Senegal: Bushfire Monitoring and Management (IFFN No. 23)

Bushfire Management in Sénégal

(IFFN No. 23 – December 2000, p. 21-25)


Bushfires represent, like in other Sahelian countries, a major reason for degradation of forest resources.

Forest fire statistics of the Forestry Department (DEFCCS) that cover the territory of the country of 196,722 km2 show a high occurrence of fires. However, daily monitoring of fires by NOAA-AVHRR realised by the Centre de Suivi Ecologique (CSE) in Dakar provides a full coverage by recording all fires that have affected an area of more than one square kilometer. Table 1 shows the fire statistical data for the years 1993 to 1999. It must be noted that most of the fires of November and some of the fires of December are early burning operations.

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Fig 1. Monthly monitoring of burned areas in Sénégal between 1993 and 1999

Strategies and national policy in Senegal

The forest resources protection against bush fire is one of the major concern in the national Policy (Plan d’Action Forestier du Sénégal).The necessity of population involvement has been recognised for several years. A training program on participatory appraisal techniques has been given to the forest guards. However, the involvement of the population is still low.

Since 1997, natural resources management has been transferred to the local communities by the laws within the general frame of Regionalisation. But the new tasks of the administration and the communities are still not very clear to the population and their involvement is consequently low.

The forestry department provides two operational strategies:

  1. Preventive actions

  • Extension/training : meetings at regional and local level, rural radio broadcasts
  • Rehabilitation and maintenance of firebreaks: 2724 km carried out by the army, populations, projects and forest service in 1998-99 (828 km in 1997-98)
  • Equipment of firefighting committees
  • Early burning: 887,000 ha in 1998-99 (2,001,400 ha in 1997-98)
  1. Active fire fighting

  • Based on the mobilization of the population who fight fire with branches, water basins and machetes. In the zones where fighting committees exist, small equipment is placed at their disposal (rakes, machetes, fire beaters, shovels, buckets, backpack pumps…). The forestry service intervention units, had been equipped with heavy machines, but now those machines are useless.

Considering the limited intervention capacities of the forest service and high costs related to the active fighting, the prevention is privileged. The regional forestry action plans mention the creation and revival of bush fire fighting committees as a priority and the presidents of the Regional Councils were invited to coordinate the actions of prevention through the regional cadre de concertation.

Experiences of bush fire fighting program and their assessments

Since 1973, with his partners in development (Canada, Argentina, Germany, France, United-States, African development funds, Japan, Sweden, and the World Bank) the government of Senegal has initiated significant programmes against bush fires. These programs involved the utilisation of heavy machinery and the mobilization of important human and material resources in order to create village committees.

A thorough study of the PROGEDE, undertaken in May 1999 by the CSE, made a very mitigated assessment of these programs summarised hereunder :

  • Persistence of fires which shows their limited effectiveness
  • Impossibility of defining one single strategy because of the eco-geographical diversity
  • Fight with heavy machines is not viable, maintenance and operating costs are too high
  • Fight with heavy machines inhibits the initiative and the mobilization of the population
  • Limited participation of the population who still believe that the State has total responsibility in protecting the forests (shows also limited effectiveness of extension work)
  • Durability of the committees not effective after project time
  • Mistrust related to the deficit of implication of the decentralized services

In conclusion, one can say that the interest of the population to protect the forest resources was never considered thoroughly enough in these programs.

The Centre de Suivi Ecologique as an alarm system operator

As speed of detection and intervention are the key to effectiveness in fire fighting, the CSE could be an important actor. Indeed, the CSE sensor receives twice a day information from the AVHRR instrument on the NOAA satellites. The daily process of the information from the three channels through the thermal infrared sensors make it possible to detect fires even at sizes below the resolution of the sensor (1km x 1km). The use of this information for operational fire fighting is unfortunately not yet explored. A closer cooperation in this field could be developed between the DEFCCS and the CSE to set up a real alarm system.

Importance of fires in the management of the household energy sub-sector

If we consider that the maximum offer is equivalent to the national annual wood productivity of Senegal, between 8.6 and 13.35 million m3 (according to different studies) could be available. On the other end, the household energy consumption for food cooking is estimated at 4.8 million m3 (including 3 million m3 for charcoal production). The annual fellings of timber and construction wood are lower than 100,000 m3. Notwithstanding that fact forests deteriorate each year in both quantity and quality, the principal causes being the agricultural clearings, the pluviometric deficit and the bush fires.

