Nigeria — Bush fires have been a part of Nigerian history for hundreds of years; People used bush fires to their benefit to manage the land and as a hunting aid. Climate experts and agriculturalists have said these human activities have contributed to global warming and deprived the soil the key nutrients elements needed by plants in large quantities.
Though hunters, farmers and cattle rearers see bush burning as a source of livelihood, experts on environment are opposed to it because it poses great danger to mankind. Since human survival is dependent on a healthy and safe environment, this trend has made the issue of bush burning a significant concern.
Bush fires in Nigeria are ignited by farmers during the dry season in the process of land clearance. Bushfires have existed for as long as trees have been around. The devastating effect of any bush fire results in the loss of native flora and fauna which may take several years to regenerate. Fire is widely accepted throughout the country as being a valuable tool in the management of natural vegetation, agriculture including livestock production and in other land use systems. In the past and even in some instances today hunters, herders, farmers and cigarette smokers are the primary recipients of blame for uncontrolled and indiscriminate bush burning.
Farmers share the opinion that when the vegetation is burned, large quantities of nutrient-rich-ashes are deposited on the soil surface which provides the newly planted crops with the benefits of the biomass that has grown on the site.
But most of these fires when set, are difficult to control and eventually spread to other farms and even towns thereby causing a lot of damage.
Another reason for setting fires is to enable the speedy growth of weeds for grazing. During the dry season when all grazing fields are dry, Fulani herdsmen set fire to burn dried grasses so that fresh leaves can shoot out of the rhizomes and roots. Few days later, the green grass that germinate, is used as animal feed by the herdsmen. Aside, farmers also burn bushes indiscriminately to prepare farmlands awaiting rain that precedes dry season.
Most farmers in Africa are subsistence farmers. They depend on hoes and cutlasses to clear land for farming. As a result of this, most farmers burn bushes to make it easier for them to clear farm lands. In the process of trying to burn a small portion of land to farm, the fire could spread to other areas. In most cases, the harmattan wind aid fire to burn faster and spread widely. This is why burning of bushes is risky during this period.
Fires have been used in some part of Nigeria to aid hunting. These fires are mostly set at night when wild animals have returned to roost and others are coming out to look for food. The fires cover wider areas in a circle or semi-circular pattern in such a way that the animals escape the heat towards the centre. The hunters who position themselves both at the centre and outside the fire circle will chase and catch the animals frustrated by the heat. This type of hunting which is done basically during the dry season has caused enormous damage to farmers because the hunters, after evacuating their catch do not quench the fires but leave them and eventually they spread.
Experts have proven that bush burning has adverse impact on soil moisture. The impact of burning on soil depends largely on the intensity of the fire and how long it burns. Low-intensity bush burning will affect soil conditions, although not to the degree of a fire involving hardwoods. It can cause the soil to lose its ability to absorb and retain water. After a fire, it is said, the top layer of soil may become repellent. This causes rain to drain off the soil without absorbing into the ground. The more intense the fire, the greater the chance that the top layer of soil will become water repellent.
It is also said that once fire consumes bushes, their roots no longer pull moisture into the soil. With this, the loss of shade that the bushes once provided means that soil moisture is more likely to evaporate.
Experts have also proved that bush burning cause soil erosion. This is because the lost of root systems coupled with water run off can allow much of the soil to be washed away. The case is worsened because shallow-rooted plants are affected by unstable soil as they depend on vegetation, such as shrubs and bushes, to hold the soil in place.
With the problem of soil erosion caused by bush burning, it is imminent that it is a challenge to mankind. Looking at the devastation caused by soil erosion in Nigeria and other parts of the world, one can conclude that bush burning is a dangerous human activity which should be discouraged. Soil erosion can result to flooding which is capable of washing farmlands, houses, human beings, trees and animals.
It is my candid opinion that the agency responsible should routinely engaged various stake holders in communities across the country to sensitize their people on the negative implications of the practice on man and his physical environments beside the awareness campaign on the danger inherent in bush burning on the environment. They should also adopt a strategy where messages are disseminated to the local communities in the various local languages across the country. The activities of the agency are however hampered by lack of operational vehicles and logistic challenges.
From the foregoing, it has been seen that even though bush burning has some advantages, the negative effects over-weigh what humanity stands to gain from constant setting of bushes ablaze.
There is therefore need to discourage this unwholesome act; and the only way to do it is by making legislation banning it and even then, since it is normally done at night and in the bush, violators will always escapes.