Namibia: Reduction in Fire Incidents in East Caprivi (IFFN No. 21)

Reduction in Fire Incidents in East Caprivi

(IFFN No. 21 – September 1999, p. 24-27)


A pilot area was established in 1996 in north-eastern Namibia to develop a Model for community-based forest fire control. The pilot area consisted of 1.2 million ha 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.

Prior to the involvement of the Government of Finland the forests in the pilot region burned at a rate of 850,000-950,000 ha each year. Around 99 % of all these fires were of anthropogenic origin.

Expansion of the community-based forest fire management model to other regions

The Model for community-based forest fire management (Integrated Forest Fire Management [IFFM]) was developed in East Caprivi. This Model proved to be very successful as it reduced the fires by 54%. Therefore, it was recommended to expand the project area to cover West Caprivi and Kavango. This means that forest fire control activities now will cover 7 million ha in the Northeast of Namibia.


The project is still 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, and
  • to run a massive fire awareness and public education 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.

Thereby, at present moment, the activities are directed towards the source of fire, i.e. the local people. The strategy adopted, will teach people in local communities in how to use fire in a controlled manner and how to prevent wildfires.

Tab. 1. Outputs of Integrated Forest Fire Management activities in East Caprivi between 1995 and 1998. Note: The programme by the Finnish Government to assist the Directorate of Forestry of Namibia to control forest fires began in April 1996.

Output Areas

Conventional Government run Forest Fire Control

Development of Integrated Forest Fire Management





1. Total area burned in East Caprivi

838,000 ha

790,000 ha

558,000 ha

390,000 ha

2. Area of East Caprivi burned (%)

99 %

91 %

67 %

47 %

3. Reduction in burned area (%)

0.2 %

6.0 %

24 %

54 %

4. Area under forest fire management

10,000 ha

115,000 ha

396,000 ha

636,000 ha

5. Area covered by fire management (%)

2 %

14 %

48 %

76 %

6. Area protected from fire by D.o.F.

2000 ha

7. Area protected from fire by local communities


50,000 ha

202,000 ha

450,000 ha

8.Effectiveness of fire prevention in managed areas

20 %

44 %

51 %

71 %

9. Number of communities /stakeholders


7 + 2 DBC+ 13

23 + 6 DBC + 42

28 +DBC+ 24 +64 *

10. Fire lines or fuel breaks built (cutline)

150 km

487 km

1217 km

1812 km

11. People involved in fire control activities





12. Number of fires observed





13. People educated in forest fire control





14. Total area burned in Namibia including prescribed burning in National Parks

3-5 million ha

3-5 million ha

2.1 million ha

2.0 million ha (estim.)

* Number of stakeholders involved in assisting the Directorate of Forestry (D.o.F.) in forest fire prevention activities during 1998 were: 28 local communities (16 contracted), 2 DBC camps (ex-combatants), 24 handicraft producer villages (under the Caprivi Arts and Cultural Association (CACA) and 64 schools.

As the above table indicates, the results of creating a model for controlling fires in communal lands in Caprivi are encouraging. Thus, by the end of 1998, the new Caprivian Model for Integrated Forest Fire Management (IFFM) has been extensively tested and found effective. However, what still remains to be done, is that a final assessment of the model be made before it is being transferred to other fire prone areas in northeastern Namibia.

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Fig. 1. Community women have collected grass for roofing. Each bundle sells at US45 cents. A fire-damaged deciduous forest can be seen in the background. Photo: Jerome Mukutolo, IFFM, Katima Mulilo

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Fig. 2. IFFM instructors teaching local villagers in the protection of their grass collecting areas. Stored grass (thatch) in the picture is worth ca. $US450. Photo: Jerome Mukutolo, IFFM, Katima Mulilo

Field survey among local communities

As Table 1 shows, tens of thousands of local people are involved in fire prevention. The result is that the annual area burned has been reduced by 54% in the Pilot Area. Also the number of fires has dropped by 70%. It was therefore decided to carry out a survey to ask the local population of how they experienced the efforts to control fires in the local communities. The survey gave the following results related to the control of fires in the communities:

  • the effects of fire on the environment were widely recognized
  • fire protection should be given to communities rather than to the government
  • availability of grasses and thatch has increased
  • increased income has been generated from sales of grass etc.
  • availability of building material has increased
  • plants and trees are healthier
  • more food is available for people from the forest (fruits, nuts etc.)
  • more food is available for livestock
  • income from sales of animals has increased
  • less diseases in livestock
  • no livestock or agri-crops killed by fire in pilot villages
  • increased wildlife in villages controlling fire

During the fire season (April-November) in 1999 it is estimated that 1500 villagers are engaged in controlling wildfires in north-eastern Namibia. In addition 1000 teachers and a total of 30,000 students have received basic fire education.

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

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Country Notes
IFFN No. 21

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