cutting down and burning the entire forest, thus converting the area to other land uses.

Pilot area for Forest Fire Control

The pilot area consists of 1.4 million hectares of the best forests of Namibia and it belongs to the sub-tropical region. Despite that the area belongs to the Kalahari zone, the relatively high rainfall (700 mm) keeps the forests growing.

On the one hand, the early burning (April-June) has been tried out in the area in 1960’s, and this practice was recommended, because the fires seldom seriously damaged the trees. On the other hand, late burning always damaged the trees, often killing many of them. It was also found, that no regeneration of natural species occurred since 1970’s. This was specifically true for the Zambezi Teak (Baikea plurijuga) which ones was the predominant species in the area.

Project Profile

Name: Namibia-Finland Forestry Programme (April 1997 – May 2001) Component: Forest Fire Control Duration: March 1996 – May 1999

Implementing Agencies

Namibia: Directorate of Forestry, Ministry of Environment & Tourism Finland: FTP International Ltd. & Enso Forest Development


Namibia: 1+1+2 +10 counterparts (14) Finland: 1 specialist Project site: East Caprivi Region (1.4 million ha) Project Office: Forestry District Office, Katima Mulilo


The project is embarking on two different approaches to the fire problem:

  • To support public relations and extension activities for forest fire prevention within the Government and the training and mobilizing of local communities into fire management units.

  • To run a massive Fire Campaign in schools and local organizations in the area, involving all stakeholders. This includes the production of written material, posters, bill boards, theatre plays, radio programmes and videos.

The strategy does not include investing in fire suppression, it is estimated that the pilot area had more than 10.000 fires in 1996. Thereby, at present moment it is of no use to try to put out 10.000 fires. Instead, the activities are directed towards the source of fire, the local people. The strategy adopted, will teach people in local communities in how to prevent and control fire.

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Fig.2. Fire prevention poster designed by the Pilot Project on Integrated Forest Fire Management for East Caprivi. Photo: J.G.Goldammer

27 local communities with 279 villagers joined the fire prevention programme in 1997. The Development Brigade Corporation (DBC) with 236 ex-combatants (freedom fighters) also joined the fire prevention programme in 1997. A total of 1217 km of fire line were constructed in various strategic areas by the 515 people above.

It is further estimated that the whole of northern Namibia or 10-14 million ha or the forested areas are prone to forest fires. In 1996, it was estimated that 4-5 million ha of forest land and more than a million ha of grass savanna burned in the North-Central and North-Eastern part of the country.

Tab.1. Achievements of the fire prevention programme


This forest fire control project is the first-ever, globally, of its kind, not to have local people being employed by the Government. The 13 Traditional (tribal) Authorities who have signed a contract to join the annual fire control programme will select a Fire Contractor in each community. This Contractor will them employ people from his/her village, to work on fire prevention.

The Government will provide the village fire crews with training and with appropriate fire tools. The Government then pays 20 $US/km of fire line produced on the condition that the area is not burned. In case of a burn, a percentage will be deducted from the pay. The cost of producing these fire lines is 40-50 $US/km. This means that each community and the DBC is actually paying half the actual cost (20 $US/km) to construct these fire lines. The local communities and the DBC produced 1217 km of fire line in Eastern Caprivi in 1997.

The local population is quite enthusiastic when they see means and ways of protecting their grazing lands and agricultural fields from fire. In addition, very few domestic animals have died in fires in 1996-97, one fatal case of arson excluded, where 100 animals died. Likewise, the communities have seen that no animals have died of starvation in 1996-97, because most grazing areas are still largely unburned, at the end of the fire season.

Local traditions

The Traditional Authorities have caught 38 people in 1997, for careless burning in various villages, and these people have been tried by these communities. This makes the fire management at community level very efficient. Thereby also, the Police need not get involved in these cases. Thus, also the Forestry personnel, when catching people burning, brings these culprits directly to the Tribal Authorities. The fine at village level is often measured in cattle, one (1) cow is valued at 150 $US in this area. Normally the fine for burning the grazing areas is 2 cows.

The Tribal Authorities relate the fine to the loss of weight in their cattle, 200 heads loosing 2 kg/each, makes the loss 400 kg of meat. The buyers of cattle pay 1 $US/kg for the cattle. The above fine is: 400 kg x 1 $US = 400 $US. In case of bigger herds, the fine is proportionately larger. The fine varies slightly between the communities.

From: Mike Jurvélius (Fire Specialist) and
John Kawana (Fire Chief)
Forestry District Office
P.B. 1020
Katima Mulilo

Fax: ++264-677-3322
Tel: ++264-677-3143

IFFN No. 19
International Technical Cooperation Projects
Country Notes

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