It is extremely difficult to evaluate the incidence of each one of these factors and thus to develop the most efficient strategies. To satisfy the population needs of energy without touching the “forest capital”, most of forest growth should be saved for that purpose.

Moreover the women, who are the most concerned with the household energy supply, experience more collecting difficulties due to repetitive fires. Several studies show that without fires a fair amount of deadwood can be collected and the surplus is even sold (some women got a monthly profit of 25,250 f CFA in the Gambia).

Modeling as a decision-making aid

The household energy sub-sector is a complex system with many interrelations. Its management is more difficult since people react differently to the policies practised by the Government.

Good strategy development passes by the simulation of the effects of the measures and regulations suggested. The Project Sénégalo-Allemand Combustibles Domestiques (PSACD) proposed, jointly with the University of Stuttgart, a tool for decision-making that makes it possible to model the system. It uses consensual databases.

The model of the loss of volume of the burned surfaces related to the bush fires is available. Table 1 hereafter gives the bases of the model. The statistics of the burned surfaces and the average risks during the year are available for simulations.

Tab.1. Estimation of the proportion (%) of wood volume (m3/ha)burned by bush fires in the different month






Dense & Gallery














** 4.5

** 2.5



























** 7.0



Mean standing volume in m3/ha in 1980*






* based on the estimations of Piot, A. Ly, I. Gueye (1991) and pondered by the surfaces of DAT/USAID, 1985
** based on permanent sampling plot monitoring in different Gambian forests installed by the author in 1989 and followed until 1995

The table gives for example in a savanna woodland a lost per ha of 1.16 m3 of wood (4.5% of 25.72 m3) when a bush fire occurs in January.

Current strategic orientations

Bush fires fighting cannot succeed without the help of the population. Their interests, compatible with the general interest, must give rise to a strategy. At this end, a progressive appropriation of the forest resources by the bordering villages is encouraged in order to promote the initiatives of protection and rational management of these resources. The motivation of the population will gradually rise to autonomous management. As an important precondition to that, the population will need guarantees to use freely and unhindered the products without any risk of intervention of the administration, favouring thus external operators.

The PSACD developed with the DEFCCS, in agreement with the Energy Department (DE), a concept of community management which gives real responsibilities to local communities and bordering populations. This concept consists of agreements which determine respective involvement of the Forest Service, the Rural Communities and the Village Committees. The village committees for forest management are composed of people elected by the villagers to coordinate their activities in the forest resources within their zone of influence. The pilot experiment of the PSACD showed their capacity organize the prevention of bush fires and to contribute to the restoration of the most degraded zones.

A standard agreement was approved in August 1999 by the DEFCCS, and is implemented in the pilot zones of intervention of three GTZ projects in the areas of Kaolack (PSACD, PAGERNA) and Kolda (PSPI). This agreement marks the beginning of official recognition of local resource management rights which will eventually anchor the dynamics of safeguarding forest resources.


Actes de la journée de réflexion sur les feux de brousse du 26.11.99, Tanor Fall DEFCCS
Comptes rendus des échanges avec l’Institut des Sciences de l’Environnement, l’ORSTOM et la Division Protection des Forêts de la DEFCCS, Yanek Decleire PSACD, 1999
“Analyse de l’état actuel du système d’information sur le sous-secteur des combustibles domestiques”, PSACD/Programme Energie ENDA, PSACD sep.1996
“Etude diagnostic sur les feux de brousse dans les régions de Kolda et Tambacouda – Stratégies alternatives”, PROGEDE/BM, CSE, mai 1999
“La foresterie communautaire, nouvel outil de la politique forestière en Gambie” rapport de stage sur l’analyse de la contribution de la foresterie communautaire à la préservation de la ressource forestière, à la satisfaction de la demande nationale en bois, et au développement rural, ENGREF/GGFP, Pascal Vardon, déc. 1998
“Bushfire damage monitoring”, Gambian German Forestry Project, DFS/GTZ, G. Provost, 1995
“Plan d’action Forestier du Sénégal”, 3 volumes, Ministère du développement Rural et de l’Hydraulique, juin 1993

Contact address

Decleire Yanek
Projet Sénégalo-Allemand Combustibles
BP 3869 Dakar

Tel: +221/822.02.82,
Fax: 221/8238106,


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