Namibia: New Technique to Stop Wild Veld Fires

Namibia: New Technique to Stop Wild VeldFires

18 October 2006

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Namibia — Veld fires have recently been on the increase,wreaking massive havoc in their wake across the country.

Namibia has this year already lost many tracts of grazingland to fires in which livestock and game have perished, while more are likelyto die of hunger due to lack of grazing.

For many years in the past, forest fires, bush fires orveld fires were mainly experienced in the north-eastern parts of the country,but this year the trend has changed drastically in that large areas of theOmahake, Hardap, Omusati, Oshana, Erongo, Khomas and Kunene regions are now alsoaffected.

However, as the fires rage, local communities in theKavango Region have come up with a way of combating fire with fire itself. It iscalled the “Strip-Burning Technique”.

Earlier in the year, the Community Forestry inNorth-Eastern Namibia (CFNEN) project, together with various communities livingin the Kavango forest areas, developed firebreaks and cutlines as populartechniques to prevent veld fires from spreading.

Talking to New Era about the latest technique, ForestryTechnical Adviser in the Community Forestry Project, Carsten Schusser, based inRundu, said the “strip-burning technique” is an alternative tostopping fires before they get out of control.

“You first make a 10-metre wide cutline in strategicforest areas. You literally use fire to make a fire cutline, like threeone-metre lines only, and then you use fire to clean up the area,”explained Schusser. At the end of the day, it looks like a whole strip of forestarea that has been burnt.

Firstly, the vegetation between the two closer strips isremoved by pushing fire from both sides all over. ?After all that and with goodwind conditions, a fire set from the third onemetre strip finally widens thecutline to 30-metres.

So what is a cutline? According to Schusser, a cutline isa strip about 10 metres wide and cleared of vegetation established in theforests to stop forest fires and to provide access to fire-fighting activities.

What makes the technique rather worthwhile is that itrequires all the hands of the community members. Thus, Schusser added, it allowsthe communities to install a more effective 30-metre cutline at less cost andwith less labour involved.

The best time to use the new burning technique is in themonths of June and July. During that time, the vegetation is green enough toprevent hot burning and intensive fires and thus better chances for young treesand plants to survive.

Schusser however added that the best way to stop a fire isto avoid it from happening in the first place.

“The best is to avoid the fire, but in Namibia firesare happening on regular basis especially this year,” he said, adding thatthe strip-burning technique is effective if carried out effectively. It onlyrequires up to six people to make cutline strips.

Community forest areas, like those of Ncumcara, Ncamagoro,Mbeyo and Ncaute community, have so far benefited from this new technique. Atlast week’s Arbor Day celebration in Windhoek, Minister of Agriculture, Waterand Forestry, Dr Nickey Iyambo, reiterated his concern over the spate ofuncontrolled wild fires in various parts of the country.

Seeing that this latest technique falls in line with theministry’s conservation and management efforts in combating fires, a communityeffort like this one is considered a step in the right direction.

“It has become apparent that fire-prevention andcontrol cannot be left to the forestry staff alone There is a need to increasemore effort to curb and minimize the problem we are facing in our country,”Iyambo said.

Director of Forestry in the Ministry of Agriculture, Waterand Forestry, Joseph Hailwa, called on the public to come forward with moreproposals on how to combat ongoing forest/veld fires. Although fires may occurnaturally, most are started by humans. Schusser said communities tend to burnthe forests to clean up the fields for planting or for building a house or forhunting purposes. They burn the area after harvesting the field by getting ridof all the old grass. Some even resort to burning the grass used for thatchingthe roofs of their neighbours for customers to come and buy from them instead.

“Thatch grass is a good business, but it can bepetrol for the fire and it is like a vicious cycle that destroys trees, animalsand humans,” added Schusser.

Plans are under way to introduce the same strip-burningtechnique in other parts of the country.


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